Evolvement of Credit Bureau to an information solutions powerhouse since its inception two decades ago in Iceland speak volumes of the focus and commitment to sustain the momentum of innovating and offering invaluable services to end-users. Ernest Wambari talked to Seth Marks, Regional Director – Africa, CEE, Balkans and Country Manager for Czech and Slovak Republics at Creditinfo Group on a barrage of services CreditInfo offers in Africa.
Who and what is CreditInfo?
Credit Bureau is an information solutions company started over 20 years ago in Iceland. We strive to innovate and always remain on our toes in order to stay ahead of the market. An example of such innovation would be a solution we call “Core Metrics” which is a psychometric scoring tool that can be used by lenders to evaluate their prospective clients.
This tool is especially useful in frontier markets where financial inclusion is much less than in the more developed markets, it allows the lender to make some empirically informed decision based on an interview to access the customer’s personality in order to make an informed decision before lending to those who have no financial track records to reference.
This tool works on the premise that every individual has five broad personality traits and it is through evaluating each of these relative to their impact on responsible borrowing, lenders can determine which customers would be the safest bet.
In Kenya, the Central Bank of Kenya conducts regular audits to ensure that we are fully compliant. We also leverage on lessons learnt in other territories that may have even tougher regulation and apply them to other markets.
Seth Marks, Regional Director – Africa, CreditInfo Group
Such tools are examples of projects that we as CreditInfo are focused on developing over time. These would be especially powerful when combined with traditional sources of data that a lender might have or in markets where lenders are dealing with customers who have no credit profile.
What are some of the sectors that Creditinfo focuses on especially in Africa?
The financial sector is the bread and butter of what we do as a Credit Bureau and an information solutions provider, we also have a keen interest in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) because we see them as the driver of economies so if we can equip financial institutions with the right information to make good decisions when lending to SMEs and drive more credit to those SMEs we are actively participating in growing economies.
Would you say Creditinfo leverages on or has any link to the MPESA ecosystem? If so how?
So far, our experience with MPESA has involved amongst other things, making use of MPESA transactions as one of the data sources when developing credit information we then work that into what we call business rules that interlink with each other and have certain weights in the ultimate lend/no lend decision and if the decision is to lend, then how much? For this data to be used, the consumer must give consent that this data be used when coming up with their credit profile.
How long have you been operational in East Africa and what are some of the trends you have observed in the business?
CreditInfo has been operational in the Kenyan market for 4 years now, we have been in Tanzania for 5 years, and we also have a presence in the greater Africa region.
In terms of trends, we are looking and living in what the future is going to look like. This mobile-centric lending phenomenon that we are seeing today is going to remain for the near and medium term as its still in its early days, I also foresee a consolidation of multiple players into one happening in time due to increased competition in the sector.
Regulation will also play a huge part in the future of the lending business, here in Kenya we are seeing the Central Bank keeping a keen eye on what’s happening within the ecosystem, what remains to be seen is the impact that regulation will have in the long term.
From a consumer standpoint, it will happen that this mobile-centric phenomenon will allow healthy borrowers to graduate into more traditional banking not only from a credit standpoint by also consuming different savings and investment products.
How would a typical consumer gain access to their credit information?
We have a solution that we call “MyCreditInfo” which is a service direct to the consumer where we provide a credit report and in that process we have different ways to educate on what a credit report is, how best to manage credit, what your credit information means about you and how to maintain a favorable credit status. We are now also in the process of partnering with some of our lender customers to promote this to the end consumer since we do not typically deal with the end consumer directly.
What are your thoughts on privacy of data and the recent mandate by Central Bank to banks and financial institutions?
Privacy is key in our business. Firstly we have to be 99.9999 percent sure that you are who you say you are especially if we are trying to do this in an online world, this is especially important in order to avoid sharing personal credit information with the wrong person.
Typically, a report would be an amalgamated and synthesized dashboard of your footprint in the market, all the tier 1 banks are submitting data to us, many of the mobile lenders are submitting data to us. We then consolidate and synthesize this data in order to build some intelligence around the data with a credit score being one of the products of this process.
We also allow you to activate a service that allows you to monitor your credit profile so every time anything changes on your credit report you get a notification. This helps eliminate any mistakes that may happen for example if a lender reports something on you that is not accurate, usually these mistakes would not be detected until much later when you are seeking a credit service. This is all Automated and is based on Artificial Intelligence-driven decisioning as well as localized data and parameters.
What are some of the best practices in credit risk management that Creditinfo has put in place especially in relation to CyberCrime and to secure customer data?
First and foremost the technical solution that we use is based on the Microsoft .NET platform and we ensure that we are up to standard when it comes to security, we also have the Integrated Management System(IMS) Certification which requires annual audit for continued compliance additionally, in Kenya, the Central Bank of Kenya conducts regular audits to ensure that we are fully compliant. We also leverage on lessons learnt in other territories that may have even tougher regulation and apply them to other markets.
Lastly, how long have you worked at Creditinfo and what do you like the most about your position/role?
I have been at CreditInfo for just over six years and since I joined, there has been a lot of change from a small company in Iceland into more of a corporation with offices all over the world. I started off in what was then called CreditInfo Solutions which was where IT, Product and Sales came together, I was the Chief Commercial Officer.
We then created an entity called “CreditInfo Decision Analytics” which was responsible for the Products and Consultancy part and more recently in a restructuring given how we have grown in the past six years.
With the larger footprint we have now, it becomes more imperative to ensure that all our offices are singing from the same hymn sheet and we are not trying to re-create the wheel so my role now is to bring synergies across all our markets. For one, I really like seeing things go from an idea to different proof of concepts and ultimately to a successful live production. I really enjoy seeing the results of our work as a collective; it is really one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job.