Key Takeaways from SPARK 2017

Andrea Duke  |  September 19, 2017   |  Credit & Lending  |  Energy & Sustainability  

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SPARK 2017 was the can’t-miss utility data event of the year. But if you weren’t able to make it, not to worry — we’ve rounded up some of our top takeaways and key insights from the event:

The sustainability industry is continuing to advance, regardless of policy changes or regime shifts.

According to McKinsey’s sustainability survey, national elections are the least impactful factor in shaping a company’s commitment to sustainability. When Steve Swartz, partner at McKinsey, asked the audience whether they believed the recent election had significantly impacted their sustainability decisions, not a single hand was raised. Swartz shared that the results of the McKinsey survey showed that organizational sustainability initiatives are more often impacted by external stakeholders, technology development, and resource costs.

McKinsey’s survey results are in line with Urjanet and Lucid’s survey of sustainability professionals on their expectations for sustainability in the era of Trump. Survey respondents were likewise hopeful about the future of sustainability and maintained that government position is not a key factor in motivating sustainability efforts.

However, that’s not to say that sustainability strategies should completely ignore changes in government position. Dr. Marilyn Brown, Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor at Georgia Tech, recommended that we shift the narrative to work alongside policy priorities. With jobs, for instance, we have to stop holding ourselves back from moving forward because we’re afraid of leaving people behind — a multitude of more jobs could be created by selling and installing energy efficient and renewable technology. Framing the narrative of sustainability investments toward policy priorities can be a powerful tool.

Utility data has vast potential as an enabler of financial inclusion.

As seasoned veterans of the credit bureau industry, panelists representing the big three major credit bureaus talked about seeing a slow yet steady progression of alternative data as a method for increasing consumer credit access. According to these industry giants, there’s been exploration into using alternative data to build credit files for unbanked or thin-file consumers since the early 2000s, but the chaos of the financial crisis stopped everything in its tracks. With more modern data accessibility and technological advancement, now is the perfect time to invest in alternative data solutions for credit scoring.

Over 100 million US consumers fall into one of two groups: no score or low score. No-score consumers are 75 percent more likely to be rejected for credit services than those with a score, even though 75 to 80 percent of them have proven to manage some form of debt, whether it be through rent or paying their monthly utilities on time.

Industry experts are reasonably cautious when it comes to the use of alternative data, as they want to ensure that the data will not be used simply to lower standards for credit applicants. According to ID Analytics’ recent study, 50 percent of people declined for credit were actually creditworthy by alternative data standards, and alternative data such as rent, telecom, and utility bill payments proved to be successful in increasing predictive accuracy. As Kevin King, director of product marketing at ID Analytics, said: “No one wants to be a part of credit exclusion; everyone wants to be a part of credit inclusion.”

Data security and privacy are ever-growing concerns.

One of the largest barriers to the mainstream acceptance and use of alternative data lies in acquiring consumer permission to use their data. Mike Pecen of Experian says it boils down to trust and incentive. Giving consumers incentive by demonstrating the efficiency of the approval process using alternative data, as well as establishing trust by transparently securing credentials, will help the case for a more mainstream acceptance of alternative data in the credit scoring process. That said, consumer security and privacy remains paramount.

Habib Heydarian, VP of Product at Buddy, highlighted the risks of improper data security. “You see companies that can’t live up to what they promise, and once they lose the trust of their consumers, there is no bouncing back. That’s why transparency is key — letting your customers know as soon as something has happened and what you are doing about it makes all the difference.”

As the use cases for utility data become increasingly varied and versatile, this year’s SPARK conference proved to be a valuable resource in bringing industry leaders together for unparalleled conversation and networking. Want to learn more? Stay tuned for full presentations and recordings from SPARK17. 

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About Andrea Duke

Andrea is a former Marketing Communications Manager at Urjanet. She is an experienced writer and content strategist, and is passionate about sustainability.


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