I think it’s so important to empower women to succeed and I’d like to see additional attention and education given to women so that they can advance in the technology field. We have such an underutilized pool of talent and creativity to tap. We’re definitely making strides but there’s more to be done to ensure that women have the opportunities to flourish and also take on leadership positions with confidence, particularly women of color.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Peters.
Kathleen is Chief Innovation Officer for Experian’s Decision Analytics business in North America. Kathleen and her team are continuously looking for new ways to solve customer challenges, by defining product strategies, new paths to market and investment priorities for Experian’s decisioning, analytics and identity capabilities. Having lived and worked in Silicon Valley for nearly two decades amidst fast-paced innovation, leading-edge technology breakthroughs and business model disruption has influenced Kathleen’s approach to strategy and business thinking at Experian. The last two years, Kathleen has been named a “Top 100 Influencer in Identity” by One World Identity (OWI), an exclusive list that annually recognizes influencers and leaders from across the globe, showcasing a who’s who of people to know in the identity space.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?
Thank you for the opportunity. My journey to finance is somewhat atypical. Until I joined Experian in 2013, I hadn’t worked directly in banking or finance. I started my career as an electrical engineer, writing embedded software for digital cellular phones — but for the phone calling functionality, not the smartphone applications we have today. This set me on a journey with a common thread of mobile, connected devices and information. I took on increasingly business-oriented roles, both at mid-size companies and startups, but always with leading-edge technology offerings including mobile operating systems and third-party applications; mobile network performance; multimedia players and content for early smartphones; and cybersecurity and encryption solutions for digital communication on mobile devices.
I was attracted to a role in the identity and fraud group at Experian because I could see how quickly the shift was being made to mobile devices for consumer banking. Being able to connect digitally has opened so many doors to convenience and access, yet it also brings new types of risk. I felt there was a really interesting connection between cybersecurity and fraud in the digital world, and Experian would be a great place to explore that link. I wanted to be a part of the evolution in the finance field as the move to digital gained momentum because I’m fascinated by the inflection point of technology and consumer behavior and quite frankly, how it is changing our world. Most recently, I led Experian’s Fraud and Identity business in North America, and I am now Chief Innovation Officer for Decision Analytics in the region.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One of the startups I was a part of in the early 2000’s was PacketVideo. Years before the advent of the iPhone, PacketVideo was enabling multimedia — photos, music, video — on mobile devices. At that time, video was the perplexing piece: we had the technology to stream content over a very limited connection to a phone… but what would people want to view on such a small screen? We were trying all sorts of angles from movie trailers to games to virtual pets. At the same time, we were also making quick videos ourselves — capturing a family event, or some ridiculous behavior by a pet, to test and to carry with us as prototypes. YouTube didn’t exist yet. It seems obvious now, but it turns out some of our favorite and most shared content is personal — capturing a moment, sharing an emotion, making a connection. It’s fun to look back and think that at PacketVideo we were just ahead of that wave, pioneers in something that is now so ubiquitous in all our lives, around the world, especially today! I think we have similar frontiers in payments and finance that are just as interesting, and just ahead of us.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only impacted companies and consumers but it’s also driven an uptick in fraudulent behavior. We have a few new and exciting products that can help companies combat fraud and protect identities.
Synthetic identity fraud has been on the rise for years, and like all types of fraud, has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to McKinsey, synthetic identity fraud accounts for 10–15% of lender losses each year, making it the fastest-growing type of financial crime in the U.S.
To address this threat to the credit and lending industry, we recently announced new Sure ProfileTM, which validates consumer identities, detects profiles that have an increased risk for synthetic identity fraud and helps cover losses resulting from synthetic identity fraud for assured profiles. Experian is the first company with an offering to combat synthetic identity fraud that is integrated into the credit profile with market-leading assurance. It’s really exciting to be a part of the team that brought this industry-first fraud offering to the market to help lenders and ultimately protect consumers against synthetic identity fraud.
I’ve also been a part of creating two other important fraud and identity tools with recent releases, CrossCore and Precise ID Model Suite. Experian’s CrossCore combines risk-based authentication, identity proofing and fraud detection into a single cloud platform, which means businesses can more quickly respond to an ever-changing environment. With flexible decisioning orchestration and advanced analytics, businesses can make real-time risk decisions throughout the customer lifecycle, which can help limit fraud losses. Our Precise ID Model Suite is powered by a new collection of machine-learned models that allow lenders to detect and distinguish multiple types of fraud (first-party, third-party and synthetic ID) with a single callout — enabling businesses to maximize efficiency and eliminate redundancy across fraud prevention teams. By accurately recognizing risk, lenders are able to protect their portfolios and their customers.
What I love about these projects is that at Experian, we’re continually innovating and finding new ways to deliver faster, better services for our clients and consumers.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
For me, I’m proud to work for Experian as our fundamental mission is to be a champion for the consumer and enable fair and responsible lending. As the consumer’s bureau, our goal is not only help consumers build credit, but also to get better access to credit. Experian stands out because we put people first — whether that is helping them get access to their credit report or ensuring that their identity is protected. This consumer focus also positively affects our employee culture.
A personal story I have about this is from last year and I know colleagues at Experian have also had similar experiences. I was traveling for work and I had a very friendly driver to the airport. When he asked where I worked, I said Experian. He immediately became quite animated — sharing “I love Experian! I’m so excited about Experian Boost! I just boosted my credit score by 27 points, and this has helped me so much because I am also a small business owner. Thank you, Experian!” I couldn’t help but smile with him. It really brought home to me how Experian is truly helping to make a difference in people’s lives and powering opportunities.
In addition, Experian stands out in the importance we place on valuing and promoting a diverse and inclusive culture. We have a variety of Employee Resource Groups that serve as a great way to network, mentor and expand our viewpoint on the world. Experian encourages us as employees to “bring our whole selves to work” and I think that’s a reason why we’ve been consistently recognized as a Great Place to Work and included in Forbes’ List of Most Innovative Companies, as well as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign. For several years, I have been a member of the Women in Experian employee resource group. Our group is open to all employees, offering networking opportunities, speakers and resources on career development and work-life balance, developing up-and-coming talent within the company, and providing leadership training. I have benefited from these personally and have also served as a mentor to multiple individuals. I’m also particularly excited about the collaboration between Women in Experian and our Karibu employee resource group. Karibu is Experian’s African American resource group, that seeks to increase awareness of a rich culture through special events celebrating history and heritage, as well as past and future leaders.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Throughout my career, and even in my college education, I have often been in the minority as a woman in both the technology and finance world. The good news is that I do think this is changing and companies are making a deliberate effort to become more balanced from both a gender and a diversity standpoint. I certainly see this at Experian, where we release an annual inclusion and diversity report, and are seeking to fill a new Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position.
More broadly, we’re seeing proactive change around the world when it comes to diversity on company boards and in executive leadership. The European Union has issued directives in recent years promoting a minimum number of women on the boards of listed companies. Here in California, where I live, a law was passed in 2018 that mandates every public company in the state have at least one female director by 2020, and more by 2022. The fact of the matter is, the talent and the qualifications exist in women candidates and people of color. By broadening candidate pools, rethinking some of the ways we screen and hire talent, we are starting to create a balance, that is statistically proven to lead to the better performance of businesses. As under-represented groups begin to see successful people who look like themselves in senior positions and as role models, the confidence to aspire and seek similar positions will grow.
I’m a big proponent of supporting causes that help empower women to succeed. We have to ensure that the next generation of women and people of color continue to follow their passions and eliminate any fear or doubt they may have about pursuing careers in fields like science, mathematics, engineering and finance. Some of my favorite causes include: Girls Who Code and AnitaB.org, which founded and hosts the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Experian has participated in recent Grace Hopper Celebration events where we’ve either been a sponsor or had talent managers present to share how Experian is an employer of choice for diverse candidates. Experian was also recognized for its commitment to diversity by the Grace Hopper Leadership Index.
We’re by no means finished: it can be surprising to think that women only won the right to vote in the United States 100 years ago in 1920; and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act to remedy discrimination toward black Americans are even more recent, passed in the 1960s. But I am positive about the trajectory we are on. I know that I have personally benefited from the efforts made by women a generation before mine, and I’m confident my children will see an even better balance in their workplaces in the future.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
In order to support the advancement of women professionally, I think mentors and allies of both genders are vital to ensuring positive change.
For individuals: As individuals, I feel we need to stand up for and ask for the things and opportunities that we want. I believe that assertiveness and taking risks are keys to success and that you have to advocate for yourself and know when to speak up so that you can grow and succeed professionally. It’s really helpful to have your own group of mentors, coaches and allies that you can go to for career advice and guidance as opportunities or issues arise. This type of a network, sometimes called a ‘personal board of directors’, takes time to build but can be very valuable.
For companies: It’s important that companies create an intentionally balanced workplace. Bringing together people from different genders, different backgrounds and with diverse perspectives make companies stronger and more innovative. This means evaluating hiring and promotion practices, examining workplace behaviors and culture, as well providing encouragement and support for all employees. As women in particular, we need to support each other, and also find and encourage allies of both genders to increase our numbers in banking and in many other industries. It’s not that male colleagues are unsupportive; they often don’t see the discrepancies — they aren’t even aware in some cases. Education and open dialog are key.
For society: It starts at an early age. Our challenge as a society is to find ways to enable girls and boys of any background or ethnicity to have access to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed. As schools across our nation closed earlier this year due to the pandemic, the situation exposed gaps in this regard that will require creativity and investment to address. It’s a tough challenge to tackle and will take a change in mindset for some, but it’s essential to ensure the workforce and leadership we need for the future.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
I think in the past there has been a certain stigma associated with talking about money. The reality is that knowledge is power when it comes to financial health. There needs to not only be more education, but also an increase in conversation about the topic. Today, there are great podcasts, blogs and apps available that enable people to educate themselves but it’s also important that people feel comfortable asking questions and talking about confusing aspects of budgeting, debt and saving.
To improve financial literacy statistics, I’d recommend:
- Utilizing free resources — there are free budgeting tools both online and available via apps on your mobile device. These can really help you get a handle on your budget and how much you should be spending and saving.
- Talking with your bank — no matter who your lender is, most have multiple financial education tips and tools that are often free and available to you as a customer.
- Discussing your options with a financial advisor — when possible, reach out to a financial advisor to chat about your options for both saving and investing. It can be helpful to get one-on-one advice that is specifically tailored to you.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
I cannot overemphasize how important I think it is to educate yourself on your finances, on your personal standing. Ultimately, this knowledge can really pay off when making long term decisions, and also makes managing your finances feel a bit less intimidating. Below are the five things I’d recommend to help young adults (and anyone — it’s never too late) to become more financially literate:
- Get smart on budgeting — Just like my kids, it seems all of us want to do everything via our smartphones. The great news is that there are effective tools and apps that can help you take control of your budget and allow you to get insight into areas where you might be able to save.
- Learn about credit — Credit can affect so many opportunities and choices as a young adult: from the ability to obtain the latest and greatest rewards credit card, to the ability to rent an apartment or buy a car. I think it’s so important to talk about credit with your children early, educating and encouraging them along the way to develop good credit. Help them understand the factors that have negative impacts to a credit score, and what they can do to avoid or remediate them. Experian has weekly #CreditChats on Twitter to help educate consumers so that can be a great place to start.
- Educate yourself on how to manage debt appropriately — Debt can have an overwhelming effect on peoples’ lives. I think it’s important to teach your children about interest rates and how to properly manage debt. When moving away from home for the first time, whether for college or for a first job, it can be easy to rack up debt quickly as you get settled. I remember furnishing my first apartment after graduating from college — it was so exciting to be out on my own, but it took a little while for those first paychecks to catch up with my spending. I learned a hard lesson fast about interest and late payments, and the importance of sticking to a budget.
- Don’t forget your emergency fund — Especially in these uncertain times, emergency funds really come in handy for any unexpected circumstances. Experts tend to recommend setting aside three to six months’ worth of expenses. This can take some time to save but if you set a reasonable goal each month, you can get there!
- Planning for Retirement — Retirement can seem like something that is so far out in the future but it’s essential to start saving as early as you can. Lots of companies offer 401Ks with matching programs and it’s great to participate so you can take advantage of this benefit. Retirement savings can compound and grow over time, often tax-free until you retire, so the earlier you get started, the better.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
You know, it really does take a village. From my parents, to teachers throughout my education, friends, co-workers, managers and mentors, my husband, my family… even the people that just crossed my path for one moment, or inspired from afar… all helped shape the person I am and the career I’ve enjoyed so far. Still today, I’m naturally curious and I like to listen. I love hearing people’s stories — biographies are a favorite reading genre. I love learning how things work, or how they came to be, so I continue to be influenced by many people.
Some of the people who influenced me were encouraging: my mother has been an amazing role model and support my entire life, and I’m blessed that she is still around and still providing that compass for me. Others influenced me in less positive ways, but with a positive result. Let me give you an example. I started college as a music major, mainly because I was able to get a scholarship and was still uncertain about what career path I wanted to pursue. When I decided that I wanted to switch to engineering, my mother and I visited the head of the Electrical Engineering department of a university to which I was considering transferring. He was older, near retirement, and for some reason also a bit grumpy that day. He looked at me, looked at my transcript and asked, “Why do you want to be an engineer? Was your father an engineer?” No. “A brother then, an uncle?” No. “Then what brought you here?” I explained that I’d always liked math, science, physics — but I didn’t want to be a teacher or a nurse. I’d audited a survey of engineering course required of all freshman engineering majors, as a way to learn more about the field, and was attracted to it. He noted that I’d gotten one “B” grade amongst the rest of the “A”s on my transcript, said I’d never make it there, and suggested I look elsewhere or at least consider a different major. I walked away from that meeting determined to prove him wrong. I’m quite proud of both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and the amazing opportunities that have come my way since. While that meeting in the Dean’s office many years ago wasn’t particularly pleasant, I’m grateful to have been able to channel the experience into a positive motivation and drive to succeed. It made me stronger.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The life lesson quote I most like is “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” While most often attributed to Henry Ford, this quote and variants of it can be traced back as far as the ancient Roman poet, Virgil. High performance has a foundational element in belief, and in order to reach a goal, you have to start by believing you can achieve it. It doesn’t mean the road will always be easy, but having the right attitude has given me the strength and determination to press forward through many roadblocks in my career and life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think it’s so important to empower women to succeed and I’d like to see additional attention and education given to women so that they can advance in the technology field. We have such an underutilized pool of talent and creativity to tap. We’re definitely making strides but there’s more to be done to ensure that women have the opportunities to flourish and also take on leadership positions with confidence, particularly women of color. That’s why I think organizations like Girls Who Code are so important because it helps instill the necessary building blocks from an early age. There’s a confidence and certainty that comes from having that type of foundation to build upon, that can be vital to success. Networking, mentorship and sponsors are also extremely important — there’s a place and a need for all in my aspirational ‘movement’.