The Tala app connects more than 10,000 mobile data points per customer to create an instant credit score and deliver customized financial products. Its ultimate mission is to reach the more than 2.5 billion people in emerging markets who don’t have credit scores and connect them to financial products that can advance their daily lives.
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Learning how to build trust in emerging markets by meeting 4,500 people face to face
I started my career in investment banking and soon I got interested in microfinance. As I learned more about it, and began working in the field, I realized that even though microcredit is helping many people, all the loan products are one-size-fit-all products – they aren’t customized for borrowers’ unique needs. There isn’t any flexibility or convenience. As a result, micro-borrowers have no real choice in their financial lives or control over their futures.
After I studied econometrics and health economics, I started working with the United Nations Population Fund. Through this work, I interviewed over 4,500 people in person to learn more about where their money went and how they made financial decisions. I became like walking QuickBooks for understanding their earnings, needs and expenditures during my research. It was a fascinating, life-changing experience.
To solve the problem of no financial identity, I decided to start InVenture – now known as Tala
There are two big problems in the market. One is that people living day-to-day in an informal, cash economy don’t have a formal financial track record or a way to prove they can be trusted with credit. They don’t have “financial identities” – like a credit score, for example. The second is that traditional credit scoring models don’t take into account the kinds of non-financial indicators that can prove someone’s creditworthiness –, such as their behavior and who they are as a person.
I met so many people in my research who I’d trust with a loan because I had gotten to know them as people. But there were no products on the market that judged individuals by this kind of criteria – because this kind of data didn’t really exist. You could go spend weeks with a person, as I had done, to capture all that data by hand, but no bank had the time or resources to do that.
This is when I had my “a-ha” moment. I realized that all this data is actually captured on their mobile phones and could be accessed and turned into a new kind of credit score in an instant.
So I started developing idea of InVenture – now called Tala – and creating an initial prototype.
Smartphones capture data that identifies who you are
For over a year, I was working on building Tala while also working full-time. I reached out to mentors and potential contacts throughLinkedIn, and I sent messages over 1,500 people! Eventually I found a great group of people from a variety of sectors to advise me.
In 2012, I finally felt I had enough of a plan in place to quit my job and take a leap of faith on Tala. We received an initial round of funding, and by 2014, we developed our first smartphone app, which brings in more than 10,000 different data points per customer to build a credit score and disburse loans. Now through Tala, customers in Kenya can get a loan up to 500 USD nearly instantly, direct to their mobile money account. We’ve disbursed more than 10 million USD in loans to more than 120,000 people.
There are 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have a credit score. Because they don’t have a financial identity, they don’t have access to credit or other financial products that can improve their lives. But on the other hand, more than one billion smartphones exist right now in emerging markets. By using Tala, people can build a financial identity that will give them access to loans, and, down the road, other products like insurance and utilities. Customers can also learn how to better manage their finances and build a more secure future. We can provide a new life through our service.
Shivani Siroya is a fintech entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Tala, which works in emerging markets to help anyone with a cell phone build a financial identity. Through its mobile app, Tala connects over 10,000 data points per customer to create an instant credit score and deliver customized financial services. Tala has disbursed millions of dollars in capital to hundreds of thousands of customers in East Africa and is rapidly expanding throughout Africa and Asia.
Prior to founding Tala, Shivani held a variety of positions in global health, microfinance, and investment banking, including with the United Nations Population Fund, Health Net, Citigroup and UBS. Shivani is a 2016 Aspen Institute Finance Leader Fellow, 2016 WEF Young Global Leader, 2015 Senior TED Fellow and 2013 Ashoka Fellow. She is also on the board of Stellar.org. She holds a M.P.H from Columbia University and a B.A. from Wesleyan University.