Atlanta-based Urjanet has landed a global partnership with credit information provider Equifax Inc., a fellow Atlanta firm with 11,000 employees, that could help improve financial inclusion around the world.
Urjanet is tied into 6,500 water, waste, power, gas, cable and telecom utilities in 47 countries, gaining access to their customers’ billing and payment history.
Provided on-demand and only with the consumer’s permission, Urjanet’s data will be deployed alongside traditional sources to glean a more accurate financial profile of potential borrowers, including those who lack credit cards or even bank accounts.
“It becomes an added resource to be able to provide more visibility into credit and lending risk for banks and other financial institutions,” said Sanjoy Malik, Urjanet’s founder and CEO, told Global Atlanta. “We are going to be able to provide this data on a worldwide basis.”
Urjanet was founded in 2010 at Advanced Technology Development Center, having been spun out of a big-data research project at Georgia Tech. The goal was to help utilities manage sustainability and usage goals while reducing waste, a suite of products Urjanet still offers. Cox Enterprises was the first customer.
But over time it became clear that the data had other uses, from risk profiling to identity verification through utility bills.
Equifax’s keen focus on alternative data is illustrated by its acquisition of two players in this space, DataX and PayNet, earlier this year, executives said in a news release announcing the partnership.
“This data offers a unique view into payment history that is not currently considered in traditional credit reports, and can bolster a consumer’s profile in the eyes of lenders and other service providers,” Sid Singh, president, United States Information Solutions (USIS) at Equifax, said in the release. “We plan to add additional consumer-permissioned data sources into our solutions, helping consumers with thin or no credit files to gain better access to credit.”
Urjanet, meanwhile, is hitting its stride at a time when banks still have a hard time gauging the risk from the flood of people around the developing world now entering the formal sector.
Most households in the U.S. have bank accounts, mortgages, credit cards or other financial interactions that can be parlayed into the traditional credit score.
“When you go to developing countries, that ratio gets flipped. There are more people without bank accounts, but everybody has a cell phone and an electricity bill,” Mr. Malik told Global Atlanta. “Ten years ago, there wasn’t a very big market for these types of services. This data was not very easily available. It took us about five to seven years to build up the network, and it’s a very hard problem that we are solving.”
Now, the venture-backed company with more than 400 employees is adding 100 utilities per month to its platform, backed up on the programming side by a team out of Chennai, India.
“It’s taken awhile, but our platform is ready and the markets are mature enough to be able to use this type of data,” Mr. Malik said. “There are a lot of utilities, and especially when you get into water and waste and electricity, the tail is very, very long. We are constantly adding new utilities at quite a rapid pace. You will see our utility network expanding.”
Urjanet entered the United Kingdom in 2015 and has signed up utilities across Europe and Latin America. One immediate goal is to deepen its utility network in Asia.
Equifax, which also operates around the world, is investing heavily in security following a 2017 data breach that exposed the personal information of some 150 million Americans, led to hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and legal fees and damaged the 120-year-old company’s reputation. Much of the executive team stepped down.
With new CEO Mark Begor at the helm, Equifax has committed $1.25 billion toward changing the company culture and growing it into a global leader in cybersecurity.
That has included hiring 1,000 technology and security workers in Georgia, some of them now housed at the recently opened the Global Fusion Center, Equifax’s remodeled hub for fraud detection and prevention in Alpharetta.
The company this week partnered with the World Economic Forum Centre for Cybersecurity to host a two-day workshop convening global experts on cybersecurity in Atlanta.
Mr. Malik of Urjanet said he’s excited to work with the “new Equifax.”
“We are thrilled about the partnership,” he said.