Inside the vault: Uncovering hidden stories through banking data

Rosario Piazza
Inside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
4 min readNov 23, 2023

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In the world of data and insights, one of the most recurring diatribes I’ve witnessed is “we have too little data vs we have too much data”. When thinking about the ideal insight infrastructure we want to build, and what avenues we could explore, I had the very same argument looping through my head. Truth be told, I found myself leaning on both sides of the argument at different points in my personal life and professional career. I eventually realised I was fixated on something that was preventing me from thinking outside the box.

It was then that I remembered something from my university days when studying forensic psychology — as ‘social animals’ we strive to gain consensus with part of a group, to the point that we override our own opinions in favour of what the majority is saying. We stop being curious, open minded and enterprising. This psychological phenomenon, known as ‘groupthink’, is the result of our benevolent human nature wanting to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd; not to mention the fear of being cast out of the tribe (that used to mean certain death)! Groupthink is not always dangerous, but it does affect our ability to keep an open mind and learn from the world around us, instead confining us to a microcosm that doesn’t respond too well to dissonant voices and change.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with wanting to belong or identify with one or more groups. However, every time I found myself supporting one side or the other, I always ended up feeling deprived of a genuine thirst for exploration. Whether you’re a specialist or not, I’m confident you’ve found yourself lacking that thirst while arguing there was either too little or too much information in front of you to be able to do anything meaningful with it.

What if the answers we are seeking are not even there in the first place? What if the missing link is somewhere else entirely? What if the key to understanding social and economic inequality and, more crucially, how people experience both is a thread we have yet to add to our loom?

With this spirit, I began exploring what other datasets out there could unravel inequality, its dimensions and fluctuations. And to add to that, I decided to challenge that ‘groupthink’ mindset — I knew my degree would eventually pay off! — and turned my attention to the world of ‘evil corporations and financial institutions’ profiteering from the unrelenting gathering of data on financial transactions and consumer behaviours. Therefore, I began to wonder whether banking data could be the thread we could add to our infrastructure loom.

The good news is that, despite what a large group of us might think, amid those keen to just maximise profit, there are also plenty of well-intentioned companies out there. Some of which are very keen to make service users and customers thrive as much as their own business. The other piece of good news is that some are also willing to embrace their corporate responsibility and take their contribution to society to a whole new level by unlocking (albeit quite safely and securely) the large amount of data they collect. And by working with charitable organisations and researchers who see the potential of such rich data.

I’m very pleased to announce a working partnership with Smart Data Foundry. As I’m writing this blog, we are already embarking on a journey to explore how banking data can be applied to achieve social change. As ever, with all things infrastructure, we want to bring others along the journey with us. In the light of our commitment to unlock new and better data, we will be making available a number of licenses to access the data itself, as well as co-create a dashboard exploring dimensions relating to economic security powered by banking data.

In the upcoming months, we will be sharing more on this project, including ways in which others can join and benefit from this new prototype. We are also going to host a webinar on 21 February at 11am. For further information, get in touch at rosario.piazza@jrf.org.uk

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Rosario Piazza
Inside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Chief Insight Architect at JRF - leading the Insight Infrastructure, which aims to generate timely and impactful insights on social and economic inequalities.