Shivani and her team built the Tala app, a new system to measure credit scores using 10,000 mobile data points on smartphones. The mission is to reach the more than 2.5 billion people in emerging markets without credit scores to provide financial services that can advance their daily lives.
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How do you build trust in an emerging market?
By listening to how over 4,500 people spend their money.
I started my career in investment banking and soon got interested in microfinance. When I began working in the field, I realized that although microcredit helps many people, most loan products did not cater enough to the need of the borrowers. The borrowers did not have much choice or freedom over their loans or control over their future.
After I studied econometrics and health economics, I became an analyst for the United Nations Population Fund. I interviewed over 4,500 people to learn more about where their money obtained through microloans went and how they made financial decisions. I became like a walking ledger sheet – I studied every detail of their earnings, needs and expenditures during my research. This was a life-changing experience for me.
The first step to finding a solution:
The start of InVenture (currently Tala)
There were two things I noticed during my research. First, people who only use cash on a daily basis cannot establish any credit. This means they lack the ‘financial identity’, a credit score. Second, traditional credit scoring models do not take non-financial indicators into account, such as their lifestyles and behaviors.
Through my research, I figured out the type of people who could be candidates for financial loans – but there were no financial product on the market for them. The banks did not have the time or the resources to get the depth of information I gained through hours of research. When I thought about creating a new system that could show their reliability, I realized that the solution was in mobile phones, specifically, smartphones.
Smartphones: The best place to look for personal big data.
Eager to find a solution, I returned to the U.S. and started working again at an investment bank for about a year. I also began building a prototype for the Tala smartphone app. Using LinkedIn, I reached out to over 1,500 people who could provide help or support. I was lucky enough to connect with many people and institutions that gave me great advice.
Determined, I left my position and started my own company in 2012. Luckily, we immediately received our initial round of funding, and by 2014, developed our first smartphone app, Tala. Tala uses over 10,000 data points to analyze information on smartphones to calculate credit scores. In Kenya, users were now able to take out an instant loan of 500 USD, paid to their mobile bank account. Currently, more than 10 million USD in loans have been given to over 120,000 people.
Globally, there are 2.5 billion people who do not have credit scores. Their lack of financial identity denies access to credit or other financial products that can improve their livelihood. On the other hand, in the emerging markets, more than one billion smartphones are in service. Through Tala, users can get credit scores to gain access to loans, insurance and other financial services. Users will also be able to make sound financial decisions through this app. Our new service can give someone a new life.
Shivani Siroya is a fintech entrepreneur and founder/CEO of Tala, which works in emerging markets to help anyone with a cell phone build a financial identity. The Tala smartphone app accesses 10,000 data points per customer to create an instant credit score, allowing users access to financial services. Tala has already disbursed millions of dollars in capital to hundreds of thousands of customers in East Africa and is rapidly expanding its services 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. Holds a M.P.H from Columbia University and a B.A. from Wesleyan University.