Most consumers think of Experian as simply one of the three major credit bureaus, keeping tabs on who’s paying their bills.
Jennifer Schulz, the new North American CEO of Costa Mesa-based Experian, would like to have an even deeper relationship with consumers at the same time improving the decision-making data that flows to the company’s main business clients – banks and lenders. She takes the place of Craig Boundy, who was promoted to Global Chief Operating Officer reporting to Brian Cassin, CEO of London-based Experian plc.
In recent years, Experian has been pioneering ways to help consumers navigate the complicated path to a loan, pay bills, or other financial services.
First, there was Boost, a program that allows people to improve credit scores by adding payment records to their profiles of previously untracked expenses such as utilities, phone companies and streaming services. And now there’s a way to get rent payment histories into credit reports.
The company’s new Go product enables those with no credit history to create their own Experian credit report even if they don’t have any loan or borrowing accounts.
And in July, Experian was one of three credit bureaus that took unpaid medical debts under $500 off consumers’ credit scores. These often disputed charges had been damaging credit histories for years.
Schulz, who came to Experian in 2013, isn’t satisfied. She looks across the world of consumer transactions and knows many of those dealings are not simple or stress-free processes.
She sees a rich field of opportunity in easing some of the most-dreaded monetary moves made by consumers. The key is a how-can-we-improve-that mindset that can break down old-school thinking.
“If we embrace change, we’re going to innovate,” she says. “We’re going to continue to focus on problems that need to be solved and put the energy and resource behind it. I have a lot of confidence around that.”
In her first interview as the company’s North American leader, Schulz outlined what will guide her goals to broaden credit access and simplify consumer transactions. The Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. It’s hard to fathom that it’s only been since the fair credit laws of the mid-1970s that women and people of color had an equal shot at borrowing.
A. My mom tells a story of that era, whenever she explains what I do. She was in New York City and didn’t have a credit card and had an issue. They wouldn’t let her use her husband’s card because he wasn’t present. And she tells that story to show how much progress we’ve made.
But I think the last couple of years have taught us we have more progress to go. If we bring in the right people who are focused on the purpose of creating a better tomorrow for the communities that we serve, then we’re able to achieve that purpose.
Fair and equitable access to credit. That is what the goal is. That is what we should all be seeking.
Q. Can you explain how Experian Go works?
A. We are helping people who perhaps are invisible to the credit system, enter the system. It’s a program targeting the “credit invisibles”.
I’ve been pitching this to every graduating high school senior I can find. Because starting early with this education, starting early in the financial journey, sets a foundation for people.
It allows them to have the opportunities to do things like rent an apartment, buy a house, buy a car. All of these things that in our journey through life, we have been able to take advantage of. We need to figure out how the next generation can do that.
Q. The business opportunities are more than just credit histories, yes?
A. It’s the industries with enormous amounts of complexity, whether it be healthcare or mortgage. Innovation and a focus on doing what’s right for consumers throughout the life cycle. We have the opportunity to have an incredible impact.
Look at the work we did with the other bureaus on medical debt. It was putting the consumer at the center and understanding how best to support that consumer appropriately. Because we need to continue to innovate to continue to solve these very complex problems. Technology is helping. And having an open mind to it.
We spend a lot of time and resources making sure we understand what our clients need. But also what consumers need.
Q. So when can I get a mortgage in, say, two minutes?
A. As leaders, you have to find that next big thing. Financial inclusion. Fair access to credit. Solving some of the most painful parts of the financial administrative side of healthcare. To go after those requires change.
Talk about the mortgage industry. A lot of change would be required for me to be able to help give you a mortgage in two minutes. But the technology exists, and the data exists. Now we got to tackle that.
Q. Other opportunities?
A. Finding and selecting auto insurance might be painful. I love the work we’re doing there. It starts with transparency. It starts with data and understanding what is happening and then presenting it back to consumers in a consumable way.
Q. I already get so many personal financial alerts!
A. I think that’s so much better, to be getting too many alerts, than having it be quiet and silent. Then you’re suddenly surprised when you decide you want to buy a car or a mortgage and it’s not a good outcome. I would rather err on where the consumer has access to the data and the information to make good decisions.
Q. I swipe my credit card and I’m instantly being told by the bank that I just charged something. The speed is pretty impressive.
A. Exactly. In a past life, I worked at Visa when we enhanced our technology to allow that sort of real-time alerting. And I have it on every single one of my credit cards. And every once in a while I’ll get an alert and I’ll say that’s not me.
Q. I have to ask: What about the shaky economy?
A. We know that we’re in unsettled economic territory, but we’re proud of the portfolio that we have. And we know that we have weathered the pandemic. So we think we have a very solid foundation on which to drive growth for our clients. I think innovation is probably key.
Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com