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19 March, 2020 - 21:51 By Kate Sweeney

Credit where its due in Rainbird-led initiative

Rainbird, the Norwich-based AI-powered intelligent automation platform, has struck a new research partnership aimed at supporting and empowering vulnerable individuals by facilitating fairer credit decisions.

The business has teamed up with Norwich neighbour the University of East Anglia for the initiative.

The proposed technology tool is being fashioned to better identify individuals who may need to be classified as vulnerable – those suffering from mental health issues, severely indebted or otherwise lacking the capacity to make fully-informed financial decisions – during the credit application process, ultimately streamlining credit providers’ ability to offer hep and guidance sooner.

While vulnerable people exist in every area of society (1 in 4 UK adults experience at least one mental disorder in a given year), they face some of the greatest struggles within the financial and banking sectors, leading to mental health issues and furthering the strain faced by a growing number of people and households. 

The solution being developed by the three partners will more rigorously analyse potential signals for vulnerability, such as low or erratic income, high indebtedness or low savings to arrive at a more holistic, responsible decision from the credit provider.

With AI predicted to outperform humans in credit decisions by 2024, the collaboration represents all parties’ levels of sophistication in harnessing the technology for social good. 

Additionally, regulators, society and policy makers are increasingly concerned with financial institutions’ ability to prove they are not disadvantaging vulnerable individuals, with the FCA last summer releasing a consultation providing guidelines on best practices.

Sean Ennis, director of UEA’s Norwich Business School’s Centre for Competition Policy, said: “Although the problem of identifying and supporting vulnerable individuals in finance is relatively well-known, few technology solutions have been developed to specifically tackle it. 

“There’s an increasing demand across the board for financial institutions to provide transparency in all decision making processes and nowhere is this more important than where potential discrimination against vulnerable people is concerned.”

As well as inaccurate credit decisions, vulnerable individuals experiencing financial issues such as over indebtedness face an uphill struggle due to lacking access to financial planning and educational tools and resources.

James Duez, CEO of Rainbird, said: “This partnership came from the realisation that not enough financial institutions are taking action to support vulnerable individuals financially: 18 per cent of people with a mental health problem also have a debt problem and 46 per cent of people in financial difficulty also experience mental health difficulties.

“As well as branching out to further applications both within and beyond the sphere of finance, we hope this initiative will change the current mindset in the industry. 

“Instead of the onus being on individuals to prove that institutions are disadvantaging them directly, it’s the institutions themselves that should prove they are not discriminating against vulnerable people.”

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