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Q&A with Experian’s Chief Data Officer, Jonathan Westley

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

1.            We are seeing more organisations establishing stronger data leadership steered by a Chief Data Officer (CDO) – what does the role entail?

The acceleration of technology means we now live in a world built on data – it is everywhere, forever growing in value and significance. If used correctly, it has the potential to make hugely positive changes to the way we all live and work.

As organisations of all shapes and sizes increasingly find themselves in possession of more customer information than ever before, there also comes great responsibility. This is where my remit starts - leading Experian’s regional data office, a single enterprise function of 145 people focusing on how we acquire, use and govern data.

The data office enables us to leverage new data talent, technology and the best practices that can help us gain the necessary insight to innovate and stay competitive in the market.

I am also proud to be driving Experian’s mission to significantly reduce financial exclusion - an issue affecting 5.8 million people in the UK and one which we believe we can tackle with innovation, and by adding new and relevant data sources. The data office gives us a solid platform to do this.

2.            Can you further explain Experian’s work to tackle financial inclusion?

Financial exclusion is a global issue – with 1.7 billion adults remaining unbanked and nearly half of those unbanked adults living in just seven countries. These ‘Invisibles’ can find themselves omitted from mainstream finance leading to a situation where people can actually pay more for goods and services and have less choice.

New data sources and cutting-edge technology can play a key role in helping every adult in the world become financially included. For example, in the UK, through our partnership with the Big Issue Invest on the Rental Exchange, we are already working to see a reduction in the ‘Invisible’ population. More than 1.2 million tenants now have rental information on their Experian credit reports and we expect 79 per cent to see a noticeable improvement to their credit histories as a result.

And it doesn’t stop there. By adding further new data sources, such as data from utility companies, along with Open Banking data, we estimate that we can reduce the Invisible population by a further 1.5 million people.

3.            Aside from financial inclusion, what other benefits does Open Banking have on consumers?

Open Banking offers people the chance to access a wider range of products and services by choosing to share their bank transaction data. We are in a great position to support this having received FCA accreditation last year to supply Open Banking services. The accreditation allows Experian to help people benefit from the initiative through a suite of products, so that consumers can share data in a secure and compliant way.

In fact, since its inception 18 months ago, we’ve seen a number of exciting new personal finance tools emerge, helping people manage their money more effectively with extra insight provided through Open Banking.

Experian is behind many of the Open Banking services you see today, processing more than 40 per cent of the successful Open Banking API requests, when people consent to share their bank account transaction data.

Open Banking has the potential to be transformative in the way we all engage with our personal finances, but it’s fundamental that we address more trust in the process of sharing data in this way and develop more in industry-wide confidence in the practice of open data sharing, to take advantage of the opportunities that it brings.

4.            How are you helping consumers establish greater control over their financial profiles?

The introduction of new regulation in the UK has changed the game when it comes to the way people can take control of their data. Not only have we seen the arrival of the Open Banking initiative, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has also made a huge impact enforcing a new focus on individual rights around the use of personal information.

At Experian, we are embracing this new age of consumer empowerment and believe the next stage of this journey is to help more people add their own consumer contributed data directly to their credit files and improve their credit scores.

This will enable them to get access to more affordable products and services, by building out financial track records with relevant financial data, helping lenders to understand credit risk in a way that is fit for purpose in a rapidly changing marketplace.

We have already seen early success in the US where we have introduced Experian Boost, allowing individuals to add positive financial data – such as savings and investments payments, subscriptions and utilities bills - to their credit file, boosting their credit scores in the process.

We are looking to bring this to many of our markets including the UK, where it will help more people to access wider financial options through accurate and appropriate consumer contributed data.

5.            How can businesses take advantage of the opportunity that data can provide?

Despite ambitions, many businesses fail to take full advantage of the opportunity that data can provide because current infrastructure and management practices are not set-up to handle today’s digital consumers.

In fact, our research suggests seven in 10 businesses struggle to unlock data’s true potential because of a lack of control, leaving many businesses with untrusted data that undermines business innovation and customer interactions.

However, we are seeing more organisations establishing stronger data leadership steered by a Chief Data Officer. New leadership, empowered by business-user focused technology, can deliver the strategic direction to ensure the right people have access to trusted data and deliver the best outcomes for the business.

For me, data leaders also need to encourage an organisational culture that is data-literate and values the information they have as an asset.  Unlocking the power that lies in data and technology relies wholly on having the knowledge and skills to understand, interpret and derive value from it.

Johnathan Westley, Chief Data Officer, Experian