By Jonathan Winkle, Behavioral Sciences R&D Manager, LenddoEFL
An experimental psychologist by training, I am relatively new to the world of financial technology. Since joining LenddoEFL, I have embraced terms like information asymmetry, alternative data credit scoring, and financial inclusion. Yet it was only during a recent trip to the field that I was able to meet the people behind the FinTech jargon we use in our day-to-day, the small business owners whose lives we help improve in our mission to #include1billion.
In April of this year, I traveled with colleagues to Veracruz, Mexico to test new psychometric content for one of the top 3 microfinance institutions (MFI) in the country. Their group loan product extends a line of credit to a collection of business owners, but liability for payments is joint: if one person misses a payment, the group must still make that payment in full. Since many of those applying for these loans lack traditional credit histories, this MFI asked LenddoEFL to develop psychometric exercises that could quickly and reliably assess group traits that predict creditworthiness.
There are traits that define a strong social group which are nonexistent for individual borrowers. A successful group has strong internal relationships that ensure they will help each other in times of need. A tenacious group can generate creative ideas to solve problems that arise when life presents hardships, as it is wont to do. And a cohesive group exhibits decision making abilities that allow it to act deliberately and with confidence. We designed new psychometric exercises to measure these core traits, and tested them in the field with groups of small business owners applying for loans.
Measuring interpersonal relationships through social pressure
To measure the strength of a group’s interpersonal relationships, we examined the social pressure that exists among group members. Do individuals feel that they can answer sensitive questions honestly? Or do they feel pressure to conform to the opinions of the group majority? While the group was sitting together in one room, we asked them to raise their hands if they agreed with statements about the trustworthiness, fairness, and helpfulness of their local communities. We then asked individuals to answer these questions privately. The discrepancy between how the questions were answered in each setting could reveal how much social pressure exists, and thus how comfortable group members are being honest with each other. We expect that less social conformity means the group’s interpersonal relationships are stronger, an important factor for predicting whether the group will cover individuals who may miss payments throughout the loan cycle.
Measuring creativity through brainstorming
To measure a group’s creativity, we created a set of generative exercises. For both an easy and a hard problem, we had groups brainstorm as many solutions as they could in 60 seconds. The number of solutions generated was recorded as a creativity metric, and, as predicted, groups generated many fewer ideas for the harder exercise. We were also interested in the group’s dynamic as they performed these tasks. Were they apathetic or engaged? Was there a dominant member of the group? Ultimately, when a loan payment is due and some individuals are short on money, can the group come up with ideas for how to get the extra money? We hope that these generative exercises will shed light on this critical group trait.
Measuring decision making abilities through consensus
To measure a group’s decision making abilities, we created a time-to-consensus task. This exercise asks the group to solve a problem where all members must agree on the answer they provide. While we asked the groups to estimate the population of the state they live in, we actually don’t care how accurate their answer is! What’s more important in this exercise is how the group reaches consensus. Are they indifferent and accept the first estimate suggested? Or do they take their time and argue intensely while deliberating over possible solutions? What kind of strategies did they use to reach their estimate? Importantly, this task provides loan officers with a window into the group dynamic that might not otherwise be seen if the assessment merely collected static information such as sociodemographics and business revenues.
Financial inclusion is the mission of LenddoEFL, but working directly with the people we want to include allowed me to better understand how our assessments must be tailored to their cultures and experiences. The better we can measure group dynamics that predict creditworthiness, the more successfully we can extend financial services to those in need. As we continue to expand our credit scoring offerings across the world, looking past the business jargon we use and maintaining empathy for the humans we touch is essential on our path to #include1billion.