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It’s Getting Early Late Around Here

Retailers are already starting to display their Christmas decorations in stores and it’s only early November. Some might think they are putting the cart ahead of the horse, but as I see this happening, I’m reminded of the quote by the New York Yankee’s Yogi Berra who famously said, “It gets late early out there.” It may never be too early to get ready for the next big thing, especially when what’s coming might set the course for years to come.

As 2019 comes to an end and we prepare for the excitement and challenges of a new decade, the same can be true for all of us working in the lending and credit space, especially when it comes to how we will approach the use of alternative data in the next decade.

Over the last year, alternative data has been a hot topic of discussion. If you typed “alternative data and credit” into a Google search today, you would get more than 200 million results. That’s a lot of conversations, but while nearly everyone seems to be talking about alternative data, we may not have a clear view of how alternative data will be used in the credit economy.

How we approach the use of alternative data in the coming decade is going to be one of the most important decisions the lending industry makes. Inaction is not an option, and the time for testing new approaches is starting to run out – as Yogi said, it’s getting late early. And here’s why: millennials.

We already know that millennials tend to make up a significant percentage of consumers with so-called “thin-file” credit reports. They “grew up” during the Great Recession and that has had a profound impact on their financial behavior. Unlike their parents, they tend to have only one or two credit cards, they keep a majority of their savings in cash and, in general, they distrust financial institutions. However, they currently account for more than 21 percent of discretionary spend in the U.S. economy, and that percentage is going to expand exponentially in the coming decade.

The recession fundamentally changed how lending happens, resulting in more regulation and a snowball effect of other economic challenges. As a result, millennials must work harder to catch up financially and are putting off major life milestones that past generations have historically done earlier in life, such as homeownership. They more often choose to rent and, while they pay their bills, rent and other factors such as utility and phone bill payments are traditionally not calculated in credit scores, ultimately leaving this generation thin-filed or worse, credit invisible. This is not a sustainable scenario as we enter the next decade.

One of the biggest market dynamics we can expect to see over the next decade is consumer control. Consumers, especially millennials, want to be in the driver’s seat of their “credit journey” and play an active role in improving their financial situations. We are seeing a greater openness to providing data, which in turn enables lenders to make more informed decisions. This change is disrupting the status quo and bringing new, innovative solutions to the table.

At Experian, we have been testing how advanced analytics and machine learning can help accelerate the use of alternative data in credit and lending decisions. And we continue to work to make the process of analyzing this data as simple as possible, making it available to all lenders in all verticals.

To help credit invisible and thin-file consumers gain access to fair and affordable credit, we’ve recently announced Experian Lift, a new suite of credit score products that combines exclusive traditional credit, alternative credit and trended data assets to create a more holistic picture of consumer creditworthiness that will be available to lenders in early 2020. This new Experian credit score may improve access to credit for more than 40 million credit invisibles.

There are more than 100 million consumers who are restricted by the traditional scoring methods used today. Experian Lift is another step in our commitment to helping improve financial health of consumers everywhere and empowers lenders to identify consumers who may otherwise be excluded from the traditional credit ecosystem.

This isn’t just a trend in the United States. Brazil is using positive data to help drive financial inclusion, as are others around the world. As I said, it’s getting late early. Things are moving fast. Already we are seeing technology companies playing a bigger role in the push for alternative data – often powered by fintech startups. At the same time, there also has been a strong uptick in tech companies entering the banking space. Have you signed up for your Apple credit card yet? It will take all of 15 seconds to apply, and that’s expected to continue over the next decade.

All of this is changing how the lending and credit industry must approach decision making, while also creating real-time frictionless experiences that empower the consumer. We saw this with the launch of Experian Boost earlier this year. The results speak for themselves: hundreds of thousands of previously thin-file consumers have seen their credit scores instantly increase. We have also empowered millions of consumers to get more control of their credit by using Experian Boost to contribute new, positive phone, cable and utility payment histories.

Through Experian Boost, we’re empowering consumers to play an active role in building their credit histories. And, with Experian Lift, we’re empowering lenders to identify consumers who may otherwise be excluded from the traditional credit ecosystem.

That’s game-changing. Disruptions like Experian Boost and newly announced Experian Lift are going to define the coming decade in credit and lending. Our industry needs to be ready because while it may seem early, it’s getting late.