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Building a more inclusive financial world

I love working with Lord Bird and The Big Issue. They are great guys and they sure know how to pick a venue for a financial inclusion summit. For a Glasgow-based company, we don’t get many podium opportunities at the Houses of Parliament, but last Thursday, there we were.

Fabulous though the venue was, it was the message and the conversations we had afterwards that were the real star attractions.

Puncturing the Poverty Premium

Lord Bird and The Big Issue team, Martin King, Head of Vulnerable Customers from Lloyds Bank and our own Castlight Financial team – we were all there to talk about how we could work together to secure financial inclusion and set about puncturing the poverty premium.

Lord Bird kicked off the evening and, as he does, cut straight to the chase. He reflected on the problems his Irish mother had, 45 years ago, keeping track of scant money and said:

“That is one of the problems of poverty. You lose the ability of finding out who you owe to. It’s the idea that you cannot control your incomings and your outgoings. And if someone can come along and help you, and guide you through that with fintech solutions, it’s really useful.”

Lord Bird went on to speak about the financial mess that people living in poverty can get into, or the “sticky stuff” as he called it. He talked about The Big Issue Invest, which focuses on providing emergency relief or implementing coping strategies, but also the very real need for prevention work, led by Big Issue Invest. He said:

“We have to have the prevention work. And the prevention work is stopping people falling into the sticky stuff in the first instance. In the second instance it’s getting them out of financial vulnerability by using fintech, by using data, and by using methodologies that everyone can understand, and that everyone can use. We are moving into a fintech world where we can help to dismantle poverty in the lives of the most needy people by using technological advancements to do transformative things”

Need for Affordability Tools

I hadn’t seen Lord Bird’s speech before I spoke, but it was as if we’d both sat down and written our speeches together. Lord Bird spoke about “very simple things’ that make a difference. And I started off by explaining the need for affordability tools and just how simple the concept of affordability is:

“At the very heart of the last credit crunch there was a disregard for affordability. There weren’t affordability tools available for people to make real time affordability decisions. No-one really knew what affordability was. We set about trying to build products that nailed that. It’s a really complicated formula by the way – you take somebody’s income, you deduct their expenditure and you get their disposable income. Everyone says to us ‘why has no-one else thought of this?” I can’t answer that.”

Of course, the fintech is state-of-the-art, AI-driven open banking technology, but the idea is simple. And it’s also inclusive. We have used the affordability technology to launch The Big View with Big Issue Invest, to help people in debt understand and resolve their financial problems.

And as I went on to say, The Big View is not the only financial inclusion product we have created which makes us proud:

“We’ve created the first open banking score. Why did we do this? 18 months ago, we realised that there are 5.2 million people in the UK that have ‘thin’ credit files. They could be immigrants or migrant workers, but what we’ve seen is an increasing trend in the business that millennials are credit adverse. Why? Because they’ve lived through times where they’ve seen their parents scarred by a credit crunch. But in order to get a good credit rating they are encouraged to take out debt. That’s counter intuitive. Why would you want to do that? We set about building products which take people’s personal data and build credit risk models on that. And we’re delighted to say that a lot of firms working with us and pushing us out. I’m grateful for that.”

Barriers to Financial Health

Martin King was next up, and his job title alone is testament to the concern of Lloyds Banking Group for all their customers. Martin King is Head of Vulnerable Customers at the bank and he and his team should be very proud of the work they are doing to remove barriers to financial health for thousands of their customers.

As the evening ended, and Lord Bird burst into song, to get our attention and move us off, and to let staff get ready for the next day, I was thinking about Castlight Financial’s vision of “a safer financial world”. Maybe we should all be thinking more about “a safer, more inclusive financial world?”

Something to set our sights on as old and new friends, sharing this same vision, drifted off to a local pub to talk some more.

World’s First Open Banking Affordability Score Launched By Castlight Financial

Affordability innovator Castlight Financial has developed a new open-banking affordability score, providing access to borrowing for the first time for the 5.8 million people, in the UK alone, with “thin credit files”.

The company, which has been pioneering open banking based affordability products for the last three years, including the Affordability Passport and Categorisation as a Service (CaaS), has now taken the open banking technology currently being used for traditional credit assessment and unlocked a powerhouse of additional functionality.

Revolution

The new affordability score, CastScore, is not dependent on a customer having a history of credit in order to demonstrate creditworthiness and instead 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.

CastScore is currently being piloted by three of the UK’s High Street banks.

Says Phil Grady, CEO of Castlight Financial: “CastScore looks at and categorises every debit and credit and so it allows us to fill in the gaps in traditional credit data reporting and give customers, particularly those with thin files, a chance to be fairly assessed. Traditional credit scoring focuses on the consumer’s future credit behaviour being similar to their past performance through looking at historic credit reference agency data. The CastScore creates an up to date view of a consumer’s available disposable income and is able to predict future payment performance using more recent and relevant data. It truly represents a revolution in how lenders may view all consumers, from those with established credit profiles to those with thin files.

For the first time someone with a thin credit file will be able to demonstrate, at the touch of a button, not only that they have a regular income coming in, and that they are financially robust, but they will be able to show a set of exemplary financial behaviours which make them a very good credit risk indeed. For a financially cautious millennial with little credit history but enough money in the bank, CastScore could be the difference between securing a mortgage or being stuck in the generation rent trap.”

But it’s not only the millions of people with little or no credit footprints who will potentially benefit from the CastScore technology. A predictive CastScore, even somewhere in the middle of the range, could be used to augment a traditional credit score and radically improve it.

Says Grady: “The reason that a CastScore rating, taken by a lender in conjunction with a traditional credit score can improve a customer’s credit score is because CastScore isn’t just reviewing a history of credit repayment performance. It is instead based instead on an individual’s nuanced behaviours. The open banking technology scans all the customer’s transactional information and assesses whether the customer is a saver or a spender, do they run a tight ship or exceed their means and even are they a homebody or a party animal. It will also raise good and bad financial behaviour flags. A good flag might be that discretionary spending on charitable giving and personal health has increased. A bad flag might be unpaid bills, bank charges, increased gambling or payday loans.”

Machine Learning Powerhouse

Castlight’s machine learning powerhouse merges both the transactional analytics and the customer’s financial “story” into the CastScore which gives lenders all the enhanced predictive information they need to make a lending decision for customers with thin or no credit files. And for customers with traditional credit files, it significantly augments their financial profile, providing all parties involved with more insight, less risk and more lending scope.

An example of CastScore’s insight might be a customer who takes out a finance plan for a new car in January. This commitment may appear on a traditional credit score a few months later, if the credit score has good coverage, and only then will the credit score be updated. However, the CastScore score will update as soon as payments start being made from the account, providing financial decision makers with up to the minute information.

CastScore assesses a customer’s full financial big picture. So, whilst the new car payments may be greater than the customer’s previous car payments, there may be reductions in insurance premiums. The customer may also have taken out roadside assistance, which is statistically a good indicator. By taking factors like this into account CastScore could demonstrate that the new car was a sensible investment that in the long run cuts costs and increases financial stability.

CastScore’s algorithms have been uniquely trained to analyse the hard numbers but also to reach out into the complexity of a customer’s real life and set credit and income movement in context. CastScore’s AI brain has the computing power to demonstrate that, in a particular case, a new car may not just be an item to put on a list of credit obligations, it could be a sensible investment that in the long run creates stability in the family life and cuts costs. Ultimately that means that when the entire credit scenario is computed, it will actually factor positively in the generation of a good CastScore.

3D movie

As CastScore is being piloted with the UK’s banks as a means of enfranchising customers or helping them augment their credit scores, Castlight Financial is already developing CastScore to provide the banks themselves with significant competitive edge in a busy market place.

Says Grady: “If traditional credit scoring provides a snapshot of a customer’s affordability, CastScore provides a 3D movie. That means that any bank offering CastScore to customers is going to be able to use the enhanced modelling system to identify risk more accurately and ultimately offer better credit terms. Credit risk teams will also be able to use CastScore  for ongoing control and monitoring of customers’ finances, providing an early warning system of potential problems and allowing them to update their risk models and limits if needed.

“Open banking has already revolutionised the way we think and bank. But it’s a massive iceberg, with a huge percentage of its capability still to be exposed and exploited. By harnessing the full potential of open banking, we are powering a potential revolution in credit scoring and the wider world of banking. I believe the CastScore can help both lenders and customers access better, safer credit as well as enfranchising the millions of people with thin credit.”

Progress Through Technology – Castlight Financial and HSBC UK Join Forces

Progress through technology. Castlight Financial support HSBC UK to deliver their first open banking loan

Ask any car enthusiast why their dream car might be an Audi and they’re very likely to say the brand has a reputation for innovative design and cutting edge technology. Dig a bit deeper and they’re also likely to rate Audi’s reputation for reliability and customer service.

So, I have to admit to being pretty delighted that the very first HSBC UK customer using Castlight’s affordability technology secured a loan to buy their dream Audi.

This is clearly a customer who knows a thing or two about design, technology, reliability and customer service!

Open Banking in Action

So what has actually happened here? As you’ll know, PSD2 or open banking came into force in January this year. Many UK banks weren’t ready for the revolution that is open banking. But some were and the Castlight team have been working closely with HSBC UK to get ahead of the game. So this week we were ready – our affordability technology CaaS or “categorisation as a service” was tried, tested and ready to go. So when the HSBC UK customer took up the offer to be the first customer to apply for a loan using open banking technology, it was all systems go.

The customer securely linked their bank account to HSBC UK, who used their open banking technology to pull down all the transactional data. HSBC UK then ran the transactional data through the CaaS engine, which categorised income and expenditure into 155 categories, summarising income streams, credit commitments, essential costs and discretionary spending to reveal a monthly disposable income. The information was then merged with credit performance data and in under 10 minutes HSBC UK had all the information they needed on which to make a highly informed lending decision. The process also eliminated the need for the customer to produce bank statements and payslips to comply with money laundering regulations as all the information was there in the CaaS report.

CaaS was able to provide their underwriters with enhanced data direct from the customer’s bank account, whilst giving that customer a better, faster service. And its good news for Castlight, as more and more lenders both in the UK and globally start to recognise the importance of enhanced affordability technology like CaaS, and use it to ensure that loans are safe and affordable for both lenders and borrowers.

Progress through technology. It’s an approach that works for Audi and it’s certainly working too for Castlight.

Traditional Banks Have a Head Start in the Open Banking Space

The banks are in the media spotlight just now as open banking starts to roll out and the debate gathers steam. Are the banks ready? How are they faring in the brand new open banking space where everyone is jostling for room? Read more

Open Banking And A Light Bulb Moment

When new technology bursts onto the scene it is almost always received in two different ways, by two different camps of people – those who are excited by the new opportunities it opens up and those who are resistant to change. Read more

Open Banking – Giving Consumers Control of their Finances

Where we stand today the Big Four Banks have more than 70% of the personal current account market and 85% of the business current account market. I’m sure most people would agree that there’s room for some competition in this market. In pretty much every area of life, the more competition there is, the better it is for the consumer. Read more

The Bank of Mum and Dad Ends Tomorrow

Last week, it was reported in the press that British parents will lend or give more than £6.5 billion this year to help their children buy their first home. This figure is up from £5 billion in 2016. And it seems that the phenomenon is here to stay. It already has its own acronym. BOMAD. The Bank of Mum and Dad. Read more

It’s Time for the Banks to Play Catch Up

This month, Facebook launched Messenger Day, a feature that lets you post pictures and videos with a 24 hour shelf life. Snapchat may have got in there first with the broad concept, but Facebook has given it a twist by formatting the feature to encourage users to get together offline. A billion people worldwide use Messenger and Facebook has identified a way to deliver additional value to them. Read more

Tumbleweed Rolls through the Branches as Banks go Digital

Last week in this blog I flagged up Radio 4’s The Bottom Line’s interesting debate about the impact of fintech on the banking scene. If you had time to tune in, you will also have heard Anthony Jenkins, former CEO of Barclay’s Bank talk, in almost apocalyptic terms, about the accelerating fall in branch traffic. He quoted customer traffic as falling by 15% per annum and said: ‘€œIf you walk into a branch in central London now, you can see the tumbleweeds rolling through the aisles.’€ Read more

PSD2 is Speeding up the Tracks

On Saturday afternoon’s The Bottom Line on Radio 4, Evan Davis asked Anthony Jenkins, former CEO of Barclay’s Bank, what he thought the next big thing in banking would be. Jenkins replied: “In the very short term I think the better use of data to make lending and credit decisions and marketing decisions.”

Of course I couldn’t agree more, as this is exactly what we are already doing with The Affordability Passport. Read more