Discover how the automotive group at DS4A Employer Partner Ally Financial leverages data, collaboration and diversity to power their business.
Ally Financial is a one hundred-year-old company that thinks like a startup. The company began life as the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, focused solely on providing automotive financing to General Motors customers. In 2009, it reinvented itself as a digital financial services company focused on overcoming traditional financial pain points of its consumers. Today, Ally does everything from consumer banking and issuing credit cards to refinancing mortgages and managing investment portfolios.
But car loans are still very much in the company’s genetic makeup. And if car loans are Ally’s DNA, then data are the nucleotides that make up that DNA. “There's a lot of value in applying a statistical, data-driven decision making approach,” notes Daniel Soltys, Ally’s Senior Director in Remarketing, Pricing and Strategy.
A data-driven approach benefits when there are a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives at the table—a fact that the Ally team recognizes. The company has a long track record of championing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), ranging from their equitable pay policy to their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to their CEO being one of the first to sign the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge.
Ally’s commitment to DEI extends to its partnership with Correlation One. As one of our Employer Partners, Ally contributes to scholarship and mentorship opportunities for our Data Science for All (DS4A) candidates—and gains access to a diverse pipeline of potential job candidates.
Soltys, together with Senior Director of Auto Valuations Emily Kim, Talent Acquisition Manager Bobby Spaziani and DEI Recruiter Brandy Cook, recently joined us for one of our Data Science @ Work sessions, where we invite Employer Partners like Ally to come speak to our fellows and graduates about their company, culture and commitment to DEI.
Below, we share some of the highlights from the session, including the makeup of Ally’s automotive group, the team’s focus on inclusivity and the importance of being able to learn on the job.
One thing to note about automotive lending at Ally is that it’s a team sport. There are five main divisions within Kim’s automotive organization—all of which inform each other, and all of which benefit from a data-driven approach.
First, there’s Infrastructure and Innovation. “They’re constantly thinking about ways that we can improve collaboration and can broaden our functionality or capability,” says Soltys.
Then, there’s Data Engineering. That team’s focus is on “getting the data into usable form,” says Soltys. “Any issues with the data itself—all the automation, code versioning, implementation of changes to code, any sort of production code—that's going to go through data engineering.”
Next, there’s Auto Valuations—“probably the purest statistical modeling group within the organization,” Soltys notes. “They own the market index. What is the market? What is the price of a standard vehicle, relative to a year ago, two years ago?”
Next up, there’s Proceeds Optimization, Soltys’s group. “I've got the luxury of a short timeframe,” observes Soltys. “I only care about the cars that just came back that I've got to go sell. I'm going to set the prices. I'm going to be evaluating strategies for disposal: is there a cheaper way to do this, is there a better way to understand the collateral we have?”
Finally, there’s Quality and Reporting. “This team monitors our performance, escalates any problems we might have, and thinks about ways of presenting the information,” Soltys says. “How can we best measure our success, and thereby improve our success?”
A core benefit of working as interdisciplinarily as the Ally automotive group does is that one division of the group sees things that another might not. “It's extremely important to have somebody focused on the bigger picture, because I and my counterpart in auto valuations can be lost in the weeds, right?” Soltys points out. “We need someone looking out for us, somebody to make sure that we're not over-fixated on a single thing.”
Key to ensuring that the team isn’t getting over-fixated on a single thing is Ally’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Ally really seeks to be an inclusive culture that brings every perspective into the fold because we recognize that having all of the same voices is gonna get you in trouble,” says Soltys. “Without diverse perspectives, you're going to be myopically focused, and your eye won't be on risks that you're not conceiving, because you wind up with groupthink and confirmation bias.”
As Talent Acquisition Manager Bobby Spaziani points out, DEI is not just about who you hire—it’s also about who you promote. “How are we promoting diversity?” he says. “How are we allowing folks equal opportunity to grow within the organization and be a part of senior leadership teams?” (36% of women or people of color at Ally “were promoted or moved into new roles to advance their career in 2021,” according to the company’s internal data.)
And as DEI Recruiter Brandy Cook notes, DEI encompasses more than gender and race. “[When] we talk about DEI, a lot of them are very physical attributes,” she observes. “But diversity in abilities, diversity of thought, diversity of personality—we look at diversity very broadly at Ally.”
For Senior Director of Auto Valuations Emily Kim, the importance of DEI isn’t theoretical—it’s personal. As a woman working in a highly analytical field, she’s experienced firsthand the challenges that come with being a member of an underrepresented group. “The lack of women in computer science and technical degrees continues to be a challenge in the US,” Kim says. “I have witnessed this on a personal level through my mother, myself and my children.”
Fortunately, Kim says, the narrative surrounding women and technical fields is starting to change. “While there has been an underrepresentation of women in advanced analytics we do enjoy more gender diversification in this generation,” she notes. “We are seeing a greater percentage of women coming out of school with quantitative degrees.” Programs like DS4A also help close the gap, since they remove the need for expensive degrees that might pose a barrier to upskilling or retraining.
A big part of the reason Ally is able to hire with diversity in mind is because the company doesn’t expect new hires to come in the door with all of the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their role.
“The nature of applied statistics is that not a whole lot of it is going to be actually taught in school,” observes Soltys. “It’s going to be so tailored to the problem or the subject matter that the company is dealing with, the problems it's trying to solve, that it's got to be learned on the job.”
Because they understand the work they do as highly specialized but also trainable, working with people without technical backgrounds doesn’t phase the Ally team. “We’ve had several people come to us without technical skills,” notes Kim. “We view it as our job and our duties to help people with upskilling, in terms of learning new technology, learning a new programming language. We really value that piece of what we do.”
So what is the Ally team looking for in a job candidate, if not a particular line item on their resume? “I tend to look for curiosity met with drive,” says Soltys. “It’s one thing to be wondering about everything all the time, but having that diligence or that drive to not only be curious, but to go out and figure it out for yourself.”
“Really, critical thinking is the most important piece of the pie,” adds Kim. “To be able to take a complex problem and break it into small pieces, to really come up with a framework and an approach.”
The ability to work collaboratively and creatively with people from a wide range of backgrounds is key to the success of any business in the 21st century economy—a fact that Ally recognizes and continues to make investments toward every day.
No matter what background you come from, a commitment to curiosity and a willingness to learn can open up many paths in a field as diverse and dynamic as data science.
Interested in learning more about how your company can partner with Correlation One to train today’s data talent to drive tomorrow’s business success? Read more.