Creating a better tomorrow as a socially responsible strapline …

As the world’s largest credit bureau, Experian takes the issue of financial inclusion very seriously. Committed to ‘creating a better tomorrow’, the core business is built around the power of data and its ability to transform lives around the world, helping people to realise their dreams – whether that means buying a house, a car, celebrating a wedding, funding their family’s education, or starting a new business.

Since 2013, Experian has funded social innovation projects aimed at promoting financial well-being and helping people who have low credit scores or are credit ‘invisible’ due to having a limited financial track record. The programme has reached over 34 million people worldwide and provides around US$1.2million in internal product development funding each year, resulting in innovations and products aimed at promoting financial inclusion under the Experian brand.

Examples of Social Innovation products funded around the world include an app to improve financial confidence for people without bank accounts in South Africa, identity verification for those without formal documentation in India, and an online debt renegotiation platform in Brazil.

Experian aims to reach 100 million additional people through Social Innovation products and services by 2025.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Experian has also launched a new external Social Innovation fund with MIT Solve, as part of its Financial Health Recovery Programme.

Profit with Purpose has been working with Experian’s Corporate Responsibility team since 2019 to help elevate and align their vision and strategy to the company’s growth strategy, to make the best use of Experian’s resources, and to set goals and metrics to show progress towards their social impact objectives.

Purpose-driven, business-savvy

Experian’s Global Head of Social Innovation and UK&I Head of Corporate Responsibility, Richard Donovan, first met Profit with Purpose Founder Isabel Kelly at a Three Hands event on corporate social purpose where they were both speaking in 2018. Based on the strength of her presentation, Richard introduced himself and invited Isabel to be a guest speaker at Experian’s internal Corporate Responsibility (CR) conference later that year.

We bring our 15-strong Corporate Responsibility community together from across the globe each year and are always looking for credible and inspirational speakers we can engage with and learn from,” said Richard. “Isabel fit the bill perfectly. She was not only an insightful speaker, but she challenged the team to ask questions and look for answers. Her knowledge of the pivot point between the commercial and non-profit sectors was vital.”

Isabel’s presentation aligned well with the objective for the meeting set out by Abigail Lovell, Experian’s Global SVP for Corporate Responsibility, which was to elevate CR within the business to be fully aligned with the overall commercial vision and strategy, and to make use of the full set of available resources: people, profit and product.

View from the top – discovering management’s perspective

The CR team’s perception was that there was a low level of interest in their work from many in Experian’s management team; that it was seen as a nice-to-have, valuable for some employees, but unrelated to the company’s overall business objectives.

To better understand the approach to CR throughout the business, Isabel kicked off her work by speaking to around 50 global senior leaders: from the UK to the US, Brazil, Australia, Singapore and India. Braced for cynical responses, she was met with the opposite – not a single conversation was negative and leaders clearly articulated their passion and understanding for how Experian’s product, data and analytics have the potential to contribute significant social value for vulnerable communities.

From those conversations, Isabel and the Experian CR team received the endorsement they needed to start working towards globally consistent CR activities with high-level metrics, rolling up to a clear social impact vision focused on financial inclusion.

Isabel’s findings from her conversations were a huge step forward for us,” continued Richard. “It was as useful to discover what the management team didn’t value as what they did, and has allowed the CR team to have different conversations with them.”

Global vision, local actions

With clarity of direction and senior endorsement, Profit with Purpose and Experian agreed a set of activities and milestones including drafting the new high-level framework, defining key social impact metrics, and syncing messaging to Experian’s global communications strategy.

Experian has now started the global roll-out of their new Impact Framework, as described in the 2020 Sustainable Business Report:

“This Framework is supported by a global vision, principles, methods and metrics; and it takes into account potential internal and external challenges that we could face as a business.

Our Impact Framework is being rolled out at global and regional levels of the business. Each region can tailor the Framework to local social challenges, culture and employee engagement. Over the next twelve months, we plan to review our community investment, partnerships and local programmes to make sure they align with the new Framework’s focus on improving financial lives.”

The strategic shift of CR – combined with the Social Innovation agenda, community investment, and a new environmental strategy – have fulfilled the desired direction of the board, with Abigail Lovell presenting multiple times at recent board and leadership meetings.

The measure of success

Articulating the social impact being made was key for the elevation of CR at Experian. By focusing less on the inputs (money given, volunteer hours) as the end goal, and instead aligning inputs to a headline metric focused on financial health, Profit with Purpose – working with expert associate The Social Innovation Partnership – helped shift the CR team’s thinking to focus on key beneficiaries and  goals.

The 2020 Sustainable Business Report outlines this evolution, aimed at aligning Experian’s success measures with the United National Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

“Our goal is to be able to measure the number of people who have improved their financial lives as a result of Experian’s people, product and profit, and understand how many were unbanked or underbanked. We’re currently developing new metrics to more effectively measure the impact of our products and programmes on financial lives and our contribution towards the UN SDGs.”

This move toward using the UN’s SDGs as a bellwether for measuring success means that it’s not just the board taking a greater interest in the CR strategy; measurable social impact reported within agreed frameworks (including several already being used by Experian) is increasingly of interest to companies’ investor relations teams who are keen to be included in the growing number of sustainable or impact investment funds.

Crisis Response

Experian’s CR team had started to implement its new Impact Framework when COVID hit, so the groundwork was already in place to expand the CR strategy to include financial health and recovery.

“COVID has been a defining moment for us as a business. The dire financial impact of the virus will be devasting to so many communities, and it is our responsibility as a company to act,” said Richard.

“To ensure we could make the biggest impact on the communities suffering the most, we wanted to kick off the external fund and invite other investors to contribute.”

By this stage, the CR team viewed Isabel as a trusted colleague and got in touch with Profit with Purpose for support in helping to identify those communities hardest hit by the economic impact of the virus. Happy to help, the Profit with Purpose team carried out an initial triage exercise, speaking to organisations in their network of global NGOs and narrowing down the list of potential partners for Experian to approach for their COVID initiatives.

“We could not have accomplished this work on our own,” concluded Richard.  “Isabel and her associates bring extensive experience and expertise to every project and their network of connections has proved invaluable in helping us in our COVID response as well as implementing our CR strategy. Their independence means they can also offer valuable insights and perspective to the work they deliver.”