Creditinfo Jamaica Limited wants the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) to put its weight behind its lobby to include phone and other utility billing information as sources of credit data.
The credit bureau is pressing the minister of finance and the Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) to expand the register of approved credit information providers to include telecoms and utility companies.
Megan Deane, the CEO of Creditinfo Jamaica, said at this month's PSOJ Chairman's Club forum on Tuesday that while some Jamaicans might not have a credit history, they are often the owners of one or even two mobile phones.
The consumption of airtime and call credit can be used to analyse and predict credit behaviour, Deane said.
Water bill indicator
Research by the IFC, an arm of the World Bank, shows that "how people pay their water bills is a very good indicator of how they will handle credit," she said.
"We are pushing very hard for the minister of finance to add the utility companies."
In August 2010, Jamaica's Parliament passed the Credit Reporting Act to provide for the sharing of credit information between specified bodies and the licensing of credit bureaus.
Creditinfo got its permit in March 2012, followed by CRIF NM Credit Assure Limited. The two agencies began operations earlier this year.
Creditinfo said it has now signed 36 financial institutions, government agencies and credit agencies as information providers and that the two largest banks - Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica (BNS) and National Commercial Bank Jamaica (NCB) - will be online by the end of September.
Terrence Cooper, CEO of CRIF NM, said on Wednesday that while both institutions can produce useful information, neither is ready to provide comprehensive credit reports as they are still in the information-gathering phase.
"This will not happen until towards the end of the year, when more and more information comes in," he said.
Cooper said that CRIF NM has signed 33 information providers, including BNS and NCB.
The telecoms and utility companies, said Deane, have been excluded as information providers by the OUR as there are "concerns that their data is not clean," she said.
The 'unclean data' is a reference to continuous complaints by consumers about incorrect bills. However, Deane said Creditinfo's ICT experts could assist the organisations in cleaning up their data, including removing duplications.
"We are asking the PSOJ to join us in our lobby to have telecommunications as a first step. In many instances, these companies are the only repositories of credit history," said the credit bureau chief.
Deane cited a 2012 case study - a 'airtime to credit' scheme in the Philippines - in which banks granted unsecured loans based only on the airtime scoring model. The clients were those too small to be profitably served by a microfinancing institution or bank, due to location and loan size.
The system was said to have minimal transaction costs as loans are granted using the airtime network.
"Airtime scores allow financial inclusion for millions of otherwise non-bankable Filipinos and builds reputational collateral or credit histories," Deane said.
A positive credit score resulted in loan approval after a paperless online application.
"The whole process of processing a loan can be torturous and costly. Having a credit bureau shortens this process. It is also helping banks to grow their portfolio, to help set risk-target limits and review their portfolios to see where the stresses are before they occur," said Deane.
The alternative data provided by utility companies "is universal and very predictive, and it has been used as a shortcut to build a credit history," she said.
Creditinfo Jamaica is a subsidiary of Creditinfo International of Iceland.