FinTech and finance organisations come together to safely share data to help COVID recovery

Dame Julia Unwin

FinTech and Financial organisations have come together so that financial data can inform the COVID Recovery. Sage, Equifax UK, Moneyhub and FreeAgent have followed NatWest in supporting the Scottish-based  Smart Data Foundry to open finance for good.

DETAILS of the ground-breaking partnerships were revealed as the organisation introduced its new chair, Dame Julia Unwin, a well-known senior leader committed to social justice. She was the Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for a decade until the end of 2016, and has had a long career working in government, within the corporate and voluntary sectors. 

 Commenting on the announcement, Smart Data Foundry’s Chair, Dame Julia said:

“We have started a movement within the financial services sector which is gaining momentum at pace.  Today’s announcement charts the significant progress Smart Data Foundry has made to date in securing partnerships with these significant organisations which will enable us to unlock the power of financial data that, up until now, was not available for public purpose or common good.  

 These organisations are the latest to join the movement, spearheaded by Smart Data Foundry, which will see the secure sharing of financial data and trends with the specific purpose of achieving societal change and supporting the economy.

 The announcement comes on the back of the successful pioneering partnership with NatWest Group, which has demonstrated the wider positive impact organisations can make through a trusted partnership with Smart Data Foundry. 

 The High Street bank shared de-identified data from over a million householders to provide a factual account of the impact of the pandemic on household finances, based on bank transactions.  To protect customer rights and privacy, all of the data was de-identified and analysed by accredited researchers in the security of the Smart Data Foundry Safe Haven, operated by EPCC at the University of Edinburgh, a controlled and secure service environment for undertaking data research. 

 Insights from the NatWest data were shared with the UK Government at the start of 2021 and continue to be updated.

 Smart Data Foundry is also delighted to be working with Moneyhub, the award-winning financial wellness FinTech, which covers spending trends in the UK economy to help with research into the financial impacts on citizens due to the pandemic.

 This announcement will see Smart Data Foundry partnering with FreeAgent to focus on SMEs, working with Equifax to investigate changes in creditworthiness and with Sage, to consider the causes and impact of late and slow payments to small and medium sized businesses.  The insights will be shared and continually updated with the UK Government as financial behaviour adapts to the pandemic environment.

 Dame Julia Unwin said: “It is important not to underestimate the work that has gone into getting to this stage which includes data governance agreements to protect privacy. This headway, and the success of the NatWest Group partnership, paves the way for many other partnerships as we strive to improve the lives of ordinary people and support the resilience of the SME sector.”

 Dame Julia concludes: “The science community has shown how important health data was to manage the pandemic. Our aim is to do the same for the economy by providing financial data.  However, our collaboration will reach beyond Open Finance as we look at other significant challenges such as climate data and the transition to net-zero, addressing the Poverty Premium and supporting the intersection of finance and health.”

 Simon McNamara, Group Chief Administrative Officer at NatWest said: “The pandemic continues to be challenging for many, and the impact is unique for each customer, household and business. By sharing data with Smart Data Foundry, organisations can collaborate to create better insights for the good of our communities so that we can better support their recovery. We have a crucial role, guided by our purpose, to support our customers and communities to get back on their feet and thrive”

 Aaron Harris, Chief Technology Officer at Sage added “Small and medium businesses have shown remarkable agility and resiliency over the last two years, but we know that late payments can have a devastating impact on their financial health and stability. Partnering with the Smart Data Foundry we want to deliver innovative data-driven business insights that help SMBs and the UK Government make meaningful decisions to address late payments. Our ambition is to use data for good, making it easier for businesses to manage cash flow, and to knock down barriers that stand in the way of building a thriving and a diverse business community.”

 Liz Barclay, Small Business Commissioner also added her support: “Micro and Small Businesses are crucial to the UK economy. They create jobs, lead the levelling-up agenda and are the talent that drives the success of their bigger customers. The work the Smart Data Foundry is leading with Sage Group will shine a light on their value and on issues such as late and slow payments, which need to be rectified if they are to reach their full potential. We can use data-led research to innovate and build resilience into the sector.”

 Roan Lavery, CEO and founder of FreeAgent said: “Sticking up for microbusinesses is really important to us and so we’re proud that the insights from the data will help to shape public policy to support SMEs, sole traders and contractors. SMEs account for 50% of the UK’s output. Part of the success of this project is down to the very supportive data community here in Edinburgh and in other parts of Scotland.”

David Sweeney, who leads the UK Research and Innovation Strength in Places Fund, also added “Collaboration and Innovation is key to the UK’s recovery from the pandemic, and Smart Data Foundry’s work with NatWest and others will help policymakers to better understand the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and potential policy responses to them, as governments across the UK work to build stronger, resilient economic recovery plans for this and to inform recovery from future pandemics. With this, its first project since being formed last year with support from UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund, Smart Data Foundry is showing how data led innovation and research can unlock the power of data as a force to tackle the biggest issues facing the country and the world. It’s also an example of the many economic and social benefits generated by universities such as the University of Edinburgh.”

 Dave Tonge, CTO of Moneyhub comments: “We are delighted to support Smart Data Foundry with spending trends as their vision is perfectly aligned with ours to improve the financial wellness of people, their businesses and their communities. As a platform that has been at the forefront of both the Open Banking and the Open Finance revolution, we recognise the integral role that data plays in our society. Data will help create solutions to real-world problems. The pandemic had significant repercussions for everyone’s finances – from individuals struggling to get by, to businesses having to shut up shop. It’s vital that policymakers have a real sense of the state of the nation’s finances. Only then can tailored and effective solutions be found.”

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