Data-Driven Inclusion: Bringing Together Atlanta’s Tech and Financial Leaders to Drive Greater Financial Inclusion

December 15, 2022

DATA IS A POWERFUL TOOL to modernize outdated financial systems and improve access to credit for underserved, underbanked and credit-rebuilding consumers. As disadvantaged communities continue to struggle to access mainstream financial services, industry leaders, academia, government institutions and nonprofits are increasingly looking to technology as a solution. Cloud-native tech innovation, integrated data and artificial intelligence are some of the key drivers in social change – and in powering the Equifax purpose of helping people live their financial best. 

In the United States, Atlanta has grown into a tech and financial hub and a metropolis with a deep legacy of social impact.  Equifax is part of a broad collective of thought leaders committed to advancing financial inclusion. Over the past decade, research has shown that alternative data sources, advanced analytics and decision intelligence tools can drive inclusion on an unprecedented scale. 

Convening a group of experts, ranging from academia to high-tech leaders, earlier this year, Equifax hosted a panel discussion at its Atlanta headquarters diving into the topic of Data-Driven Inclusion. The cross-sector talk was one of the first in a series led by TechBridge, a nonprofit committed to breaking the cycle of generational poverty through innovative technology solutions. 

Reggie McKnight, Global Head of Social Impact at Google, moderated the discussion with four panelists: Equifax Chief Product, Data, Analytics and Technology Officer Bryson Koehler; Adam Roseman, Co-Founder and CEO of Steady, a platform solving the non-standard worker data gap to drive enhanced access and equity; Jessica Washington, a payments risk expert with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Retail Payments Risk Forum; and Dr. Sudheer Chava, a professor of finance and the Alton M. Costley Chair at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Understanding the challenges to greater financial inclusion 

More than 80 million Americans are either underserved, underbanked or going through credit repair. The reasons are clear: lack of access, unemployment, minimum balance requirements, distrust in financial institutions, and a lack of steady income – to name a few. In order to remove barriers to financial inclusion, the entire ecosystem must work together to rethink traditional models and ultimately enact change. 

Atlanta Fed expert Jessica Washington has been at the forefront of these issues for years, leading research initiatives. 

“The root of financial inclusion is to promote financial health,” Washington said. “To be financially healthy, one must be economically resilient and have opportunities for economic mobility. At the Atlanta Fed, we’ve really been trying to understand how giving vulnerable populations access to financial services that aren’t just provided by traditional banks could promote economic mobility and resilience. We’ve found that, outside of the unbanked population, there are still so many underserved people with a traditional bank account but that do not have either a credit card or debit card.”

Adam Roseman, from startup Steady, shed light on a key population in the mix: the “non-standard workforce.” This group is broadly defined as individuals who earn income from a source other than a full-time W-2 job. And while this workforce is growing, its size is hard to define, precisely because payroll comes through non-traditional channels, including tips. The Steady co-founders realized that this population, though vast, was part of a massive data gap, with earnings that are not as easily trackable. 

“We felt that the only way we could solve for and attempt to tackle this problem was to build a community of workers who were contributing their data that helped us to better understand the workforce,” Roseman said. “So much of the underserved worker community earns from non-standard work, and so many of the challenges this workforce faces are due to lack of available data.” 

Creating predictable pathways out of poverty through data 

Without the right data and technology solutions, it will be difficult to break through barriers.  Expanding access to credit can help communities move their lives forward. 

Over the last four years, Equifax has been rebuilt from the ground up, moving through an ambitious digital transformation journey.  The transition of its IT infrastructure to the Equifax Cloud has allowed the company to maximize the value and accessibility of its data. As a result, Equifax is able to better identify people and understand  their immediate needs. 

“We are able to bring together more data now than ever before,” Koehler said. “And when you bring in more data, you surface a 360-degree view as to who that person is. For example, we recently conducted a study whereby reviewing other types of favorable payment information, which is typically not included on credit reports, we were able to surface creditworthiness to 21% more people who would not have even hit minimum thresholds in the past.”

Building bridges between corporate America and academia 

The academic community plays a critical role in fostering financial inclusion and creating a community for future inclusion leaders. Through the Georgia Tech Financial Services Innovation Lab, Dr. Sudheer Chava explained how faculty and students can access alternative data sources and credit modeling experts to help fuel innovation. 

“As an academic institute, what we try to do is take a step back and look at not only the initial borrowing, but also for the long run outcomes,” Chava said. “The hope is that this can help with product design policy and also inform consumers through financial literacy. The Equifax-Georgia Tech partnership is a great example of what industry and academia can do together to advance the public good.” 

To learn more about how Equifax is fostering financial inclusion, visit our Environmental, Social & Governance hub