Head of Data Strategy, Financial Conduct Authority
Sholthana Begum — one of the most influential people in data — explains how her high-flying career developed, and why the fields of data and technology need diverse role models.
How data-driven is Sholthana Begum? Put it like this: after her A Levels she joined the Bank of England where, during the day, she was “surrounded by numbers, numbers, numbers.” Then, in the evenings, as part of her first degree, she would study quantitive maths and data. “Before going to university, I would say that I wasn’t a data person,” she smiles. “Now I realise I was destined for data. I’ve learned that data is my spiritual home.”
Working with talent and leading with a vision
Begum has an impressive track record of delivering large scale data change and transformation. She stayed with the Bank of England for 16 years and is now Head of Data Strategy at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). In 2021, she was named on the DataIQ power list as one the most influential people in data.
In her current leadership role, Begum is a lot more ‘hands off’ than she used to be at the start of her career. “I don’t necessarily build code anymore,” she says. “But what I am able to do is work with a bunch of talented people who really know their stuff. That allows me to co-create and design a vision — and then watch it happen. That’s what ignites me.”
My department is diverse, both in physical
diversity and in thought diversity.
Creating open-minded and diverse environments for better outcomes
Being a woman in financial data and technology can be tough, she admits. “It can be challenging to get your voice heard. However, it’s through people like me — who have managed to navigate the system — that we can create environments that are much more open-minded.
“For example, my department is diverse, both in physical diversity and in thought diversity. I’ve been able to bring in a variety of people — including apprentices and people who don’t come from data backgrounds — and watch them flourish. It’s changed people’s careers. I’ve seen administrators become data scientists and risk people become data leads. A diverse workforce equals better performance, which equals better outcomes for consumers.”
She would recommend a career in data and tech to anyone — although, these days, there is no escaping data, whatever job you do. “If you’re a doctor, you need to know data,” says Begum. “If you’re a lawyer or an accountant, you need to know data. Being technologically savvy is not ‘a guy thing’. It’s a human thing and it’s important that we have diverse role models who can showcase it.”