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Equifax A/NZ MD Melanie Cochrane Talks To Gemma Acton About Why Financial Inclusion Matters

Fighting against cyber-crime and identity theft while monitoring Australians’ credit, Melanie Cochrane has a vital role in our economy as Group Managing Director of Equifax (A/NZ).

Our Game Changers host Gemma Acton talks to Melanie about her career commitment to diversity and inclusion and her role in giving all Australians access to products that will secure their financial futures.

Game Changers Host Gemma Acton talks to Melanie Cochrane CEO/Group Managing Director AUS/NZ Equifax. Pic credit: Andrea Francolini
Game Changers Host Gemma Acton talks to Melanie Cochrane CEO/Group Managing Director AUS/NZ Equifax. Pic credit: Andrea Francolini

From leading a team, delivering unique insights and innovative solutions, to playing a pivotal role in our economy, Melanie Cochrane’s aim is to empower customers and consumers to make great decisions. And in an industry perceived as cutthroat, she’s passionate about diversity, inclusivity and equality. So, is she a game changer? Let’s find out! I’m Gemma Acton, welcome to Game Changers.

Gemma: Mel, welcome to Game Changers. Let’s start by talking about how your career before Equifax prepared you for today’s leadership role.

Melanie Cochrane
Melanie Cochrane, Group Managing Director of Equifax (A/NZ) Pic credit: Andrea Francolini

Melanie: Well, I’ve had an amazing experience in different types of roles. I started out in the UK with American Express and I had the opportunity to work in New York, Sydney, went to phoenix and back again. I’ve had great geographical and different cultural experience but also different functional experience. Whether that’s from leading sales, marketing, customer service, being a general manager and particularly in digital transformation where those experiences have really helped prepare me for this role.

Gemma: You have done so much, it’s quite overwhelming! Let’s talk about the concept of financial inclusion, which is core to what you do at Equifax. For those of us who have always been lucky enough to access financial services it might be a concept that’s completely unfamiliar, why is it so important?

Melanie: It’s about having the knowledge and the freedom to make the choices that you want. It is everything from understanding what people need to prepare for buying their first home or when someone newly arrives to the country, like I did, or being able to create that financial inclusion. It is about giving access to those choices, whether that’s creating great habits and being able to build a profile of inclusion. It’s also ensuring we have transparency and we’re not excluding people.

Gemma: To broaden financial inclusion, Equifax is constantly working on new products. One really interesting area is the construction industry, helping customers take the guesswork out of signing up with builders. Tell us more about what you’re doing there.

iCIRT award presentation
iCIRT award presentation. An iCIRT stamp of authority gives certainty to the consumer that a construction company is reputable, honest, and trustworthy.

Melanie: If you’re going to put your life savings into your first apartment you want to know that there won’t be any defects. There’s been some really bad situations where some places have been unliveable or the construction hasn’t been able to be completed, so we’ve recently launched a new programme together with the construction industry. With the reforms, particularly in NSW with the building commissioner, and working to create that transparency where people can actually see the character conduct, security, and reliability behind that property development, they know that their life savings are safe. They can have confidence and trust in being able to buy that building or apartment.

Gemma: On the flip side, it also helps the construction industry. If you are a good builder, you don’t want your reputation to be besmirched by actors in the industry who aren’t as reputable.

Melanie: That’s right! We found that a lot of the builders are using it to promote that they are very confident and proud of their ratings and want to ensure people know they can trust them. We’ve had great support from the industry overall that this is a really good thing to create transparency and confidence in the building construction industry.

Gemma: The cloud has become such an important part of our everyday lives, in a personal sense for storing photographs or at work for sharing files with colleagues, why is it such an important tool in the fight against cyber-crime?

Melanie: Cyber-crime is becoming more and more sophisticated; with the controls and the focus we need on cyber security just continuing to increase. There’s a range of things that we have to consider, especially as consumers in protecting our own identity and that’s about education. I’ve been hearing firsthand from customers, consumers and neighbours; “I’ve had my data breach, what do I do?” and the lack of knowledge is surprising. So, we’re trying to educate people on how they can protect their identity. From an industry perspective, we have to work together. It’s about collaboration, communication, and transparency to make sure that we all fight this fight together.

Gemma: What is next for the industry? As you said, collaboration is a key feature, what are you gearing up to work on together?

Melanie: It’s not one approach. It is a mixture of industry, business, being a lender or social media outlet and so it crosses all types of businesses. Working hand in hand with government as well, to make sure that consumers, government and business work together to help protect Australians.

Gemma: The cost of living crisis has certainly changed people’s attitude and relationship with their finances. How did the pandemic change Equifax’s mission and the work you do?

Melanie: The pandemic, in terms of our response, was making sure that we were helping customers through hardship or difficult periods. There’s been legislation around that now so that if people have suffered hardship, they can communicate that through their lender, and we make sure that’s available and transparent. So, there’s been some really positive things that have come out of the pandemic as well.

Gemma Acton and Melanie Cochrane
Game Changers host Gemma Acton and Melanie Cochrane CEO/Group Managing Director AUS/NZ Equifax. Pic credit: Andrea Francolini

Gemma: Mel, I was really impressed to see how many females are in really strong, important leadership positions at Equifax. Is diversity something that you believe helps the business?

Melanie: Absolutely. I’ve been passionate about diversity inclusion for my whole career. It’s so important and I believe that at Equifax where we have a lot of data scientists, technology and cybersecurity people that are underrepresented generally in the industry, having female leaders in those positions is incredibly important to attract the right talent. We want to make sure we can look at role models and see this is as a place I can belong.

Gemma: Tell us more about your leadership role. It is an industry that is not heavily represented by women, particularly in the top positions. How do you think your perspective makes a difference to the way things are running and what you can provide, ultimately, for the customers?

Melanie: Great question. The one thing I like to bring is a transparency of my authentic self. I will tell you, I’m not a data scientist and I’ve absolutely loved working with our team and learning more about the incredible talent. The same goes for our cybersecurity or technology teams. Being open, being vulnerable, and allowing people to take risks actually creates the confidence or trust where people can experiment. I really try to create an environment where people can challenge others, can speak up and then make sure that I’m open to listening to all perspectives and ideas across the team.

Gemma: Mel, what’s the main focus for you now? As you said, we’re in a different era now, what are you working hard on to get right for people?

Melanie: We talked about financial inclusion a lot and that’s going to become even more critical over the next few years as people go through different cycles with economic changes and uncertainty. Again, I talked about identity and protection too. Cybersecurity is going to be a hot topic for a period of time and it’s very unsettling. Australians have not been used to it and I think this next period is about increasing education and the type of tools that people can use.

Gemma: Well, with your extraordinary breadth of experiences I have no doubt you’re the right person for the job. Mel, thank you so much for joining us.

Melanie: Thank you.

You can read more about Melanie Cochrane below on Women Love Tech.

More about Equifax

Equifax powers the financial future of individuals and organisations around the world. Using the combined strength of unique trusted data, technology and innovative analytics. Equifax has grown from a consumer credit company into a leading provider of insights and knowledge that helps its customers make informed decisions. The company organises, assimilates and analyses data on more than 820 million consumers and more than 91 million businesses worldwide, and its database includes employee data contributed from more than 6,600 employers.

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Written by Gemma Acton

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