Our Game Changers host Gemma Acton talks to Kari, Executive General Manager for Data and Analytics at Equifax, about how she and her team are making credit scores more transparent and predictive and why data analytics is anything but dry.
She once taught statistics at university, now Kari Mastropasqua is helping everyday Australians reach their financial goals. Our Game Changers host Gemma Acton talks to Kari, Executive General Manager for Data and Analytics at Equifax, about how she and her team are making credit scores more transparent.
Gemma Intro: From teaching statistics at university, to solving complex problems using cutting edge tools, Kari Mastropasqua and her team make credit scores more transparent and predictive to help everyday Aussies reach their financial goals. So, is she a game changer? Let’s find out! I’m Gemma Acton, welcome to Game Changers.
Gemma: Thank you for joining us today, let’s talk a little bit about your career before Equifax. You’ve been a teacher, you’ve been a coach, and now you’re a data scientist. What’s the common thread here?
Kari: Thank you for having me. My background is in statistics and early in my career I spent time teaching at university – first year level statistics – and that was a really interesting experience. At the university it was mandatory to do statistics across a lot of different disciplines. Whether you’re studying psychology, sociology, science, business and so it was a subject that a lot of students found quite intangible yet compulsory. So, what we did as part of the learning experience was to gamify the theory. Rather than getting really deep into the complex theory we made it easier to understand. We focused on what the output means when you get a result from your analysis and what decision you would make off the back of that. That kind of methodology in communicating has really held me in good stead as I moved into the corporate world. In industry, we’re looking for professionals with strong numeracy skills, statisticians and engineers but also people who can communicate because these businesses are looking to drive their business forward by using data and making data driven decisions.
G: I can certainly see the links because you’re right, statistics can be quite dry to people and data analytics can also the be the same. But that is really at the heart of what Equifax does. Tell us about the day-to-day work your team does.
K: I get that a lot, ‘data analytics is dry’, but actually it’s a good time to be in data analytics and I’ve been in the industry now for more than 20 years and seen a lot of change. One of the things that have changed is that these data analytic communities that exist in different organisations, they are becoming the heartbeat and life of the organisation. They are also the starting point of innovation. The other teams that are using the new technology are experimenting with artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive business objectives. Whether that be growth, better customer experience, or even employee experience. While it does sound like a dry topic area, what I’ve noticed is the excitement in the functions that surround data analytics in terms of what is possible.
G: Let’s talk about what is possible. Most people’s familiarity with Equifax is likely to be their credit rating or a credit score. You see everything that’s behind the scenes, how do you get from all that information that comes to your team to the credit score that the customer sees?
K: The score itself is a number and that number is a measure of your credit worthiness. We use the credit information that’s available and we apply predictive analytics to create that score. What’s interesting about this however, if you’ve got a strong credit history or credit information you will get a score. Yet there are 2.5 million Australians that have limited information and there’s a need to think about how we produce these decisions moving forward. I strongly believe that it’s important to have a complete view of a consumer and there are new data sources available that consumers have access and can give permissions to, like bank transaction data where they can share payment history, expense and income information. This can greatly improve their credit position. Recently, with some of the work that we’ve been doing by including these newer sources of information we’re improving financial inclusion by 4 to 12% of the population who currently can’t obtain credit because they don’t have the strong amount of credit data on their file.
G: ‘One Score’ is a part of that work that you are doing. This is quite an impressive product, it received an innovation award, and combines neuro decision technology and AI. It sounds complicated but it’s actually getting help to the people who are the least able to access financial services.
K: In the last few years we rejuvenated our scores and we launched Equifax One Score, which is a generic credit risk assessment score that’s used by lenders. In that score is a new capability from Equifax called ‘neuro decision technology’ and that fits under the banner called ‘explainable artificial intelligence’. This banner and processes that come with that such as machine learning, are very powerful tools that get more out of the information in your organisation and drive better outcomes and decisions. The challenge with machine learning in particular, being automated processes, is that they operate in what we would describe as a black box where you don’t always understand why you get to a decision point. If you think about how those methodologies are being applied, particularly in the lending space, it’s really important from a consumer point of view that you’re able to explain how you got that outcome. At Equifax we have been experimenting in these new techniques and how we can optimise them for lending processes and that’s where neuro decision technology is born. We embedded that into our new score, increasing the transparency so that lenders can have a really engaging conversation with consumers about the financial decisions that are being made on them. Also, the element of explainability of the score is actually empowering consumers to take control of their finances and understand their credit.
G: Humanising the AI in the decision making is a huge part of your role then?
G: Let’s talk about the work you do at university because I’m really impressed by the female heavy team you have at Equifax, yet women are still underrepresented in STEM overall and in the cyber security industry more generally. You’re someone who’s looking to change that?
K: As part of my role at Equifax I also sponsor inclusion and diversity efforts which is a really exciting part of my job. One of those efforts is, ‘how do we get greater representation of women in our technology, data and science areas and across the main business. I did spend a fair bit of time through my career with different industry bodies but also universities to talk about the different things that industry is looking for out of graduates. It’s really important that I do spend time at universities so people can see what is possible and one of the things I’d like to see us do more of past university, is starting to get into primary schools.
G: It seems this is just becoming a bigger and bigger issue in terms of protecting people’s data, giving access to people’s data, and letting people use their data as a tool to help them progress in life. You say this is becoming really critical in society?
K: I think it’s really important that consumers understand what data is out there about them, their rights to how that data is it used and the empowerment of using that data in terms of what they can negotiate.
G: Kari, what are you working on next? You had great success with One Score, it sounds like there are a lot of ideas buzzing away there, what’s your team looking at for the next success?
K: There’s a lot of things that we’re working on. The team are constantly engineering new ways to solve problems and drive greater financial inclusion. We’re just recently taking our One Score capability into the New Zealand market and that will be launched very shortly.
G: Exciting times ahead, I can see that Kari. Well done for the achievements you and your team have made, I’m sure there’s more to come in this space.
K: Thank you very much.
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.
Find our more here: Equifax.com.au
Watch Melanie Cochrane, CEO/Group Managing Director AUS/NZ Equifax, here.