In the US, there’s a dating website that
matches you with potential partners based on your credit score.
Passion killer for some. Crucial insight for others.
Thankfully we don’t have such an
empirical approach to finding love on this side of the pond. But the
UK does lead the world in harnessing data to help people in other ways.
We boast some of the most innovative
companies in the world. The UK is ahead of the curve in thinking about
responsible use of data, as evidenced by the creation of the Centre
for Data Ethics and Innovation. The most fundamental building block
for our continued success on this global stage is access to data.
Government is one of the biggest data
businesses in the UK. Government-held data has tremendous potential to
be used for the public good, particularly to tackle financial
exclusion. The Financial Conduct Authority estimates 50% of adults
show signs of potential vulnerability. In the last two years, 4.5
million adults were declined a financial product. In some cases that’s
the right decision, but often it’s because of a lack of available data
about the person applying.
Some of the most financially excluded
people in the UK live in social housing. This means they’re often
forced to use high-cost credit at an annual percentage rate of more
than 1000%. In turn this can lead to spiraling debt, impaired social
mobility, and higher costs of living.
For most people, their biggest monthly
outgoing is usually rent, yet this payment data isn’t currently widely
captured. If we could record rental payment data from local
authorities, the vast majority of tenants would benefit from lower
interest rates and access to a greater range of products. Equifax has
identified that for individuals paying social and affordable rent,
more than two thirds of people with limited credit history would see
an improvement in their credit scores if rental payment data is taken
The government has a strong track record
in opening up data for defined public interest purposes, from the
electoral roll to VAT registration data. Likewise, our regulators are
world-leading in helping businesses and consumers to innovate with
data, from open banking to regulatory sandboxes. We also have a proven
culture of collaboration between the private and public sector to
maximise the value of data. The sharing of rental payment data should
be the next step for the Government to take, and can set a path for
the world to follow.
Combining big data with artificial
intelligence (AI) also offers widespread benefits for addressing
society’s most pressing challenges. Equifax’s patent-pending
NeuroDecision Technology® is already being used around the world to
help improve financial inclusion. In a recent project in Latin
America, where vast numbers of the population are unbanked and
struggle to access financial services as a result, the accuracy of
Equifax’s models almost doubled when we combined AI and big data. For
the millions of people that are financially excluded, that is game-changing.
Of course there can be risks in sharing
data. To overcome those, businesses and governments must earn and keep
people’s trust that their data is treated safely and ethically and is
used to empower them as citizens and consumers. The government should
lead by example, making data open wherever possible. Not for its own
sake, but because the perils of inaction are greatest for the most
vulnerable in society.
Equifax is a global data, analytics and technology company that
brings insights to consumers, policy-makers and businesses.
Article originally published in the New
Statesman on 2 November 2018.