How Cloud Computing Will Drive Financial Inclusion

Financial services companies have long struggled to make inclusive decisions for small businesses and for low- and moderate-income consumers. One key reason: to make accurate predictions of the financial risks associated with those customers’ accounts requires lenders to rely on a wider variety of data than a credit score alone. To accurately assess risk, expanded Fair Credit Reporting Act regulated data is helpful – including rental data, trended data, enhanced public records, alternative financial services data and more. This expanded FCRA data is one key to financial inclusion. Without that data, lenders risk rejecting potentially profitable customers, including so-called credit invisibles and thin file consumers.

In fact, The Federal Reserve, along with four important financial services regulators, highlighted the consumer benefits of alternative data in their December 2019 interagency statement. That statement also highlighted the increased importance of managing compliance when firms use alternative data in credit underwriting.

With hundreds of data sources available to help with important tasks such as verifying identity, checking credit, and assessing the value of automotive and real-estate collateral, why have some lenders been slow to use the most appropriate data attributes when making credit decisions? One reason is a matter of IT Architecture; another is priorities. Changing a business process to take advantage of new data requirements can be prohibitively lengthy and costly – ­in terms of both analytical and IT resources. This is especially true for older systems—which were seldom adapted to use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) supporting modern data structures such as JSON. Furthermore, data access to older systems can require specific types of system connectivity such as VPNs or leased lines. Latency is important in this type of application: some of these tasks have to be done instantly in a digital-first or digital-only lending environment. So is time to market: lenders deploying analytics processes cannot wait for overtaxed IT teams to complete lengthy projects.

Lenders’ analytics and IT teams have long known they need to be more agile and efficient, faster to market, and increasingly secure. Their answer, largely, has been a slow but steady migration of their systems to the cloud. A 2019 McKinsey survey revealed that CIOs were modernizing their infrastructures primarily to achieve four goals: agility and time to market, quality and reliability, cost, and security. There are other benefits as well.

But if the business case for a cloud strategy was somewhat clear to IT and analytics leaders, it became crystal clear to the rest of the business in 2020. As companies shifted to at-home work using cloud-based collaboration tools, especially videoconferencing services, most companies conquered what was perhaps the final barrier to entry—the fear that the issues of data privacy and security were somehow more insurmountable with virtual machines, containers, and microservices than with on-premise infrastructure. Last quarter, the leading cloud providers ­Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure ­reported incredible annual revenue growth: 29%, 45%, and 48% respectively. COVID-19 has proven to be the catalyst that greatly sped up the transition to cloud technologies.

The jump to the cloud means that lenders are suddenly more capable than ever at making analytically sound – and therefore more financially inclusive ­decisions. The key to analytical decision-making is to use the right data and to make the most appropriate calculations (called attributes) as part of a business strategy or a mathematical model. With Experian programs such as Attribute Toolbox now available in the cloud, calculating those all-important attributes is as simple for the IT department as coding an API call. Lenders will soon be able just as easily to retrieve and process raw data from over 100 data sources, to recognize their native formats and to extract the desired information quickly enough for real-time and batch decisioning.

The pandemic has brought economic distress to millions of Americans—it is unlike anything in our lifetimes. The growth of cloud computing promises to enable these consumers to obtain additional products as well as more favorable pricing and terms. It’s ironic that COVID has accelerated the adoption of the very technologies that will expand access to credit for many people who cannot currently access it from mainstream financial firms.

To learn more about our Attribute Toolbox, click here.

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