Finance Indaba: TransUnion helps businesses make more profit and reduce fraud

"We've played an incredible part in contributing to the growth story of SA Inc.," says Naeem Seedat, VP of Diversified Markets at TransUnion.

Tell us about TransUnion and what you offer, as well as how you operate.
“TransUnion began operating as a credit bureau in the US about 50 years ago, but our South African journey goes back even further, as we’ve been operating here for over 100 years. We’ve been processing South Africa’s credit information for over a century, thereby enabling citizens, communities, businesses and our country to develop and grow. So we’ve played an incredible part in contributing to the growth story of South Africa Incorporated.”

“We have transitioned from our credit bureau roots to become a global information company – that means we are able to apply many different types of consumer and commercial information to help businesses grow and better manage their risk, as well as help consumers better manage their financial health. Our value system of using ‘Information for Good’ means we are united behind our shared vision of empowering our nation through our vast information assets, leading intellectual property and dedicated, skilled people.”

How do you see the company and its offering evolving over the next five to 10 years? 
“If you look at TransUnion globally, what sets us apart from other companies like us is our focus on and success in emerging markets. Yes, we are strong in the US and Canada but we have been very purposeful about the role we play in developing markets, for example, South America, Asia-Pacific and across Africa. We’ve made very dedicated investments into certain geographies and countries in Africa. Our biggest operation on the continent is in South Africa but we also operate in Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi and Swaziland. This experience gives us unique insights into the solutions needed to kick-start a developmental state such as ours.”

“Our CreditVision for Business© platform, which we are launching at Finance Indaba, and our recently launched QuickVet for Business© platform, which enables you to make a trade credit decision in just one second, are two examples of our globally proven IP that we are localising and bringing to our market over the next five to 10 years. Our solutions change the credit risk landscape by introducing trended alternate data combined with globally proven risk engines. This innovation is made possible by the technology re-platforming we went through over the past few years.”

“After turning off our mainframe – one of South Africa’s oldest – in March this year, we’ve been running on one of the most modern, advanced information platforms on the continent, enabling us to deliver game-changing outcomes to our customers.”

What value does TransUnion offer to those in the finance profession?
“Increasingly, we have found ourselves in conversations with our customers, many of them finance professionals, where we talk about what support TransUnion can offer the organisation with regards to improving EBITDA growth. Two levers of growth that we are often pulled in to talk about are how to use TransUnion’s vast information assets and solutions to increase revenue and reduce costs.”

“With regards to increasing revenue, we’ve been working with companies to help them increase their market share, engage and acquire new customers, enter new markets, and take information-powered products to market. Our goal is to help our customers improve their top-line revenue growth by increasing and taking on the right customers in the most frictionless way – delivering a seamless customer experience. We dip into the information we have including unique consumer, commercial, auto, telco and insurance assets to provide market-leading insights and solutions to allow them to do this.”

“As for how our customers can decrease costs, this has really become an acute problem in our economy. One way to decrease costs is to reduce the impact of risk on the bottom line – whether that risk stems from credit, fraud, supply chain or administrative inefficiencies. Our consumer and commercial CreditVision© insights create value across the entire consumer lifecycle, giving clients a comprehensive view of consumer performance so that they can make profitable marketing, risk and collections decisions.”

“We’ve become particularly proficient at using our CreditVision© algorithms to help businesses improve collectability of their debtors books (a problem that is crippling our public sector), as well as playing a leading role in helping our customers reduce levels of fraud and corruption across their businesses by using big data and advanced fraud detection algorithms.”

What are your thoughts on the role of technology in an ever-changing business environment?
“Technology has been embraced by TransUnion since our earliest days. Do you know, at the very start of our business, we used to employ people on roller-skates to deliver paper files to customers! We embraced technology very early on and were playing with big data before it even was a thing. Now it’s no secret that technology changes rapidly – sometimes seemingly on a daily basis – and we’ve made peace with this, architecting our business to adapt to it and harness its potential.”

“We always have an eye on how technology is infusing itself into the channel because this means TransUnion and our clients must adapt to new ways of interacting with customers. Much of the innovation we’ve brought to the channel has been driven by the adoption of mobile tech. We are doubling down on our ability to support deploying mobile as a channel, particularly de-risking this channel for our customers as they shift more of internal and externally facing business processes onto it.”

“For example, we’ve built an algorithm that can detect whether a cell number or mobile device being used by a customer accessing your mobile channel has a risk of being associated with a criminal syndicate. And there is even more to come from TU in the mobile risk space, given our recent exciting acquisition of Iovation, which will see us bring unique device verification and mobile fraud detection offerings to the local market.”

“Equally, we find our customers’ back offices rapidly being changed by technology and we see automation as something that is inevitable in this space. As many of our customers adopt automation, we have begun to do the same – our QuickVet for Business© solution, for example, uses Robotic Process Automation principles to digitalise historically manual trade credit processes, thus enabling our famous one-second trade credit decision.”
“The rewarding part for us has been working with customers who have digitised their channels and back offices and where we are now partnering with them to fundamentally rethink their business models. This is particularly exciting in that it allows them to lean on TransUnion’s information, infrastructure and capabilities, which, when combined with their own, allows us to co-create and open up opportunities to enter new markets, take new products to market and exploit new revenue streams.”

“For us, the most important part of digital transformation is the information required to power it. We see information as the lifeblood of digital transformation and we see TransUnion as the blood bank of the digital ecosystem – come to us when you need an infusion! Ultimately, we have the information and widgets to power your digital transformation.”

Please share your insights into the future of the finance profession and how you see this taking shape.
“TransUnion’s business originated out of a key financial process: credit risk management. We started off as a credit bureau but we’ve evolved by embracing technology to become so much more – now being in the position to use our information to solve all kinds of problems for our customers across their value chains. Similarly, we feel the future of finance lies in embracing technology and becoming more than just the custodians of the financial management process. We see finance professionals transitioning to become finance data scientists and not just finance data processors. As such, the ability of finance professionals to wield information and deploy analytics, as well as to be comfortable with information-based technologies, will be key to this evolution.”

“We believe that the future of finance lies in being a tightly integrated business function; a mixture of business knowledge, technological knowledge and financial knowledge which drives improvement, innovation and performance across the value chain.”

“There’s concern amongst many finance professionals about displacement of jobs by technology but we don’t see a future like that. We see a future where the human machine interface combines to create a synergy that allows business to do much more thereby incentivising organisations to change the nature of work to create more value, and not to just delete people – while there may be some losses, we believe in the net gain effect. We’re optimistic about that. Technology has allowed us to create new jobs and new value before and we are excited about the future of the finance function as it embraces information and technology.”

Why did you decide to partner with the Finance Indaba? Moreover, what are your expectations from the Finance Indaba?
“Given our roots and our context, we feel the finance community is one of our most important stakeholders in South Africa. If you consider the challenges we face as an economy and the challenges to corporate governance currently, we think the finance community is an important part of our defence against descending to a place we don’t want to go. The finance community is a key part of the recovery story of South Africa unfolding and we want to support it as it transforms and grows and deals with its challenges. The Finance Indaba itself is such a great platform to showcase our company and the innovation we have on offer, and importantly to demonstrate our value system of #InformationForGood our commitment to inclusive growth in our country.”