Is Online Lending Ignoring Big Data Risks?

canstockphoto0034684Elevate Credit Inc., which is pining to get to an IPO, today announced that it hired a new chief information officer.

Joan Kuehl, who is the online lender’s first CIO, has extensive experience, having worked at Travelers and Bank of America — so it deserves notice when her first pronouncements from her post at Elevate include a big-data alarm.

Kuehl told The Wall Street Journal that her top priority in the year ahead is to ensure Elevate, a subprime personal loan originator,  “continue[s] to perform and scale successfully.” And doing so has its challenges, she said:

She said a key issue for online lenders is the ability to strike the right balance between agility and regulatory compliance: “Big data, in particular, offers tremendous opportunities to improve customer outcomes, but requires careful controls and quality management,” she said.

“My job is to support the exciting developments initiated by our data scientists, while maintaining the appropriate infrastructure and data management controls required by our compliance team,” she said.

This is clearly not an easy task, yet an important one for Elevate, considering that it is trying to IPO. The company, which boasts at least 15 Ph.Ds on staff, has already postponed its IPO once, and no doubt would not like to do that again.

But this is an issue that runs beyond an IPO. The agility-compliance balance is not one that comes easy for any financial institution, and will not doubt continue to amplify as compliance demands accelerate. Whether it is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau honing in on marketplace lending or security matters that seems to demand more federal oversight, compliance will not just continue to be a mainstay, but appears likely to command a more central focus in fintech. And Kuehl’s hire is just one sign of that.

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