Faaez Samadi
May 6, 2019

Reimagining data to help Asia’s unbanked: Experian CMO

Sisca Margaretta of Experian explains how the company’s secure use of innovative data has changed lives in Southeast Asia.

Reimagining data to help Asia’s unbanked: Experian CMO

As a global information services company, Experian is extremely well versed in the importance of data privacy, according to APAC chief marketing officer Sisca Margaretta. Hand in hand with all the amazing opportunities data offers brands is the issue currently consuming the marketing and communications world: trust.  

“With GDPR and other legislation, we’re seeing more and more that consumers are in control, and we need to put control back in their hands to build trust with them in today’s digital economy," she says.

Thus, the findings in Experian’s latest APAC study into global identity and fraud do not surpise Margaretta, where the overarching theme is that consumers in the region now value trust over convenience: 71% of respondents said they value security most in their online experience.

“Data is becoming such an issue, we thought at one point data could no longer just be an asset, but a liability [for businesses],” she says. “So we’re looking at more responsible innovation.”

The demand for trust is stronger in more advanced APAC economies, but it remains significant in emerging economies too, where most consumers are mobile digital users. Experian powers many of the world’s leading financial institutions, with its back-end decision analytics engine helping banks, for example, assess financial risk, or in non-insider terms, who is worth lending money to and who isn’t.

Given the prevalence of the mobile digital economy, particularly in Southeast Asia, Margaretta says the company has a slim needle to thread in terms of securely using new data streams to assess people’s credit-worthiness, and meeting its goal of giving more people access to the formal financial economy.

Experian does not have a direct B2C business in APAC as it does in the UK or US. As such, Margaretta’s energy as CMO is spent using the brand’s wealth of data expertise to drive social change. The aim, in short, is to target the next 1 billion of APAC’s unbanked or ‘underbanked’ community. And data innovation is critical to this.

“I’m lucky to work in a company where we know how to make sense of data, and therefore we can enable more financial identities outside of the traditional credit bureaus that allow people to have access to lines of credit,” she explains.

The key is looking at alternative data sources. Margaretta explains there are not many credit bureaus in emerging Asia, with the majority of people unbanked or underbanked and without credit histories, which locks them out of the formal financial system and leaves many at the mercy of loan sharks and pay-day lenders.

But, she stresses, taking this mission on comes back to trust in Experian’s data handling, which allows it to forge innovative new partnerships with businesses. “When I talk about alternative data sources and getting a [credit] score from it, before we can even access their other social or device data, they need to consent. It’s all about boundaries, and if there’s one clear line, it’s consumer consent. We’re very careful about that.”

Sisca Margaretta

One product which reflects this ambition is Experian’s Dynamic Airtime Activation (DAA), which several APAC telcos employ. It essentially allows telcos to offer phone credit advances to pre-pay customers by analysing their behaviour, topping them up if they’re low without them having to find a shop. As the consumers pay these advances back, they build a loose financial identity and informal credit score, Margaretta says. This innovative data use is allowing more people in Indonesia, as an example, to eventually get access to financial credit and build an identity in the formal financial system.  

“The idea is to form a more accurate picture of you, so that as a consumer, you get the right financial solutions," Margaretta says. "That’s what we’re focused on in our innovation team.” 

Another key campaign was Experian’s Mekong Vitality 2 project last year. This saw the company financially educate a small community of female entrepreneurs in Vietnam. These women typically have no assets to secure a loan, because male partners or relatives hold the assets. Experian helped set up a village bank that could issue microloans and allow women to start making savings.

As they made use of the service, Experian used the limited data to create financial identities, which allowed them to access other lines of credit. Over the course of the campaign, the women’s income leapt from US$1 a day, to US$8 a day, and at last count 103 women have secured more than US$114,000 in loans from financial institutions.

Margaretta oversees many other such projects across APAC, all with the aim of increasing financial inclusion in the region. All of which are made possible, she firmly believes, by making innovative use of the myriad data streams companies have and consumers generate, but also having the authority and trust from both stakeholders to make use of such data.

“Data, analytics and innovation is what unlocks opportunity,” she says. “Our job is to make sure our clients know how to navigate this explosion of data and make sense of it, and make sure they’re doing the right thing for their consumers using our capabilities.”

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