Just A Few Questions: Penny Leach

Author: Hal Kirkwood, Bodleian Business Librarian and BIR Editorial Board member

In the second instalment of Just A Few Questions, I spend a little time with Penny Leach, Head of Business Information Services at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to find out more about her role and her perspective on the information industry. 

Hal: Tell me about the EBRD and your role there.

Penny: The EBRD is the only International Financial Institution (IFI) based in the UK.  Founded in 1991 in the post-Cold War era, to further progress towards ‘market-oriented economies and the promotion of private and entrepreneurial initiative’ in Central and Eastern Europe, we now operate across three continents in almost 40 countries and have as shareholders 71 countries as well as the EU and EIB.   Our primary activity is to finance projects in our Countries of Operation so as to promote environmentally and socially sound and sustainable development; our investment work has evolved over the years,  most recently with the Green Economy Transition approach.   

I am the Head of Business Information Services (BIS) at the EBRD.  We provide access to external content for our internal clients, either directly through licenses to data and research products, or via our team of researchers.    Given the wide-reaching mandate of the Bank our client base is very diverse – bankers, risk managers, economists, political counsellors, lawyers, and compliance officers amongst others.   The majority of the team are based at our London headquarters; however, in line with the expanding footprint of the Bank we now have staff based in subsidiary offices, including Istanbul now that Türkiye is the biggest recipient of our funds.   Fortunately, unlike some of our colleagues in other multilateral development banks, our services are all virtual – we do not maintain a physical collection of any kind. 

Hal: What are some of the specific projects you are currently working on? 

Penny: BIS is very much part of the Bank’s first line of defence of the integrity of the Bank, helping protect its reputation and future through due diligence in relation to new business and existing transactions.  Our Integrity operations have grown in volume and complexity, and we are reviewing the tools and processes we follow and use.  The intention is to be part of the digital transformation of the Bank.

Obviously, we need to constantly review the skills of the team as well as the portfolio of external content we can access, to remain aligned with the Bank’s business and other initiatives.  In recent years changes have included expanding our linguistic capacities to support the Bank’s geographical expansion in to the Southern and Mediterranean region and researching sources to support our Countries of Operation through the pandemic, the impact of the war on Ukraine, changing sector strategies (such as the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy) and the need for climate finance.    

As a background to all our activities this year, we are making a physical move from the City of London to our new office in the Canary Wharf business district, and a virtual move with a migration to a new computing environment.   Currently we are also implementing a new enterprise subscription management platform.

Hal: What do you see as the biggest or most influential trends within business information?

Penny: Naturally we subscribe to a wide range of data and information products ranging across many content types – market data, market research, ratings, risk intelligence, news, statistics and so on – as well as searching open sources.  In common with other colleagues in the sector, we see that M&A activity is dramatically impacting the business information sector, causing disruption and uncertainty in managing agreements with providers and their mix of products.   I look forward to further innovation from the investment in the market.  We also see big players bundling products in to a ‘one size fits all’ offering; while internal customers want very granular data, potentially as feeds, raising the complexity of licenses – already more complex due to data protection and other provisions – and adding to the challenge of understanding and monitoring usage.  Suppliers are affected too by change and cost pressures, with one seeming by-product a dramatic increase in the rate of churn across account contacts and, in some cases, a decline in service levels.  When it comes to market research a particular challenge is distinguishing credible research providers against those offering very topical reports, but which are not necessarily based on anything other than mathematical manipulations of figures extrapolated from open sources or their more reliable competitors. 

Hal: Considering the information profession as a whole, what do you see as the biggest challenges on the horizon?

Penny: I prefer to view this question as focused on opportunities for information pros.  These are huge as the need for information and data, and their effective management, rises across sectors (academia, industry, third sector, etc).   Roles can be very varied – researcher, knowledge manager, product developer, account manager, business analyst.  However, it’s true that the value of information professionals may not be recognised against multiple perceptions of information as a commodity to be procured, as a business tool, as part of a technology platform, as a problem that AI will fix, as an activity where a commonly used search engine can find the answer.   And we need to keep investing in our talent pipeline.  Unfortunately, as witnessed by the challenges facing membership groups such as the SLA, the diversity of roles for information professionals can weaken the bonds of the professional community, otherwise a valuable source of education and experience for that pipeline.   Nonetheless SLA Europe is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and is still going strong. 

Hal: Thanks very much, Penny, for chatting with me today.

Just A Few Questions will become a recurring series here on the Business Information Review Blog. If you would like to suggest someone for a future interview, please email me at kirkwoodhal-birblog@gmail.com