Emma Newlands: Using data to drive concepts with social purpose

It is set to start at midday today, an 'intensive' 24-hour competition with the theme of 'financial services for good' and focusing on how financial data can be used to help address some of the biggest challenges facing society today.

It is set to start at midday today, an “intensive” 24-hour competition with the theme of “financial services for good” and focusing on how financial data can be used to help address some of the biggest challenges facing society today.

Accountancy firm Deloitte has invited top data scientists and fintech entrepreneurs from around the country to compete in its 2018 Datathon, a fringe event at DataFest18, the week-long festival of data innovation taking place across Scotland until Friday with support from the Data Lab.

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And Andrew Berry, Edinburgh-based director, risk advisory at Deloitte, points out that the event follows Scotland’s first-ever Datathon event last year.

This year’s will capitalise on the growing availability of consumer data through new regulations including open banking and the Second Payment Services Directive known as PSD2. The event aims to establish a meaningful link between financial services data and trends in other areas that underpin social wellbeing.

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Berry highlights the aim for Datathon to investigate issues of financial distress, examining whether there are any potential indicators in the data that could give an early warning of such an issue.

And he wonders if that could point to further challenges, and warnings of the likes of fuel poverty by examining someone’s bank account data.

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The participants, who come from a diverse range of experience and backgrounds, are handpicked by Deloitte from industry, academia and beyond, and will compete to solve challenges and create their novel concepts in a fast-paced environment.

Berry notes that Deloitte is partnering with Scotland’s national children’s charity Children 1st, based in Edinburgh, which he says is looking at households going through financial distress.

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“We’re collaborating with them because they’ve got some great insights into data sets that they’ve had access to. That’s going to be really interesting to see if we can identify any links there, for example are people living on credit constantly. Are they paying over the odds for lending? Are they being forced to take out payday loans?

“A lot of those things are quite logical for us… but can we actually show it and prove it in the data?”

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Industry figures giving their insight at the event include Georgios Panos of the University of Glasgow. He was chosen to participate as his team has been doing research around financial education and how that can be improved, Berry explains, adamant that finance does not have to be difficult.

“Traditionally, we’ve over-complicated financial services all throughout history. Yes, it is a complicated subject, but the accessibility now through devices, through online, makes it all simple for all of us,” he says, adding that innovations such as face-recognition make it much easier to log on to digital banking services.

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Berry also acknowledges increased cynicism towards mainstream financial institutions since the financial crisis, but credits fintech firms with having “come to the fore with really innovative ways of doing banking that put more control in the hands of the consumer”. One aim of the Datathon is seeing if anything in the data shows that consumers are unaware of services and products that could save them money.

The event is hosted in Deloitte’s Greenhouse facility in Edinburgh, and will see participants at midday tomorrow present their concepts to a panel of judges.

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That includes Kent Mackenzie, director, head of risk analytics and fintech at Deloitte; Loral Quinn, co-founder and chief executive of charity-focused fintech Sustainably; Phil Grady, chief executive of Castlight Financial that provides real-time affordability and financial capability analysis; and Bijna K.Dasani, head of business architecture and innovation at Lloyds Banking Group.

Judges will base their decision on the quality and distinction of the concepts, the use of visualisations, and the feasibility and impact of each idea. There will be prizes for the most innovative idea, deepest insight from the data, and overall winner.

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Mackenzie flags the “significant” growth in both the size and availability of data, and believes the varied background of the Datathon participants “means we are going to be presented with concepts that could potentially be developed further and help solve some real-world problems for people across society as a whole”.

Berry takes a measured but optimistic view. “We’re not expecting in 24 hours for these teams to come up with a ‘silver bullet’ that’s going to solve [the issue], but what we would love is to see if they can come up with some nuggets of insight… for example is there a particular segment of the population that is being underserved or particularly vulnerable that maybe we haven’t been able to see before.”