#WomenInTech – Celine Le Cotonnec

Celine arrived 16 years ago as a student in Sinology and is now Chief Data and Innovation Officer at AXA Insurance in Singapore. Read this amazing story!

Hi Celine, so what do you do and what brought you to Singapore?

I came to Asia 16 years ago as a sinology student in a Taiwanese university. Learning Chinese since I was 14 years old was the best choice I have ever made. After an International Business degree at Guangzhou University, I found a job at the French Consulate Trade Commission in Shanghai, supporting SMEs in heavy industries and new technologies to develop in China. This was my first experience in Tech, I will always remember that day in 2007, when I met a small Chinese company developing a third-party mobile and online payment platform. There were less than 100 employees at that time. It was nothing else than…Alipay!

With a business related background, starting by sinology, how come you ended up working in data and innovation?

In my previous role in PSA Peugeot Citroen China, I was leading the digital and media buying for our three brands: Peugeot, Citroen and DS:overseeing the performance of e-commerce strategy, analytics and social media campaign. Data Science was first used in Digital Media to improve retargeting, offer customized advertisement,increase traffic and improve conversion.

Later on, I took over the Innovation Department for PSA in China. We launched our first connected car and were looking at creating innovative services for improved driving experience based on car sensors’ data. The digital ecosystem in China is drastically different from Europe. Customers are younger and more connected. We had to develop a suite of services suitable for Chinese customers and find new business models with digital partners using car data to generate additional revenues. This was the only way to maintain expensive car connectivity and cyber-security infrastructures. It was also the beginning of Mobility-as-a-service. Everyone witnessed the emergence of platforms such as Uber in Europe, Grab in South East Asia or the Giant Didi in China. Similarly to what happened in the hospitality industry with the appearance of Airbnb, we saw business models switching from ownership to pay-per-use. Every car manufacturer was wondering how to ride on the wave of mobility services on top of the traditional car purchase offer. I was then asked to create a Business Unit on connected services and mobility to address those questions for the Chinese market.

So what does it mean to be a Chief Data Officer?

The role of a Chief Data officer is mainly to transform the organization to be more data-driven.Moving away from gut feelings to analytics enabled organizations to measure, track and monitor the performance of our processes, products, distributions and customer experience. Thanks to real-time visibility on our business, each employee of the organization can take fast and sound decisions, monitor the results, and apply corrective actions. Analyzing customer data helps understand their habits, market segment, life style, so it becomes possible to design customized insurance with the right coverage, sized risk, at the appropriate time.

I oversee a real diversity of data-related activities including data management, data quality and strategy for Singapore. The team is responsible for data analytics and business intelligence, which means creating valuable insights from data. We are also leading IT topics on data platforms related to business or customers. On the innovation side, our projects ranges from developing machine learning algorithms, implementing NLP or deep-learning technics to extract value from voice, images, pdf and web data.

What is your strategy in Singapore to transform an organization into becoming data-driven? What are the main things an organization needs to focus on when embarking on a data transformation journey?

Singapore in the leader in South East Asia when it comes to innovation and AI, thanks to the government –led Smart Nation initiative. To strengthen and accelerate data-driven transformation in any traditional organization, I would recommend to first focused on building four enabling pillars:

1. Platform and Tools:

Any data professional needs an environment to work: a Data Lake. Last year, we moved our various data infrastructure to public cloud in order to benefit from on-demand storage, computing and services. We have also moved to agile project management. While several teams were coding in different languages, the decision was taken to streamline every legacy analytical codes we had into Python programming language because of its simplicity, community support and numerous libraries. Finally, Tableau was widely deployed as visualization tool, speeding up decision making and KPI tracking. Anybody in the organization ranging from data scientist, analysts to actuaries, can now perform independent statistical analysis, advanced analytics, create and deploy machine learning models, at a minimum cost, with a competitive speed, and positively impact our customer experience.

2. People and Culture.

Changing an organization is not just about switching to new tools. It is first and foremost about changing the mindset of employees, their ways of working and raising awareness on what data-driven actually means. This year we set the ambitious target to train 20% of the organization in Python and Tableau. Data champions within a business unit, also called “Super Users” would  undergo an intensive four months training provided by the data team with a strong mentoring during the first months. Directors, and even Executive Committee Members would also undergo a 15 hours crash course in Python and data analytics. For the rest of the employees, there would be challenges on raising data awareness.

At a global level, we developed partnerships with e-learning platform such as LinkedIn learning and Coursera to encourage everyone to improve their  data and analytics capabilities.

Finally, we hold numerous events such as: lunch & learn with speakers from outside the insurance industry, panel discussions, evening meet-ups, sharing session with other data science teams from other companies. The main goal is to communicate on new business opportunities enabled by new tech and AI. We want to involve and empower the whole company to be part of this . Change Management efforts are key to achieve a true mindset switch.  

3. Data Governance

Using and storing data also imply compliance with data privacy and security regulations. Recent scandals such as Cambridge Analytica and the Singapore Data Breaches, remind us that large-scale data collection and usage could potentially raise significant privacy concerns. AXA is today the most forward thinking insurer globally when it comes to responsible AI and use of data. We are contributing to the public debate through collective actions such as IMPACT AI library In Europe or LiveWithAI think-tank in Singapore. A strong Governance framework is critical to balance between value and data privacy in the digital age.

4. Data management

It is nowadays a growing activities even in non-online businesses. Lot of people do not understand that 80% of a data science project is getting access, collecting, cleaning, and understanding the data. Predictive modelling that is supposed to be the most exciting part, is actually less than 20% of a data scientist daily job.

Value comes with quality and uniform data, as well as comprehensive guidelines for upstream users.

Once the basics are in place, it is a matter of weeks or even days to launch, test and industrialize a new AI. I’d like to quote here, Dr Deb Goswami, lead Data scientist at Traveloka, main online travel platform in Asia :” For a data science team, developing AI models is not the end game, but the value of the problem you are trying to solve”

According to you, how will AI disrupt the Insurance industry? And are the insurers afraid of Insurtech start-ups?

I wouldn’t consider AI as a disruption as it will only improve insurers’ efficiency as they become more customer-centric. The real disruption, in my opinion, will come from technologies such as Blockchain because it reduces middlemen such as agents/brokers, insurers, or even banks. In a trusted environment, people could pool risk among peers and get them directly reinsured without any.  

In the current value chain of insurance, it starts with the customer, of course, who buys an insurance from a broker or agent, the product is priced and underwritten by an insurer, who gets part of the risk reinsured by a reinsurer.

In today’s insurtech market, I would say that 80% of the start-ups are digitalizing the distribution experience, disrupting the intermediary but most likely supporting the digital sale of traditional insurance product.

The remaining 20% are working on solutions that would improve the efficiency of an insurer: AI in fraud detection, video-consultation to reduce healthcare cost and improve the customer experience, damage recognition from a car accident in order to speed up the process of surveyor and settle the claims faster with the counter-part insurer.

In the current context, insurtech start-ups are partners that can enable insurers to speed up their transformation and offer a better digital experience for our customers.

What do you find the most inspiring in the future you foresee?

The deployment of IoT and AI across all industries, made possible at affordable cost through the upcoming launch of 5G, cloud computing, and the emergence of blockchain will accelerate collaboration between platforms. While industries used to compete and work in silos, the new trend is to refocus on customer and collaborate to improved user experience through API integration. Technologies will also improve natural resources management and optimize existing assets.

Take the example of personal cars. In average they are  only in use 6% of their lifetime. Parking are expensive for both urban planning and users, and 30% of the traffic in big cities, such as Paris, are caused by people looking for a parking space. With the emergence of autonomous vehicle, the world will have to produce less cars and emit less greenhouse gas. In this period of fast change, every industry needs to transform and reinvent itself if it wishes to remain relevant in the connected AI-driven world of tomorrow.

How “dare you” be a women in data and how do you bring more diversity?

Diversity is not only about gender parity. Diversity is also about recruiting people from other industries, with different skill sets or culture. Diversity in ages and experience is also a great value inside and organization. Managing people with more skills or more experience should not be a threat.

I do support several initiatives promoting gender diversity in the data world. I am working with SheLovesData, girlswhocode and mentoring young female talents. In the book written by Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, the issues of women in leadership are well described: putting others before themselves, lack of networking skills and being afraid of reaching out to their network or refusing a job because you’re not sure to have 100% of the skills required. I’m quite proud of the female ratio we have in our team or within the global data family. Our group lead data architect is actually a woman and there are several women CDO in the region I’m reporting to. Be bold, take risks, don’t be afraid and fight for your values are the advices I would always give to young mentees.  #daretobeafemaleintech

#WomenInTech – Aurelie Dhellemmes

Hi Aurelie, so what do you do and what brought you to Asia?

I have quite a diverse background between Tech, Finance and Start-Up creation.

From Certified IT Architect at IBM to top Investment Banks’ front office management roles, I also co-founded start-ups in Tech and Education. In investment banking roles, I have often spearheaded new teams, launched new products and pushed the bank’s digital transformation.

All of your career has been with banks, sometimes chairing their digital council: How do you see banks acting to survive the disruption from fintechs?

VC fintech investment went from $1.8 billion in 2011 to $31 billion in 2018. Deal size in Asia are almost twice as big as the global average. In China, regulation has been more accommodating allowing players like Ant Financial, valued at $150 billion, to reshape digital payments, loans, and wealth and asset management. In Europe (including the UK), 20% of the banking and payments institutions are new entrants and have captured nearly 7% of total banking revenue, one-third (33%) of all new revenue since 2005.

The margin compressions and customer churn, across products, means banks have 2 alternatives: either play the volume game or become more sophisticated. For the volume commoditization game, it means often getting into price wars and fighting to be the most cost efficient through digitalisation. For the sophistication play, it can be through structuring sophisticated products, or recurring revenue / sticky solutions, or most importantly, being client-centric increasing product density with each client, i.e. at least, cross sell the franchise vs “siloed product pushing”.

The 5 dimensions to look at in the Traditional Banks vs FinTechs battle:

  1.    Trust: The trust factor towards banks from retail and institutional clients is still very strong. That’s one of the reasons why robot advisors are still struggling to take off. Most clients are still comfortable today to keep their cash and securities in banks. Will it stay so?
  2.    Data: For example, PSD2 regulation is opening banking data: the smallest fintech provider can get access to elaborate transaction records and use that data in new and interesting ways, if customers provide their approval to do so.
  3.    Credit is a key angle to attract new clients (retail or institutional). Many new entrants, including Ant Financial, are looking to offer credit to clients.
  4.    Innovation: Banks are under increased regulatory scrutiny, which suppresses appetite to take innovative risks.
  5.    Customer experience: For example, Standard Chartered has aligned its cash management offering with WeChat’s online payment gateway, giving corporate merchant customers access to 800 million consumers in China

How can banks cement their relevance with customers and regain revenue growth?

There is no doubt for me that survival of banks comes through keeping and attracting clients through a solid trust factor / customer experience, becoming the gateway like a Apple who owns the relationship, and being able to leverage SaaS “pay-as-you-go” applications in a nimble way, freeing themselves from legacy infrastructures. This is the platform play many industries are going through. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes says the future is being a digital travel company, a more open platform that potentially invites in the competition and sells ancillary products.

Tell us more about the platform play?

In the industrial area, it was all about process efficiencies, six-sigma, “waterfall” models, siloed departments. Today we “pay as we go”: a teenager can get you 1 million views on YouTube cheaper than an ad agency, you can get a room without going to a hotel, you can get a ride without being in a taxi.

We are moving from a siloed model to an ecosystem model where we are organised by purpose, from “beating the competition” to “being the competition”, from big idea to big data, from company-centric to client-centric, from ad agency driven to storytelling for customers, from disciplined to creative and innovative employees, from Pipeline to Platform. Banks are starting to organise multi-disciplinary innovative teams by purpose rather than skills.

Digital Transformation is more about people than digital. That’s why it takes time. Culture is the biggest barrier to Digital Transformation.

How do banks manage the culture shift?

Shifting traditional mindsets and operating models to deliver digital journeys at a start-up pace is no easy feat for a financial giant.

From a McKinsey study, the 3 main culture barriers are: 1. the presence of functional and departmental silos, 2. a fear of taking risks,  and 3. the difficulty of forming and acting on a single view of the consumer.

Two opposite forces are pulling banks: the constant and increased compliance scrutiny and the need to innovate. How do you let the crazy Doc from “back in the future” thrive in a top investment bank? How do you nurture and reward this innovative DNA? Organic culture shift will be too slow. How do you keep the pace of innovation and agility to change when you have a big ship to steer? Acquisition of start-ups? Sandbox experiments? Some banks are creating sandbox Neo-Banks. DBS created its digibank in India. Some banks may become the new Kodak, failing to move in the digital age. Engineer Steven Sasson was turned down by Kodak’s management when he showed them the digital camera, due to fears of cannibalization. Either you wait for competition to put you out of business or you become it.

Also, do you push a product or truly solve a pain point? Starbucks wants to be your third place after your home and office. You can get cheaper coffee elsewhere. What they are truly selling to you is space, i.e. going beyond siloed coffee product pushing, solving directly the pain point.

Again, Digital Transformation is more about people than digital. It requires a big cultural shake up. Let’s follow Einstein and his “Creativity is the intelligence having fun”.


Juggling between a finance career and start-ups is quite unusual!?

Social status today is conditioned mostly by your professional occupation, which is indicative of a whole range of identity markers: income bracket, level of training, belonging to a social “class” and all the supposed cultural habits that go with it. Slashing is challenging this view, i.e. focusing more on skills and eagerness to grow vs status. Slashing refers to the slash sign, as in “/”, and refers to people who combine more than one role or occupational identity, juggling with cultural codes as well as professional identities.

I enjoy the intensity and intellectual stimulation of working quadruple shifts and heavily action-driven (intense focus on one project at a time). I am extremely grateful to be surrounded by great teams on each project.

I feel passionate about creating, in start-ups as well as banks.

How many start-ups are you involved in?

I have been involved with 8 start-ups at different levels of involvement. I co-founded most. I never start a business on my own. My number one criteria: I invest my energy in people I believe in, mostly their appetite to get things done. We feed each other from our mutual energy and vision. I tend to prefer start-ups based on service (lower fixed costs), with a human and tech angle. For example:

      PixiumDigital: software development from app dev, website dev, IoT, data analytics, VR, to interactive display..

      KidsCampSingapore: founded 4 years ago, with thousands of kids coming, I am very proud that it has been voted best kidscamp in Singapore for the second year in a row by SassyMama. And, even for Kidscamp, we are undergoing a digital transformation of our back to front end.

      GoMasterCoach: For life coaches: 1/ a school to get their certification, 2/ online classes and 3/ a webapp: toolbox with all the tests/programs life coaches need.

What keeps you going is the satisfaction of creation, the intellectual stimulation as well as the collaboration with talented individuals.

How “Dare you” to be a serial woman entrepreneur in tech?

Good question. First time I ran a triathlon, one of my female friends asked me what was my time target for the triathlon. I answered “3 hours”. She very candidly replied  “how dare you think you will do as good as our guy friends!”. I value being a woman but it doesn’t define me or gives me any limit. You set your own limitations. Your beliefs define you.

Like for a triathlon, you have to dare believing in yourself, learn from your ability to adapt and make sure you have insane discipline to deliver.

How do you bring more diversity?

I was heading women networks in the different banks I was with. How do you break the “boys club”? How do you make sure women who “join the club” keep their diverse mindset and don’t mimic men? How do you prevent women from pursuing an individual strategy of advancement that centers on distancing themselves from other women?

Unfortunately, I am convinced the ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ initiatives have to be very top driven, such as the “Council for Board Diversity” in Singapore or the “30% Club”: campaigning for more women on boards, preparing them to be board-ready, giving scholarships, promoting cross-organisation mentoring or providing leadership courses.

At a more junior level, I always try to proactively go to women to suggest a role. I often get “I am not ready. I need extra experience.” Mentoring is more often on self-confidence than capability.

We are missing half the talents if they get demotivated by this closed club. Singapore listed companies had 7% women on their boards 5 years ago. The target is 20% by 2021.



#WomenInTech – Emilie Philippe

Another great interview! Emilie Phiilppe leads our Cybersecurity group at La French Tech Singapore, and we thought it would just make sense to learn more from her about the trends in this area. Read on and be ready to be surprised.

Hi Emilie, so what do you do and what brought you to Asia ?

My Singaporean adventure began in 2013. I came here with my husband as he relocated at the French Embassy after an assignment in Libya. Between 2003 and 2016, I worked with BNP Paribas in different roles and places.

I started in the IT security in Paris then moved to Legal in the Caribbeans, Risk Credits in Marseille and back to Paris in Compliance (Anti money-laundering, counter terrorism financing, head of investigations).

I carried on to work in the Compliance team when I came in Singapore. In June 2016, UBS chased me for a role of Regional Head of AML after the MAS inspection to roll-out the remediation plan and I joined them.
Working in a multicultural environment gave me great opportunities and insights to learn more about how I could challenge the scope of my work and enhance my agility.

After 15 years in the Banking industry and also in my Legal and Compliance comfort zone, I needed a change. I decided to dive in the cybersecurity startup ecosystem and joined Webdrone. I aligned very well with my adventurous mindset. I considered that it was not a risk but more a trigger to move forward.

How did you decide to jump into the startup world?

I place trust in life and magic of human encounters, even more so since I met my husband. It was in a very unlikely place…a police station, and he was the Chief of Police!

During the French Tech Tour in 2018, a friend of mine met the two founders of Webdrone (Hervé Putigny and Gérald Poitevineau) and shared with me how she was impressed by their expertise, true passion and clear vision.

It was fun and their project fitted perfectly with my aspirations so I was curious to learn more about them. As a proactive and enthusiastic woman, I met them in Paris then in Dijon and we got along right off the bat (not only because I am a Burgundy wine lover 😉). After an hour ofdiscussion, it was obvious that we were like minded people. I wanted to create the Asian entity from scratch, develop the business and support them in the innovation of new compliance features.

I embarked on their cybersecurity journey as
Board member and Managing Director for
APAC . The take-off from the corporate to the start-up world was instantaneous.

The heart of Webdrone activity is “fighting against cybercrime”. It is in line with my life values and willingness to impact the world. We support institutions and companies be more secure, protect their intellectual properties of products and services and improve Web quality.

Why do we need cyber security in business?

Today, you can find everything and
anything on the Web. Guns, drugs, fake medicines, illegal software, untrusted individual or company profiles, environmental crimes, counterfeiting of food, sport accessories or luxury goods, you name it.

For example, medicine trafficking is an estimated USD200 Bn worldwide. It is 20% of the whole Pharma market. I let you imagine the consequences on health.

So you need cybersecurity solutions in business to sign ‘clean’ deals, choose the good business partners, protect your reputation, your clients and your product/service. In short, it is strategic for the value and potential of each company. If a crime online is done under the name of your company/Individual, it will be discovered, it will impact your business and the reputation of your entity.

How is Webdrone helping ?

Things are moving fast on the Internet and the needs to automate online investigations is key. You need to do it across the whole web (clear – deep – dark) and detect any piece of information, anywhere, in any language.

Our virtual drones act and think as super cyber investigators. They do it extremely fast and they can crawl a huge volume of data to provide a customized operational report on the target (e.g. product, individual, etc.)

Our technology was recognized for its performance and won two iconic Awards in 2018: Global award anti-counterfeiting and Security Brand & consumers protection award.

We hear a lot about the dark net. What is it?

The famous picture given is an onion with several layers, it is a small part of the Web less than 5%. In the dark Net environment, you can find heterogeneous bubbles which are not indexed by search engines. One of of the most-used method to reach hidden data is the TOR web browser based on Mozilla Firefox. For each connexion, after retrieving listing of network nods, a build of a random loop through 3 nods from the network is achieved with an encryption layer between each node. This process ensures anonymity of information and users navigation. DarkNet is used by OCG (Organized Crime Groups), sexual predators, drugs, guns, counterfeited goods dealers etc.

How dare you to be a women in cybersecurity?

For me, it is not a question of gender. I am a strong believer in collaborative intelligence and “Medici Effect”. We can do bigger things if we are different people from different cultures with different backgrounds around the table. I love challenges and accept to be challenged to enhance my skills.

“They didn’t know it was impossible; So they did it”, wrote Mark Twain.

How do you bring more diversity?

Well first I am part of the cybersecurity ecosystem as a woman 😉🙋. I also co-created the cybersecurity chapter for the French Tech here in Singapore. Several ladies attend our events and I am sure you will read their interviews soon! Together we can achieve more, so join us for the next event!