Banks ask how Brexit will affect customers by David Grier (Chief Technology Officer)

Martin Lewis is stumped. His recent post for moneysavingexpert.com on 25 need-to-knows about Brexit saw him a little at sea. On the question of what’s going to happen with mortgage, loans and savings rates, he is holding up his hands. He says, with admirable honesty:

“Mortgage, loans and savings rates could, er, rise or fall. This is a really tricky one.”

Indeed it is. And there’s a general sense that consumers are having to work things out for themselves, reading Brexit commentators and pundits like never before, whilst keeping a careful eye on their expenditure.

However, for the UK’s banks, it’s a different matter. They can’t just suck it and see. They need to able to look at the potential risks in the market of a variety of Brexit scenarios and model how these scenarios would play out across their customer base. It is imperative for them to have a handle on exactly how a rise or fall in mortgage, loans and savings rates might play out – right across their customer base – from the most secure customer to the most fragile.

Financial IQ

Never before has Castlight’s Financial IQ tool, or FIQ Insights, been more invaluable.

FIQ Insights is one of a suite of tools developed by Castlight Financial using Open Banking technology and our categorisation engine CaaS, currently the most powerful of its kind in the UK. Built into the software is not only the functionality for categorisation of income and expenditure but also a capability to track financial behaviours and predict vulnerabilities.

If we add into this the economic forecasting data from our colleagues at Experian – the UK’s leading economic forecasting group – then you have a strong set of data for which to understand you and your customer’s exposure to an economic downturn.
FIQ Insights broadly positions every customer across a bank’s portfolio in one of 5 categories, based on an analysis of their committed, discretionary and essential spending:

1. Secure
2. Comfortable
3. Ticking Over
4. Stretched
5. Distressed

Then, with customers across the portfolio allocated an FIQ spending category, a bank or other lending organisation can model for a range of scenarios . For instance, what if a no-deal Brexit caused a 2% spike in inflation or a 1% rise in interest rates? How would this affect the “stretched” customers? Would it tip them into the “distressed” category? Could it even tip some “ticking over” customers into the “distressed” category. And if so, how many?

Of course, FIQ Insights can do so much more, drilling down into the granular data in portfolios, IQ categories and accounts.

However, for now, with the Brexit deadline looming, it’s the Brexit features that are exciting credit risk experts. I can almost smell the smoke as they fire figures, data, models and Brexit scenarios into FIQ Insights to see how best to protect their customers for both the foreseen and unforeseen.

Not so tricky really Martin Lewis – if you have the right technology!

Not waving but drowning

Over 8 million people in the UK are unable to pay off debts or household bills according to the National Audit Office’s most recent report. And this worrying statistic has subsequently generated considerable concern and column inches. However, in terms of the problem of financial distress, the millions of people in actual debt are only the tip of the iceberg.

Just this week the FCA published its Financial Lives Survey raising some serious concerns about the number of people in the UK who are not in debt at the moment – but whose finances are so precarious that one minor crisis or unforeseen expenditure could tip them over.

The survey reveals that:

* 3.1 million adults have high-cost loans

* nearly 6 in 10 (57%) of UK adults have no cash savings or savings of less than £5,000

* 7 in 10 (71%) of UK adults have no investments at all

* 31% of adults have no private pension provision

* 44% of UK adults rely or will rely on the state pension for their main source of income in retirement

Push them over the brink into debt

For many of these adults or families the unexpected cost of a boiler breakdown, a car MOT or a funeral would mean taking on more credit to cover the cost and would push them over the brink into debt.

And for some people it’s even more precarious, as a thread on Mumsnet made painfully clear. Responding to a discussion about a statistic that 2 out of 5 people have less than £100 in savings, one respondent said:

“Yep. I am in that statistic. Low paid job and crippling childcare costs. I’ve already had a cry today about my financial situation.”

Desperate times for many people.

So what can we do? We must look deeper than the tip of the iceberg to the people under the water who aren’t waving – but who are drowning.

Create a safer financial world

Our entire business is built on the objective to “create a safer financial world” and one of our key principles is to do this by helping people assess and then control their finances. There are plenty of admirable debt charities doing a tremendous job in the UK, and plenty of lenders looking to support customers too, but in order to help they need information. They need to know exactly what an individual’s income is as well as their essential, committed and discretionary expenditure. And then, armed with this transactional data, they can review arrangements or provide debt advisory support.

Our Affordability Passport uses open banking technology to allow an individual to share their transactional data with lenders or debt advisers, providing them with a real-time profile of their financial position in just a few minutes.

When money is tight or precarious, people need answers and solutions fast to ensure that disaster is averted. And the Affordability Passport allows that journey to be fast and efficient.

At Castlight we often use the image in our branding of a lighthouse casting light into a dark sea. It’s important to us that the light we cast penetrates beneath those icebergs to what lies beneath and helps to rescue the millions of people for whom debt is perilously close.

Use the Castlight brain to stay ahead of the game

The brain makes around 700 new connections each day – every time we do something for the first time or absorb new information, brand new neural pathways are formed. And the more connections we make and continue to use, the more effectively our brain works for us.

At Castlight Financial our data scientists and our customers are making connections between our products all the time. Our developers are making leaps between products, developing syntheses of ideas to create new services to meet the ever changing needs of the financial marketplace. And our clients too, are making connections, moving through one product to another, merging products, asking us to develop new products, bolting on aspects of one product to another.

And as our customers work with our developers and implementation teams, every day we see new connections being made between our customers’ pursuit of excellence and the solutions we can offer. New neural pathways are being formed, our customers’ businesses are being strengthened.

So that’s why I like to use the analogy of Castlight’s product portfolio as a brain – with neural pathways all leading off to different products – but with myriads of connections between them.

Castlight Financial portfolio of digital tools

Digital tools are too often put in a “toolkit” which is a perfectly good analogy for the way digital tools are used in many companies. But for us, I think the toolbox is too static. Once you’ve used a tool you put it back in the box and take another one out. We don’t want our customers to use our tools like that. We believe our customers will benefit if they sometimes use more than one tool at a time, if they adapt the tool as they go along, combine two tools together or get someone to run after them with a new tool that was never even in the box. And we also believe that our tools will make such a difference to our customers’ business that they will never want to put them back in the toolkit.

That’s why using the analogy of a brain to think about Castlight Financial’s portfolio of digital tools works so much better for us.

If we stay with the picture of the brain, our tools are located in different nerve centres of the brain. Some are more right brained products – intuitive, thoughtful and subjective. Products for instance like our Financial IQ, which uses customers’ transactional data to provide advanced insights into spending behaviour and reports its findings as a “persona” with a Financial IQ score and a set of uniquely individual predictive behaviours. It’s a product that understands how people think and behave. Other products are perhaps more left brained – more logical, analytical and objective such as CaaS or Categorisation as a Service. CaaS is the world’s most powerful engine for categorising and interpreting customers’ transactional data, which will, within minutes, take a customer’s raw transactional data, crunch through the numbers and split the raw data into over 180 categories of discretionary and non-discretionary spending. It’s a product where the numbers tell the story.

How it works with our customers

But of course, the right brain works together with the left brain, with neurons jumping synapses, making connections all the time. And this is how it works with our customers too.

A High Street bank, for instance, may be using CastScore to reach out to customers with thin credit files, who are normally excluded from credit, and give them a chance to be fairly assessed. Then together we identify an opportunity to take a slightly different path and use CastScore to help their customers augment a traditional credit score and radically improve it. And then our hypothetical bank may recognise that they can take Castlight’s risk management customer analytics up a gear and go down the path of implementing Castlight’s Financial IQ or test their data in Castlight’s Data Labs using our APIs to review the affordability performance of their portfolio, highlight problem areas and unlock potential for growth.

Constant changes

It’s one of our most important functions as a team to help our customers identify which pathway to go down to secure the best tools to empower them to grow, and to be robust and effective for their customers.

The open banking revolution is taking hold and taking hold fast. And banks and other financial organisations need to be more nimble and innovative than ever before. We must give our customers every opportunity to move agilely in and around our product suite, using the tools that best suit their needs today and exploring those that might suit their needs tomorrow. And back in the Castlight lab we must continue to test the products we believe our customers will need next month.

In the same way that the human brain constantly changes in response to experience, helping us learn and adapt to our environment, Castlight’s products are designed to help our customers adapt to an evolving financial landscape and predict what might be around the corner.

We Must Address Financial Wellness

More than 6 out of 10 senior HR executives in the UK have seen a rise in financial well-being issues affecting employee mental health and work performance, according to a nationwide study by financial solutions company, MetLife UK.

 

And just this week Insider magazine’s Ken Symon highlighted a troubling figure of £51 billion, which according to a Yorkshire Building Society and Salary Finance report, is lost to the UK’s economy each year in productivity and recruitment expenses as financial pressures make employees unable to finish daily tasks and more likely to change jobs.

Financial Wellbeing At Work

These are very concerning statistics but I think what worries me, perhaps even more, is Metlife’s findings, reported by George Elringham on the Insight website, that businesses are concerned they do not understand enough about financial wellbeing, with 66 percent saying there needs to be more clarity on best practice on tackling financial wellbeing at work.

 

Adrian Matthews, Employee Benefits Director, MetLife UK said: ““There is no magic solution to improving financial wellbeing in the workplace….” And I’d agree with him as far as the magic is concerned. There may not be a magic solution but where we differ is that I believe there’s definitely a solution.

The Solution

Castlight’s Affordability Passport is ultimately a financial wellness tool, which can be put directly into the hands of individuals, whether they are employed by companies or working for themselves. Many of our customers use our Affordability Passport to demonstrate their affordability to lenders, but we are increasingly seeing people use its financial wellness functionality to manage and control their day-to-day finances.

 

The Affordability Passport uses open banking technology to access a customer’s transactional information and uses CaaS, a powerful categorisation engine to categorise income and expenditure, across any number of accounts into over 150 categories, summarising income streams, credit commitments, essential costs and discretionary spending. The customer achieves a 3D picture of their finances, including the pressure points, areas of vulnerability and projections of problems before they happen. For one customer, the Affordability Passport may flag up that what is causing severe financial pressure is their car loan repayment plan. For another individual, it may just be that reducing spending on digital subscription packages would provide enough of a financial buffer, to ease the strain.

 

For some of our customers the Affordability Passport journey is reassuring and informative. It’s like a maintenance gym routine, a financial wellness routine that ensures they stay on track.

Life Changing

But for others with debt who are far from financially well it’s more like a brand new gym membership and induction course rolled into one. And it can be life changing because it sets someone back on the right path, by demonstrating to their bank that, whilst the recent financial path might have been rocky, there are patterns of sound financial behaviour that can be worked on and outcomes turned around. At Castlight we call it redemptive technology.

 

It’s not a magic solution. But sometimes, for someone in financial despair, redemptive technology can feel a little like magic.

 

 

Daredevil Plot Turns on CastScore

DAREDEVIL SEASON 3 SPOILER ALERT

As season three of Daredevil explodes onto Netflix and sucks us all into the now familiar Marvel drama fest of nocturnal super-hero action, fight scenes, intrigue and love interest, I have to say I have been side-tracked a little by the brand new character of FBI Special Agent Ray Nadeem.

When we first meet Ray at his son Sammy’s birthday party, we find out the Nadeem family are in the midst of a family financial crisis. His wife Seema has had all her credit cards declined. Ray’s brother’s wife has cancer and their insurance has stopped paying for treatment. Ray and Seema have stepped in and helped cover their sister-in-law’s medical expenses. And now they are in debt.

Overwhelmed by the financial pressure, Ray asks for a raise at work and is denied. His boss tells him his low FICO score has put him out of consideration for promotion as he poses a bribery risk.

Instead, the agent is assigned the task of visiting arch villain Wilson Fisk in prison to elicit co-operation with ongoing investigations. Needless to say, it looks like Ray’s course is set on a slippery slope into well … bribery and corruption.

Not being a character in the original Marvel universe, purists may not embrace Agent Ray Nadeem as quickly as I have. But I have to confess to an ulterior motive. I’m drawn to Ray because he’s a character in the everyday universe of the world I live in too.

Financially Overstretched

He’s financially overstretched himself but he has done so with the very best of intentions. All he needed was a timely promotion, a window of time to pay off his debt, his sister in law to respond to treatment and all would have been well with his world. He would have had a routine visit to Fisk in prison and returned to his desk for a sandwich. Admittedly, this would be seriously bad TV, but in the real world, personal disaster would have been averted.

The plot all turned on a FICO score which just showed Agent Ray was in debt, not why or how likely he was to be able to repay it.

It was for people like Ray that Castlight recently launched the world’s first open-banking affordability score, providing people with a whole new way of demonstrating their creditworthiness.

Traditional credit scoring focuses on the consumer’s future credit behaviour being similar to their past performance.

CastScore, by contrast uses open-banking technology to analyse a customer’s transactional data in real time and score their likelihood of paying credit back. The AI that powers the CastScore technology has been validated on actual loan performance data, supplemented by expert analysis of spending trends with high street banks. CastScore then merges this information with transaction analytics, sourced from an up-to-the-minute review of the customer’s actual income and spend as well as a more complex analysis of lifestyle and discretionary spending.

“Redemptive” Technology

CastScore looks at and categorises every debit and credit, filling in the gaps in traditional credit data reporting and provides a 3D movie of an individual’s financial story. It gives people a chance to be fairly assessed. And it is a “redemptive” technology which allows people to make mistakes, recover from them and get back on track.

If CastScore had been checked with Agent Ray Nadeem’s FICO score, it would have shown that Ray had a good regular job, that he had a history of fulfilling credit commitments and that he had hit a blip. It would run Ray’s transactional data through financial insights and behaviour software and provide a lender with a score which reflected Ray’s 3D financial profile and the statistical likelihood of him being able to pay off his debts.

It could very easily have given him a score that would have reassured his boss, secured him the promotion and changed the world of Marvel forever.

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