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Finishing Lines Are Not The End Of The Race

Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of San-Francisco based “hint” – a cool, lower-case company that produces flavoured water with no sweeteners and nothing artificial. It’s currently pretty much the de facto drink of Silicon Valley, so my guess is that it won’t be long before we see it landing on our shores, maybe even edging out Evian with its crisp apple or grapefruit fizz flavours.

Something Disruptive

Interesting stuff but I’m actually a tap water man myself, so it’s not Ms Goldin’s product that grabbed my attention when I read about her disruptor story in Forbes. It’s her philosophy, the vision behind her water that interested me. Here’s what she says about creating something new, something disruptive:

“Being the first to achieve something great, whether accidental or intended, always deserves praise. However, the proverbial satin ribbon at the finish line is never the end of the race if you have a larger goal in mind. How do you want to change society and the world? For me, creating an innovative product that disrupted the beverage industry was phase one; my larger goal is to make America healthy and reduce the skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related disease.  If your goal is great enough, being first will be just one small step in a lifetime of hard work and passion. I still have my work cut out for me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

I love the way Kara Goldin sees the big picture and has set her sights on the bigger goal. She has developed a hugely successful product, encouraged people to drink more water and reduced the sugar load of Silicon Valley and beyond. But that’s not good enough for her. She wants to change society and the world.

Not Finished the Race

We want to do that too. Our suite of affordability tools such as CastScore and the Affordability Passport have been developed to help people achieve and sustain financial wellbeing and to access and manage credit safely. These tools have been adopted by some of the UK’s major banks and brokers and are helping to ensure that hundreds of thousands of customers can borrow what they are able to repay and only what they are able to repay. In many ways we have smashed through satin ribbons at the end of finish lines. But like Ms Goldin said, we’ve not finished the race.

Our corporate strapline expresses our vision – we want to build “a safer financial world” and that’s why we are continuing to create content and products that empower consumers to better understand their financial landscape so they can make better, safer financial decisions.

Reaching High

There Ms Goldin is reaching high to tackle “skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related disease”, we are reaching high to ensure there is never again a financial tsunami like there was in 2008. We are reaching high to enfranchise millennials with thin credit files and other marginalised groups currently exiled from safe, affordable credit.

And to do this, to change the world, we know we have to do things differently. Again, Ms Goldin hits the nail on the head: “you have to hire differently” she says.

Social Capitalists

She’s right. And we do. We hire social capitalists – people we know are driven by acting for the greater good, who want to make the world a better place. We recruit people with vision, integrity and with spirit, who are committed to helping us build an ethical organisation and who are passionate about developing ethical products.

As a team we all have a lot of work to do, new products to get over that finishing line. But like Kara Goldin, it’s good to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve only just begun changing the world!

CastScore Is Becoming Ever More Human

We’ve said before that “nobody is average”. But it’s something worth repeating because it’s so fundamental to our vision for Castlight.

We are living in an environment where it’s easy to feel that many companies think they know us simply because they have some limited data on our life and our choices.

Market researchers and pollsters will put us into categories depending on our age, ethnicity, where we live and what we earn. Amazon will recommend what book we might want to read next, based on what we read last week. Sainsbury’s will send us money-off vouchers for food items they think we might want to buy again because we bought them before and Facebook will suggest new friends, because they are friends with other friends.

I’m not saying these aren’t helpful interventions. They are just limited, suggestions based simply on what, on average, people would do or want, given an average situation or choice.

Categorisation As A Tool

At Castlight Financial, we don’t do “average” and we don’t fit people into categories. In fact we have turned that entire concept on its head. We use categorisation as a tool for individuals to demonstrate their unique financial behaviours. Our categories are used to serve our customers, to demonstrate their differences.

Our CastScore, the world’s first affordability score, measures an individual’s affordability, their capacity to take on safe credit, by taking that individual’s transactional data and categorising it into over 180 categories of income and outgoings. And then it creates a unique 3D picture of their affordability.

The result of this? A CastScore affordability score which records the nuances of an individual’s financial behaviour and reflects the complexity of an individual’s life.

Nuanced Financial Behaviours

The categorisation engine which underpins CastScore is the most powerful engine of its kind in the UK. We are proud of this. But where we are going now, in 2019, is truly ground breaking. The Chinese may have made it to the dark side of the moon, but I am even more excited by what our team of data scientists are doing with our categorisation engine. CaaS, our engine, is constantly being trained by our data science team to “think” more like a human. They are creating an entire “interpretive” layer of technology over the number crunching and category sorting layer. That means, when it reviews an individual’s transactional data it records or “understands” way more than a set of credits and debits. It interprets the transactions and recognises nuanced financial behaviours. It understands the stories of people’s unique financial lives.

CastScore for instance, understands Black Friday. It understands Christmas. It understands that a baby has been born or a student has set up in a new flat. The interpretative technology recognises that these are blips of event-specific spending. It understands why the account has wobbled and it sees it steady again. It understands context and factors it in to its affordability scoring.

Growing Ever More Human

It’s a tough old world out there for many people and I’m thrilled that CastScore’s ability to “understand” provides what I like to call “redemptive” technology. That is, affordability technology that allows for mistakes to be made and then corrected, forgiven.

And CastScore’s interpretive function is not only helping individuals who experience blips in their spending patterns. It’s also enfranchising customers with thin credit files, by allowing them to demonstrate their unique stories and understanding their financial journeys.

I’ll come back to CastScore, there’s so much more to tell. But for now, I’m so delighted that CastScore is growing ever more human, all the more equipped to see us in all our glorious individuality and difference.

Here’s How I See 2019 … And Avocado Ice Cream

Wholefoods are predicting that 2019 will see avocado ice cream and seaweed butter flying off the shelves. Forbes magazine reckons that in-car voice shopping may be on its way, allowing us to get the weekly shop done on the daily commute. And booking.com believes that this year, city breaks and sunshine holidays will be making room for the coming of age of the Appren-trip – a kind of holiday-come-learning experience.


Make a real difference

Whatever industry you’re in, the beginning of January is a fun time to make predictions, just as much as it is a serious time to look ahead, agree corporate strategy and set priorities. At Castlight we have looked at the year ahead and what has struck me is that we have 12 brand new months of opportunity and responsibility. A fresh new year on which to make our mark, leave a legacy but most importantly, make a real difference.

I like the American management consultant Peter Drucker’s take on predictions, when he said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Shape the future of credit

So, that’s what we are going to do. In 2019 we are going to create the future. We are going to change lives for the better.

More specifically, we are going to change lives by continuing to create and shape the future of credit.

Our suite of affordability tools from the Affordability Passport to our affordability-scoring CastScore, have all been developed to ensure people only take on debt they can afford to repay whilst at the same time enfranchising people with thin files, helping people recover from debt exile and using our sophisticated financial “storying” technology to help people demonstrate their sound financial behaviours despite the odd wobble.


More than an algorithm

People are more than an algorithm. Everyone has their own financial story and the detail of these very individual stories matter to us. With the data our customers entrust to us, our technology can review the shape of their financial stories, the ins and outs of their daily transactional lives. Ultimately, these stories are transmuted into a CastScore, providing customers with safe, and often unprecedented access to affordable credit. In this way, we can change lives and create, as our strap-line reminds us, “A safer financial world.”

2019 offers up another 12 months to keep innovating, to launch new affordability products, to keep more people safe from unaffordable debt and enfranchise more people with the credit opportunities they deserve.


Gourmet curve

I hope you’ll walk with us, into 2019 and the future we plan to create as we go.

And if you want to stay ahead of the gourmet curve this year, here’s how you can make your very own avocado ice cream, the Jamie Oliver way.

https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fruit-recipes/avocado-ice-cream/

Casting Light at Christmas

Yesterday evening I was listening to the story of a young family man, working in the financial services industry who, on Christmas Eve was on the brink of taking his own life. The financial services company he was running had lost money, investors’ finances were threatened, and criminal charges were looking unavoidable.

This is a story that would not be unfamiliar to charities like the Samaritans and Mind, particularly in the dark days of the 2007 financial tsunami.

But happily, and rather unusually, this young banker was saved at the last minute … by his guardian angel.

It’s a Wonderful Life

The guardian angel was Clarence, the young financier was George Bailey and the story, It’s a Wonderful Life, is watched by millions of us every Christmas.

It’s fiction of course, but like some of the best stories, it is shot through with the starkest of truths. And in this instance, the darkest of truths. This was a guy under intense financial pressure, whose financial distress had seeped out to affect his whole life and distort his sense of his own worth.

It got me thinking….

At Castlight, we strive, above everything else to deliver ‘a safer financial world’ and I’d like to think we could have helped George Bailey, long before he stood on the edge of the bridge on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Pressure

For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a quick summary. When George Bailey’s father died, leaving the Building and Loan company without a director, George gave his college tuition money to his brother Harry and unwillingly took up the reins, on the condition that Harry took over the Building and Loan when he finished uni. Four years later, Harry returned with a job offer from his father in law and George resigned himself to keep running the family firm. Sometime later, there’s a run on the bank, misplaced funds and potential arrest for George. George feels he’s let his whole family down and wishes he had never been born.

Sadly, there are a lot of people like George. So, each year, as we look forward to Christmas, it is good to be reminded by charities like Mind and the Samaritans, that for people with mental health or financial problems, Christmas can ratchet up the pressure to sometimes, catastrophic levels.

There are all sorts of reasons why people get into debt. That’s why Castlight Financial recently launched the Big View at the House of Parliament with the Big Issue’s Lord Bird. The Big View helps people in debt, often people who have been brought to the brink of despair, to get back on track, using affordability technology to understand and resolve their financial problems.

If we’d been around at the time, I believe the Big View could have helped George Bailey. We could have been his guardian angel and he would never have walked onto that bridge.

There are lots of people out there needing guardian angels and I’m glad that the Big View is doing its bit to cast light into the finances of more and more people with debt crises.

These are important, pressing issues and ones we need to think about amidst the bright lights, ringing tills and chinking glasses.

Plot Rewrite

But I’m not quite done with Its a Wonderful Life! And, with a lighter touch I’d like to leave you with some small plot re-writes which, had I been around in 1946 I would have suggested to director Frank Capra.

I think George could have gone off to university with his brother Harry, as his CastScore would have shown sound financial behaviours merged with a strong credit score and he would have got an affordable loan for Harry’s tuition fees. Uncle Billy would simply have had to step up and hold the fort until the brothers both finished university. Working at the coal face of the business Uncle Billy would have learned a thing or two about management and would never have been daft enough to misplace the $8,000 that caused all the trouble.

Four years later George and Harry, with their MScs in Fintech would return to Bedford Falls and invent the Affordability Passport. There wouldn’t have been a run on the bank, because the Building and Loan would be thriving, underpinned by the Affordability Passport and CastScore which would ensure that only people who could safely afford to repay loans would be able to take them out. George and Mary wouldn’t have to prop up the bank with their honeymoon savings and would have enjoyed a week in Paris, sipping fine wine at a pavement café.

Fortunately for all lovers of Its a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra told his story his own way. And I for one, will love it once again this Christmas.

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.