Heather Koo is a Managing Director and expert in data analytics and damages analysis focusing on class action litigation in the banking sector. She couples her finance background and passion for data-driven analysis to help banking clients and outside counsel design winning strategies and defenses derived from complex analyses and key insights.
In this “Behind the Expert” feature, Heather shares what drives her passion for helping clients along with insights about some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today and how to succeed amidst an ever-evolving regulatory landscape that continuously impacts legal claims.
Heather, please describe your expertise and tell us, how you came to this career path.
For the past ten years, I have worked with the data analytics team in our Disputes & Economics practice and primarily focused on class action litigation. My role involves analyzing large and complex data sets and determining the potential damages at issue in any given case. I specialize in overdraft fee litigation, which involves class action suits, brought by plaintiffs claiming that a financial institution has improperly charged or disclosed fees to their customers. Our clients typically use our analyses to inform their litigation strategy and decisions.
What inspired you to pursue a career in data-driven analysis for legal counsel?
I came to Ankura through a prior acquisition. When I started in this industry, I found myself drawn to projects that involved finding solutions for clients through complex data analytics. Before I knew it, I had learned several programming languages, obtained a graduate degree in Data Science, and the rest is history!
In my current position, I primarily manage projects related to overdraft fee class actions. It is a perfect combination of my finance background and my interest in data analytics.
"I am inspired by the ability to leverage data-driven analyses to provide our clients and their legal counsel with mission-critical information to make informed decisions on litigation strategy." - Heather Koo, Managing Director
Can you walk us through your day-to-day experience as a litigation disputes consultant?
My day-to-day can vary quite a bit depending on the specific case and the stage of litigation of the project. My work involves analyzing large amounts of data to inform damages analyses that support legal claims. This can include reviewing transactional data, fee schedules, and other financial data to build a comprehensive understanding of the case.
At the outset of a new case, I invest a lot of time familiarizing myself with the specifics of the claims involved and reviewing sample client data to determine the data sources and information needed to analyze the claim. From there, I work with a team of analysts to develop strategies to analyze the data available and build our case. This can involve teaching the client's team how to conduct analyses using tools like SQL (Structured Query Language).
I spend a lot of time communicating with clients and legal teams to share critical updates and learnings such as sharing the insights that we have gleaned from the data.
Who are your main clients and how do you work with them?
Our core clients include financial institutions and outside counsel for banks. One of the key benefits we offer to our clients is our ability to assist them in the collection and archiving of data, which is critical in making a strong case in litigation. This is especially important for bigger banks and credit unions, where the data collection process is typically quite extensive.
It is always a lot of work compiling and organizing the necessary data for any large organization, but that work is not for the only benefit of the litigation at hand. Thanks to the work we do at the very start, our clients will have data that is readily available and can be better positioned to handle any future litigation or regulatory investigations that may arise. Additionally, our clients benefit from our expertise in data analysis and the ability to provide them with data-driven insights that help them make more informed decisions.
Tell us about one of the most challenging cases that you have encountered and how you led your client to a successful outcome.
One of the most challenging cases I have encountered was a regulatory investigation against a large bank. Our expertise and analytics were relied upon in the negotiation of a consent order between the bank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). By leveraging our multidisciplinary expertise, we were able to show that some customers were frequently opting in and out of certain fees and may have had a clear understanding of the fees that were charged to their accounts. As a result, we were able to assist in significantly reducing the settlement that needed to be paid. Of course, this is just one of many such investigations and litigations in which we have been involved, and in total, we have saved our clients hundreds of millions of dollars.
You mentioned the importance of having data readily available. What do you do when this is not the case?
Data availability is one of the biggest challenges we face. In cases where data is not readily available, we work closely with the bank to understand their systems and data storage processes. We typically search for transactional data during the relevant time period, which can sometimes span several years beyond the client’s data retention policy. Oftentimes the data may be archived or backed up as semi-structured reports. In those instances, we create models to convert and process the reports into structured data for our analyses.
You have worked in a variety of industries including banking, healthcare, manufacturing, and even transportation. What are some of the largest problems your field is facing right now, and how does it influence your work?
In my experience, the largest problems facing our field are related to the complexity of how financial institutions process transactions and fees, and the changing regulatory environment around bank fees. For example, the merchant-controlled time delay between the authorization and settlement of a debit card purchase can result in a situation when an overdraft fee is charged to a customer, even though the customer had sufficient funds available in their account when they initiated the purchase (an “Approve Positive, Settle Negative” overdraft fee). These situations can be difficult for customers to understand - even when they are disclosed—resulting in "breach of contract" claims. Additionally, regulators and legislators have been closely reviewing these “surprise” fee practices as well. In the midst of changing regulations and evolving legal claims, we are faced with significant challenges in both negotiations and building cases for our clients.
"We navigate this changing landscape by working closely with our clients to gain a deep understanding of their systems and fee practices so that we can best respond to different types of claims and new regulatory actions. When new claims arise, we are well-positioned to understand the types of information that will be needed in order to analyze that claim." - Heather Koo, Managing Director
What advice do you have for young professionals, students, or individuals that are thinking about pursuing a career in your field?
It is difficult to choose a single piece of general advice, as every person’s situation is unique, but what I have learned throughout my career is that it is best to try to talk to as many professionals and interact with as many teams as possible. This can pave the way to finding out what interests you most, and many people will be happy to welcome you and open doors for you. Just because you are currently working on a particular type of project does not mean you cannot explore other avenues later!
In your own words, what does “Diversity in Action. Results Delivered.” mean to you?
Diversity is not just a slogan or a buzzword, but a core value that must be put into practice to achieve results. At Ankura, we value and prioritize diversity in our hiring and team composition. As a woman and person of color, I have been supported throughout my career with Ankura by amazing mentors and role models of all backgrounds. In turn, I aim to also be a mentor and role model to others in the same way. Ultimately, “Diversity in Action” means providing opportunities for everyone to succeed and delivering results through collaboration and inclusivity.
© Copyright 2023. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of Ankura Consulting Group, LLC., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals. Ankura is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice.