Friday, July 22, 2016

ZestFinance to Use Search Data in Calculating Credit Scores

Traditionally, a credit profile is derived by looking at a potential borrower's history of paying back loans. Whether from car loans, credit card usage, or a mortgage on a home, the more an individual can show that they have paid back borrowed money in the past, the lower their interest rate will be on a new loan. However, there is the issue of the Catch-22 of credit: without any credit history, it is very difficult to get your first loan on the path to a good credit profile. Some companies have started including monthly rent payments in their calculations. In partnership with Chinese search engine Baidu, Hollywood credit firm ZestFinance will be using a potential borrower's internet search and shopping history to calculate their credit score, as described in James Rufus Koren's L.A. Times article.

Nontraditional means have been used in the past to calculate a potential borrower's credit, especially when that borrower has never borrowed money, but this will be the first time using search data. ZestFinance has focused on borrowers with little credit history from the very beginning and is confident that the sheer size of Baidu's engine will make them succeed where no one has ever dared venture before. The company will be breaking out in both the US and China, underwriting loans through the companies Basix and, respectively.

In addition to using the search data in calculating credit profiles, behavioral data gained from analyzing search history can help the company to avoid fraudulent customers. With enough data, ZestFinance believes they will be able to statistically determine the likelihood of a borrower paying back their loan in a certain time frame. One example they give is that for some reason, potential borrowers who fill out their loan application with proper capitalization are more likely to pay back their loan than a borrower who writes in all capital letters. They aren't sure exactly why this correlation exists, but they believe that enough research will enable them to create fair assessments of a borrower's credit profile.

Some believe that this system will be unfair, because how can anyone really tell if someone will pay back a loan based on what they look up online? However, if this is the system that enables the majority of those people who were previously refused loans to start down the road to good credit, then it may be worth it. In fact, ZestFinance believes their system will be fairer than current non-traditional calculations in that it can allow people with no credit history to have a decent interest rate, whereas before, they had to choose between paying exorbitant rates or missing out completely on the chance to develop their credit profile. As Douglas Merrill, a ZestFinance executive, says, three out of four Chinese citizens lack the financial history to have a fair credit profile. In exchange for a small, carefully limited, loss of privacy, credit could be gained more easily by everyone, and for most, that's a pretty simple trade.

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