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Finance must lead the conversation on data ethics

Finance leaders have always felt responsible for company data, but the spotlight has shifted to protecting people outside the business. Customer and employee data breaches can swing reputations and valuations overnight, making ethical data management a priority across the organisation.

We squirm when an invasion of privacy feels personal, even if it doesn’t affect us directly. This is why recent data breaches – from the man who hacked German government officials to companies who mined data from minors – have done more to shape our impression of major institutions than these companies’ legacy or marketing campaigns.

The ethics of data-driven business are not just an emotional issue. Lapses in security or in the way data is managed can quickly lead to public outcry, affect customer loyalty, and scare off shareholders in droves, making them a major issue at the boardroom level and across every business function.

The challenge is that data security and ethics are (relatively) new concepts for most teams in the organisation. Marketers have been working with customer data for some time, but they are still coming to grips with how to manage all this information. Similarly, HR teams now draw from a range of data streams to help them manage and recruit employees, but these changes have come so quickly that ethics have taken a backseat to progress.

Finance teams are the outlier in many respects. For years, they’ve been responsible for managing and protecting some of their company’s most sensitive data. Finance leaders are arguably their company’s greatest data champions, with a unique appreciation for the power of data and the ethical considerations of keeping it safe. Today, they have a responsibility to spread this knowledge across the organisation and turn data ethics into a company-wide conversation.

CFOs and their teams are also no strangers to the pressures of competition and the need for innovation. Over the years, they have invested in processes and technologies allowing them to draw insight from data instantly, at any place, and at any time. But given the sensitive nature of this information, they have made this transition conscientiously instead of rushing. It’s a fine balance to strike, but it sets an excellent example for marketers and HR as they look to handle data more responsibly.

Our research found that nearly 78% of finance leaders are either highly or moderately confident their company’s approach to data is ethical, but the prevalence of breaches shows that a company’s security approach is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s one thing for customer-facing teams to invest in technologies to protect their data, or for HR to roll-out training programmes on treating it responsibly, but to conquer new territory they will need guidance from finance leaders who have been here before and can help them understand the wider implications of their actions.

Want to learn more about the state of data security and ethics in businesses today? Check out our report.

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