Lenders are under pressure to improve access to financial services, but can it also be a vehicle for driving growth?
With the global pandemic and social justice movements exposing societal issues of equity, financial institutions are being called upon to do their part to address these problems, too. Lenders are increasingly under pressure to improve access to the financial system and help close the wealth gap in America.
Specifically, there are calls to improve financial inclusion – the process of ensuring financial products and services are accessible and affordable to everyone. Financial inclusion seeks to remove barriers to accessing credit, which can ultimately help individuals and businesses create wealth and elevate communities. Activists and regulators have singled out the current credit scoring system as a significant obstacle for a large portion of U.S. consumers.
From an equity standpoint, tackling financial inclusion is a no-brainer: better access to credit allows more consumers to secure safer housing and better schools, which could lead to higher-paying jobs, as well as the ability to start businesses and get insurance. Being able to access credit in a regulated and transparent way underpins financial stability and prosperity for communities and is key to creating a stronger economic system. Beyond “doing the right thing,” research shows that financial inclusion can also fuel business growth for lenders.
Get ahead of the game
There is mounting regulatory pressure to embrace financial inclusion, and financial institutions may soon need to comply with new mandates. Current lending practices overlook many marginalized communities and low-income consumers, and government agencies are seeking to change that.
Government agencies and organizations, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), are requiring greater scrutiny and accountability of financial institutions, working to overhaul the credit reporting system to ensure fairness and equality.
As a lender, it makes good business sense to tackle this problem now. For starters, as more institutions embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandates—something that’s increasingly demanded by shareholders and customers alike—financial inclusion is a natural place to start. It demonstrates a commitment to CSR principles and creates a positive brand built on equity.
Further, financial institutions that embrace these changes gain an early adopter advantage and can build a loyal customer base. As these consumers begin to build wealth and expand their use of financial products, lenders will be able to forge lifelong relationships with these customers.
Why not get a head start on making positive organizational change before the law compels it?
Grow your business (and profits)
To be sure, financial inclusion is a pressing moral imperative that financial institutions must address. But financial inclusion doesn’t come at the expense of profit. It represents an enormous opportunity to do business with a large, untapped market without taking on additional risk. In many instances, unscorable and credit invisible consumers exhibit promising credit characteristics, which the conventional credit scoring system does not yet recognize.
Consider consumers coming to the U.S. from other countries. They may have good credit histories in their home countries but have not yet established a credit history here. Likewise, many young, emerging consumers haven’t generated enough history to be categorized as creditworthy. And some consumers may simply not utilize traditional credit instruments, like credit cards or loans. Instead, they may be using non-bank credit instruments (like payday loans or buy-now-pay-later arrangements) but regularly make payments.
Ultimately, because of the way the credit system works, research shows that lenders are ignoring almost 20 percent of the U.S. population that don’t have conventional credit scores as potential customers. These consumers may not be inherently riskier than scored consumers, but they often get labelled as such by the current credit scoring system. That’s a major, missed opportunity!
Modern credit scoring tools can help fill the information gap and rectify this. They draw on wider data sources that include consumer activities (like rent, utility and non-bank loan payments) and provide holistic information to assist with more accurate decisioning. For example, Lift Premium™ can score 96 percent of Americans with this additional information—a vast improvement over the 81 percent who are currently scored with conventional credit data.1 By tapping into these tools, financial institutions can extend credit to underserved populations, foster consumer loyalty and grow their portfolio of profitable customers.
Do good for the economy
Research suggests that financial inclusion can provide better outcomes for both individuals and economies. Specifically, it can lead to greater investment in education and businesses, better health, lower inequality, and greater entrepreneurship.
For example, an entrepreneur who can access a small business loan due to an expanded credit scoring model is subsequently able to create jobs and generate taxable revenue. Small business owners spend money in their communities and add to the tax base – money that can be used to improve services and attract even more investment.
Of course, not every start-up is a success. But if even a portion of new businesses thrive, a system that allows more consumers to access opportunities to launch businesses will increase that possibility.
The last word
Financial inclusion promotes a stronger economy and thriving communities by opening the world of financial services to more people, which benefits everyone. It enables underserved populations to leverage credit to become homeowners, start businesses and use credit responsibly—all markers of financial health. That in turn creates generational wealth that goes a long way toward closing the wealth gap.
And widening the credit net also enables lenders to uncover new revenue sources by tapping new creditworthy consumers. Expanded data and advanced analytics allow lenders to get a fuller picture of credit invisible and unscorable consumers. Opening the door of credit will go a long way to establishing customer loyalty and creating opportunities for both consumers and lenders.