• 10.26.15

How Big Data Could Open The Financial System For Millions Of People

A revolution in lending is happening for the connected generation, and the poorest will benefit.

How Big Data Could Open The Financial System For Millions Of People
[Photo: Shutterstock]

The world’s poor have always been excluded from mainstream financial services, because in a sense, they’ve been invisible. Without formal records like credit scores or transaction receipts, it’s hard to build a credit history and thus hard to persuade banks to give loans.


But that’s changing as the poor start leaving data trails on the Internet and on their cell phones. Now that data can be mined for what it says about someone’s creditworthiness, likeliness to repay, and all that hardcore stuff lenders want to know.

“Every time these individuals make a phone call, send a text, browse the Internet, engage social media networks, or top up their prepaid cards, they deepen the digital footprints they are leaving behind,” says a new report from the Omidyar Network. “These digital footprints are helping to spark a new kind of revolution in lending.”

The report, called “Big Data, Small Credit,” looks at the potential to expand credit access by analyzing mobile and smartphone usage data, utility records, Internet browsing patters and social media behavior. Omidyar itself has investments in a whole host of micro-credit startup that harness this data like Cignifi, Lenddo, MicroEnsure, Pagatech, RUMA, Segovia Technology, and Zoona.

China, Brazil, India, Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey have 325 to 580 million people who lack access credit, but have some digital footprint. India alone has 100 to 160 million such consumers.

“In the last few years, a cluster of fast-emerging and innovative firms has begun to use highly predictive technologies and algorithms to interrogate and generate insights from these footprints,” the report says.

“Though these are early days, there is enough to suggest that hundreds of millions of mass-market consumers may not have to remain ‘invisible’ to formal, unsecured credit for much longer.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.