Some of the world’s biggest banks are working on using people’s personal information from Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms as part of, or in lieu of, someone’s credit history.
Yasaman “Yassi” Hadjibashi, chief data officer at Barclays Africa, told Business Insider in an exclusive interview that she has personally worked with a team to try and find the “dream” solution of using social media to cultivate a more accurate view of someone’s financial status. She adds that “lots of other banks” are doing the same.
“We are still cracking that,” Hadjibashi told BI. “You need to work with the regulator and there is a lot confidentiality around personal information so you have to be careful to create something with consent in a safe, encrypted way, without violating the individual rights at the same time. Lots of companies and banks are looking into this too.
“There is a wealth of data on you as an individual on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms that can capture data that is a lot more tailored to you as an individual, rather than generic demographic data. This could really help people when they apply for a credit card or in micro personal lending. This is especially useful for millennials that have little or no credit history.”
The power of big data
The idea behind big data is pretty simple but to create a system to accommodate it is so complex that some ideas, like using social media platforms as part of a credit score, seem very far off.
Everyone in the world has a vast amount of data stored on them across the globe. This includes everything from medical records to travel patterns, purchases, financial history, and even hobbies. Basically, there is a digital record of your life, spread out all over the place.
Data scientists like Hadjibashi (she is one of only two chief data officers in the banking sector) hope that everyone will one day have a unique code that will identify them and let people pull up all their information at once. However, as you can imagine, building the tech and infrastructure to enable this across jurisdictions and sectors is a mammoth feat.
Hadjibashi knows first-hand how efficient and useful a centralised data point would be. Yassi grew up in Iran, moved to Germany as a child, studied and worked in the US, then came to London for a few years, before taking up her current role at Barclays Africa.
When she first came to the UK after her time in the US, she was unable to even get a mobile phone contract with because she did not have a credit history in Britain. Despite being a bank employee with a full-time job and money in the bank, she had to use Pay-As-You-Go until she racked up a history of credit.
“As a foreign national, there was no way when I came to the UK of having a credit history here. So I got rejected for a phone contract with Vodafone because Experian (the personal credit checking agency) had no record of me,” says Hadjibashi.
“But if someone had looked at what money I had, and even looked at my social data on LinkedIn, which includes my job references and my current employment status, it would have given them confidence that I was a legitimate citizen and would be able to have a credit facility.”
‘Social data is becoming more and more important to companies’
Banks and companies already use social media data in various ways already, Hadjibashi says.
“Social data is becoming more and more important to companies. For example, when it comes to job applications and recruitment, companies will Google your name and trawl through at least the first two pages of searches and go through links to find out more information about you,” she says. “They will also try to look at your Facebook and other social media accounts.”
Harnessing social data for financial services or advertising is not the only consequence of using big data. Hadjibashi argues society itself could be changed.
“The dream is to get to the point where if you want to sign up for a service, instead of using forms, your data [from around the world] is aggregated into one place, let’s call it a ‘cloud vault.’
“Data is your commodity and trusted institutions should have access to this. For example, it makes life a lot easier if you have a single number or code that houses all your data and then if you give consent for someone to check it, you don’t have to spend hours filling out forms — like if you went to hospital.” (Estonia already have this, a single digital code identifying each citizen that can be used across all government services.)
Hadjibashi says: “I would be happy for someone in hospital to spend just 20 minutes accessing and reviewing my data, rather than spending ages filling out 10 pages of forms and then hours waiting for an assessment. That’s liberating and democratising services in real-time. This is why we need collaboration between all corporates, startups, and governments to get this to work. Hacking, the dark underground world of the web, does make it harder for this to come true soon but this is what we are working towards.”
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