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Building trust in the big data boom

By Cecily Liu | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2017-02-10 07:57

BBD recruits British experts in its quest for more reliable and useful information

In our information age, with its conflicting and sometimes debatable news stories, reliable and ready-to-use data may be hard to come by. This challenge has prompted Chinese big data company BBD to develop innovative algorithms to revolutionize financial data analysis using the UK's own financial industry as a key platform.

After a year in the UK, BBD has established a research and development center in Cambridge and has started developing several UK-targeted products, one of which will focus on opportunities in the Belt and Road project and another which attempts to assess the credibility of crowdfunding platforms.

BBD, founded in Chengdu in 2013, initially made a name for itself with the launch of a New Economy Index two years ago to track China's new rising industries such as energy and tech, providing the government and investors with fresh ideas on where the latest secrets of economic growth might be uncovered.

Building trust in the big data boom

Chinese big data company BBD has established a research and development center in Cambridge and has started developing several UK-targeted products. Provided to China Daily

Since the NEI's success, BBD has continued to develop algorithms which gather real time data to provide investors with valuable information for credit and stock analysis. Its stock clients include big names such as Guoking Securities, Shenzhen Stock Exchange and KPMG in China.

Within the space of three years, the firm has grown and now employs around 500 people. It established subsidiaries in Beijing, Guizhou, Shenzhen and Singapore before entering the UK. Its success in China was confirmed when the think tank China Center for Information Industry Development included the company in its China Big Data Top 50 list.

BBD is also a member of the Zhongguancun Big Data Industry Alliance and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Financial Work, both powerful tech-driven organizations.

Building trust in the big data boom

Helen Wang, the company's chief executive in Britain, says the R&D center in Cambridge will enable it to utilize the research strength in crowdfunding at the city's university and work with its experts to extend big data's application to bio data.

Wang says: "By working with a leading research institute in crowdfunding, BBD can contribute to China's peer-to-peer industry, which is increasingly in need of regulation and supervision."

Using the same methods employed in the China New Economy Index, BBD is using its presence in the UK to develop products that track growth opportunities in the Belt and Road countries. Wang says Belt and Road based products could help investors target investment strategies at countries that receive high growth rankings.

BBD's expansion into the UK happened on the back of a boom in China's big-data industry, which enjoys the advantage of abundant data due to the nation's large population, heavy investment in the sector and a large number of well-qualified engineers.

While the size of the sector is hard to determine because it has only taken off in the past five years, the Beijing-based intelligence firm Analysis International estimates that big data-related marketing services in China grew by more than 150 percent to 2 billion yuan ($300 million; 278.1 million euros; 240.2 million) in 2015, and is forecast to increase to 27.7 billion yuan by 2018.

Globally, the big-data market potential is huge. German-based data firm Statista estimates the market value in 2015 was worth $22.6 billion, which is expected to almost double to $40.8 billion by 2018, and reach $92.2 billion by 2026.

Such rapid growth in the big data sector also means the development of the industry is racing ahead of the regulators, and investors at times do not know who they can trust. Increasing difficulty in garnering funding from traditional sources has led to a surge of crowdfunding platforms, which gather money from individual investors and lend to borrowers who lack the ability to borrow from mainstream banks.

Building trust in the big data boom

Witnessing the need for investors to reliably measure the risks of different crowdfunding platforms, BBD is now developing crowdfunding indices, including one version specific to the UK market, expected to be launched in the second half of this year.

Helen Wang says: "We hope to capture information from public sources to create an index that rates crowdfunding platforms. The key users of this index would be businesses, investors and government regulators.

"In addition to the information BBD hopes to capture from public sources, it will also work with crowdfunding firms and platforms and hope they can provide more data."

Wang continues: "We work with them because our end goal is to help provide a system to enable more transparency and integrity, and thus strive for sustainable and healthy development for the industry."

Wang, originally from Chengdu, has worked in London's financial services industry since 2002, and over the years has witnessed dramatic ups and downs in the industry. In 2008, the year Lehman Brothers collapsed, she was already assistant vice-president of Deutsche Bank and, despite the economic downturn, experienced another major career progression in 2009, joining JP Morgan as a vice-president.

But in 2012 Wang made a brave career change, when she resigned from her post at JP Morgan.

She says: "Many people couldn't understand my decision, because back then many people were losing their jobs. People said to me I was lucky to still have my job. However, I felt strongly that there is a new wave of new financial sector opportunities emerging between the UK and China, and I wanted to be a part of it."

It's this attitude, perhaps, that has made Wang the perfect fit for BBD's UK expansions, and she says she has come to realize two important lessons in the past year. It is vital to realize market differences and leverage local resources.

She says: "Through market research we noticed a big difference between the Chinese and UK big data industries. In China, many big data firms are still focusing on data gathering, but the UK's big data industry is more analysis-driven, which is more sophisticated than data mining, and that's what we are doing in the UK."

Effectively, BBD's China domestic market-oriented products focus on gathering data for users using its unique algorithms, but its UK products, such as the Belt and Road index, focus more on providing new sources of thinking for investors.

Secondly, BBD is using the UK's local talent for new product development, especially at Cambridge, where its operating model is sponsoring researchers to complete research on topics of the company choosing. BBD has also appointed influential British academics and business leaders as directors.

Alan Barrell, entrepreneur in residence at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at the University of Cambridge, Judge Business School, was recently appointed its UK non-executive director.

Barrell says he was very impressed by BBD's team, many of whom are PhD graduates from universities in the West who have subsequently returned to work with BBD in Chengdu, adding that he believes BBD's work has the potential to contribute to business sectors beyond financial services.

He says: "While the focus of BBD today is rightly and primarily on the financial sector and aimed at enabling enhanced economic and business management, I have the impression that the company may also have the capability to make significant contributions to big data developments serving other key areas of modern life where technology now enables information to be generated at speeds and in volumes not even anticipated a few years ago."

( China Daily Africa Weekly 02/10/2017 page30)

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