Experian CEO Brian Cassin: Data at the center of the modern organisation
“The fundamental change was all about how do we position the business better in this world where the importance of data was growing. The need for sophisticated decisions based on data was growing exponentially.”
Forbes recently invited Brian Cassin to sit down for a wide-ranging conversation about Experian’s business and our mission to use data and analytics to help people and organisations around the world, covering everything from our innovation to our technology transformation to the various global initiatives to help consumers get access to fair and affordable credit, including Experian Boost in the U.S. and MarketPlaces in Asia Pacific. It also showcases some of our key products like Ascend and the upcoming One Experian platform, demonstrating Experian’s market leadership in helping consumers and clients make smarter, faster decisions.
Q: Data is front and center as a core asset for any business and certainly Experian has long been at the forefront of that phenomenon. Tell us about your vision of where you wanted to take the company since you become the CEO and where you see it headed?
I took over the business as CEO four and a half years ago, in July 2014. We needed to change the business, because, at that point, we weren't growing. Even though we were the largest credit bureau in the world, with credit information on about a billion consumers, 250 million businesses, incredible businesses across a number of different sectors, we found ourselves in a position where some of our businesses were not performing and we had a lot of work to do.
And so, we set about a plan to transform the business – and I mean "we" because it really is a huge team effort here – not just me, but also all the people in my management team and all the people in the business who've come along and embraced what we've done. It had a number of components to it. There were some businesses that didn't fit with the portfolio. We went through a period of some divestitures, reshaping some parts, some operating improvements to lift where we were, but really, the fundamental change was all about how do we position the business better in this world where the importance of data was growing. The need for sophisticated decisions based on data was growing exponentially.
And Experian was in a pretty unique position. Though many people think of us as a credit bureau, and rightly so, we're actually many things. We're one of the biggest software vendors in the world and we've long been providers of very sophisticated decisioning systems and analytics – primarily for financial services companies. Many big banks around the world will be running Experian software to make credit decisions, as well as using our data. So, it put us in a pretty unique position to start thinking about how can we look at our role and how it can expand in that new world.
But we needed to get, I think, a few basics right, and they go into a few buckets – the first of which was that we needed to really get our innovation firing up again. If you look back at our history, Experian has been an incredibly innovative company over its lifetime. Plus, we also needed to modernise our technology and make a lot of our different solutions work together. I've read some of your previous articles where you've interviewed people from businesses that have been around for a long time, you'll know that sometimes, this is difficult, because you have businesses that have grown up by acquisition, you have siloed businesses, older technology that was not designed to be interoperable. So, there's a huge job to do to really make what seems like a simple thing on paper really work.
I’ll give you an example of what came out of that process--we launched a product 18 months ago called Ascend in the US. Ascend is, essentially, a big data platform that combines all of our data, in real time. And this is aimed at tier one banks and it provides those banks the ability to include their own data. The platform has all of the analytical components that they would normally use – including the most advanced software packages that all these institutions are using globally – so, they can perform analytics in a way that they've never been able to do before.
It enables them to take cost out of their own process, because previously, it would have taken our customers a whole lot more time and effort to get the same results, time spent using very highly paid, highly skilled analysts. So, that's a great example of what I mean in terms of looking at the kind of solutions that we can provide to our customers by combining our capabilities. We needed to combine capabilities across three different parts of the organisation and invent new ones as part of that process.
Ascend just wouldn't have been possible four years ago, but it's possible now because of the things that we've done. We invested hugely in our technology architecture – also in our capability in enabling our software developers to develop efficiently and fast, introducing the ability to work across hosted or cloud environments. We have invested hugely in developing an API estate – which will enable customers to consume our products in a variety of different ways.
These are just some examples of the innovations that have taken place, but there are many, many across the company in every jurisdiction that we operate in, and it is one of the primary reasons why you look at that four-year trajectory – we've gone from basically zero percent organic growth to nine percent organic growth.
Q: Obviously it’s paid off since you have been named a Forbes Most Innovative Company several times. How do you plan to stay there?
We're very proud of that. We've been moving up the list. I talked a little bit about innovation and given you a couple of examples of that technology, our journey that we're on. This is an ongoing process for us of continued and escalated investments, from new bureau architecture to new products and the latest software packages to – for example, we mentioned decisioning. We have, for a long time, been one of the largest providers of decisioning software for credit purposes. Because we have such deep knowledge of the industries that we're in, we truly understand how the credit process works and we've been able to design products that work fantastically well for very large volumes of clients where the risk of making an incorrect decision – it's not measured in a lost sale of a book or an iPad; it's potentially thousands of dollars of bad loan exposure.
Launching this year will be a fully cloud-enabled version of all of our decisioning suites across originations, strategy management, collections – every part of the financial decision-making process. And this is going to be a very significant new product for us. So, another good example – we started that investment three years ago. It's a huge exercise. We're also at the forefront of open banking development in Europe. We've developed one of the leading open banking platforms, which enables clients to comply with their requirements to transfer information across the system.
We've another really exciting development in Asia Pacific which we call "marketplaces" to address the lack of data in those economies. Take, say, someplace like Indonesia – only 10 to 15 percent of the population would have a bank account. The rest are invisible to the financial system. But they do have mobile phones and they do have a history of payments and activity on that which can be credit scored. And by combining that information with consumer facing financial portals and products and other data from banks, we've essentially created an ability to include millions and millions of more people in a credit system and get them access to those financial products. So, we're very excited about that.
Q: Does that include China as well?
It includes Indonesia, the Phillipines and Malaysia, not China.
Q: Business transformation is as much about people and buy-in to a shared vision as it is technology. How are you addressing the people side of the business?
People. Very, very, important agenda for us. And there's two aspects. Upscaling our talent more broadly, but also focusing on getting a lot of new product development and engineering talent into our business, which is also, alongside the investments and infrastructure, hugely important in changing the mindset about how products are developed. You marry that up with a lot of the deep expertise we have, that's been a big focus for us. And then, finally, brand, which is important in the context in that we hadn't really looked at our brand and what we stood for and we put a lot of effort into that.
Relaunching our brand was actually a rallying call internally, because we set about to define what our mission and purpose was as a business, and we came up with our brand, which is powering opportunities and creating a better tomorrow, because we felt that our role, fundamentally, was two-fold. One – we sit in a position between businesses, consumers, and providers of services, and the products and services that we provide enable people to get critical products and services faster, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively. That's absolutely essential to what Experian has done for a long time. And everybody can internally really rally behind that. The second one – which was a realisation that I certainly had when I became CEO – was we sit in a very unique position with information – financial information about approximately a billion consumers worldwide.
And in many cases, consumers weren't aware of that. It became really clear to me that whether we operate with an official or unofficial license, a social license was hugely important to us. And so, therefore, we have to become an organisation that was focused on helping consumers get better outcomes in their lives. And that was quite a big shift in the company, because it came from a B to B environment and then, suddenly, we found out that consumers would be interested in accessing their credit reports, and we started to do that. But in the last five years we've also made consumers really central to our strategy.
We now provide free access to a whole range of products and services focused on consumers. That means you get access to your credit report, your scores, but also, a huge range of education, customer call centers to help people navigate through difficult things. We've invested in our data quality. We now have the most accurate data in the industry.
And what we're very proud of is most recently, the announcement of Experian Boost, which takes that a step further. It's actually providing, for the first time in the United States, consumers the ability to change – potentially change their credit score by adding more information to their credit file. So, if they give more visibility to payment history, we can then take that into the file, we score them, and they can get a better outcome. And we're putting it completely in the hands of the consumers. So, for the first time ever they have a chance to have an influence on how the credit system sees them.
Q: Given the critical role you play in consumers financial life, what are your thoughts on the consumer data protection movement and the current and impending legislation and regulation?
First thing I can talk about is the fact that we already are subject to an incredible amount of legislation – in fact, we have over 1,000 separate pieces of legislation across all the territories we operate in. So, I think that there's a big distinction between the world of credit data and the world of non-credit data. Credit data is heavily regulated as to what you can compile from where and what you can use it for. And we have lived with that world for a long time.
We're an organization that's very used to being regulated and being heavily examined by the regulators that we're subjected to. I'll give you an example – we're regulated in the US by the CFPB. The CFPB regularly sends teams here to examine some aspect of our process, and that's been going on for over many years.
We're regulated by the FCA in the UK. So, this is a world that doesn't scare us. We believe that there should be regulation around data and use of data. There is, already, in Europe, GDPR. And I think some other firms will probably find that much more difficult to cope with. That's not to say it won't give rise to issues for us. We do have non-credit data as well, and whatever legislative changes are around that, we're going to have to cope with it. But I guess the point is, as an organization, it's less of a shock to us than others.
Q: Where do you see future growth coming from?
Well, actually, we see the growth coming from all territories. Everybody is changing their business models from new start-ups to existing large-scale banks. They all want to make better decisions, they all want their customer experiences to be frictionless, and they want better outcomes and they want to make their processes more efficient. And all of that requires more use of technology, more use of data, and increasingly sophisticated solutions that combine a lot of these things to help them run their processes better.
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