Meet the new First Access

Last year, First Access hit a turning point. A string of successes had our inboxes overflowing, but we couldn’t scale fast enough to change emerging market credit. We were turning data into financial opportunity, but not for everyone. Our credit scoring platform needed to be easier to use and more affordable. Our innovation was literally too disruptive.

So we decided to fix it.

In the emerging markets where we work, most financial institutions have thin data on their customers and staff. That thin data means they have little evidence to inform radical decisions, so it’s hard to grow faster. (To be fair, the data doesn’t always tell clear stories — but you’ll never know if it’s all on paper.) After extensive analysis comparing external data sources to “internal” data collected by financial institutions themselves, we had confirmed that internal data was the most important asset for achieving efficiencies and growth with credit scoring. But most of that internal data remains on paper. Without better digital data, we couldn’t help institutions grow faster.

Real efficiency wins require automation, which depends on great data and establishing trust in that data. Until you’ve got real evidence of patterns among your customers and staff, you can’t automate much with conviction, including credit scoring. Even for the few institutions that already have strong data, digitizing and automating loan decisions simultaneously is a challenge. It requires institution-wide trust in that data, serious change management chops, or both.

We began to see evidence for a radical decision of our own. Digitize the status quo, monitor the data for patterns, then enable automation through scoring and other tools accordingly. An affordable digital strategy must be low-risk: it cannot disrupt today’s business in the name of a better future. This industry needs affordable tools to collect, generate, and master data. A total reinvention.

The smart data platform is born.

Last January, we began to design a fundamentally new version of our platform, and our company. The spark? A Zambian microfinance branch manager inventing the name “Yellow Shop Road” for a half-built street beyond the edge of Lusaka in a map she was drawing on the back of a paper loan appraisal, then replying to a WhatsApp message on her Android: “Busy working.” Twenty minutes later we found out the borrower didn’t even own that shop. The branch manager’s personal life was digital, but her job was still on paper. We needed to change that dynamic if we wanted to change the industry.

Back in the icy winds of New York, our Co-founder & Chief Data Scientist, our CTO, and I marched to a coffee shop and had an epic napkin-drawing session. This industry needs affordable tools to collect, generate, and master data. The smart data platform was born.

We went back to our investors and raised new capital. We conducted user research in 6 countries. We designed a multi-step journey for lenders to become data-driven at their own pace. We transformed ourselves from a consultative analytics company into a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company, turning our analytical expertise into self-service tools at a fraction of the cost. We built out a moonshot engineering team, which developed a flexible architecture that can scale worldwide along with a simple, beautiful user experience.

Meet the new First Access.

Start simple: upload your paper appraisal form, because that’s the one your staff are already trained to use. We’ll transform it into a custom app for you — appraise loans via web, tablet, mobile, online and offline, anytime, anywhere, in a bunch of languages. Add your credit policy: the loan product, workflows, eligibility criteria, automated calculations, required and optional customer details, plus all the GPS locations, photos, and documents you need at your fingertips. Evolve your tools and policy when you need to.

Real-time analysis tells you the critical information about your customer acquisition — speed, efficiency, staff performance, and key attributes of loan applicants. Customize roles and permissions for your staff and branches, like who can approve loans, see analytics, and make changes. Use our platform alongside most MIS and core banking systems. Plug in other systems and data sources once your staff have mastered the most important data: yours. When you’re ready to evolve, upgrade to turn on new tools like alerts, advanced analytics, credit scoring, and more.

We have also built in our experience: 7 years of analyzing over 50 billion data points, insights from our team’s collective work across 58 countries, and most importantly, plenty of hard-learned lessons. Data Best Practices are in our DNA, and now they can be in yours too.

We couldn’t be more excited about what this means for the industry. If you have any questions or feedback, we would love to hear from you (get in touch here!). To all of our clients, investors, partners, and friends, thank you for all that you do to support us in our mission. We wish you all the best for the year ahead and are looking forward to all that 2018 has in store.


Nicole Van Der Tuin

CEO & Co-Founder, First Access

Like what you read? Give First Access a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.