For a self-described fallen engineer, Urjanet founder and CEO Sanjoy Malik knows how to bounce back.
The founder of two wireless companies that were sold to Nokia and a private equity firm, Mr. Malik is seeing similar success with Urjanet, a company connecting businesses and software applications to data from thousands of utilities across the globe through a suite of APIs and integration tools.
Urjanet has relationships with close to 6,000 utilities around the world, Mr. Malik said. That allows Urjanet clients to verify identities and perform detailed credit risk assessments.
Until recently, Utility data had not been used for financial and identity verification because it was hard to aggregate, Mr. Malik said, but when combined with other information it produces reliable results.
“Utility data becomes a great way for adding more color and visibility into someone’s risk profile,” Mr. Malik said.
With an estimated 30 percent of Americans unbanked or underbanked, these new data sources can play key roles in bringing more people into the banking system. If an individual has been a utility customer for a long period of time, it provides evidence of payment reliability and residence in a twenty-first century way. People have long needed to bring in a utility bill when opening a bank account, but doing it electronically and securely prevents tampering and improves confidence.
Urjanet’s data sources are provided with the individual’s consent, Mr. Malik added. Such permission-based systems are part of a larger trend where people are gaining more control over how their personal data is being used.
But they first have to be aware of how much data they generate and that it is indeed being used, and society still has some work to do there, Mr. Malik said. Awareness seems to come in spurts when data breaches or overreaches such as the Facebook/Cambridge Analytical abuse occurs.
“The average person is still not aware of how much their personal data is used and monetized,” Mr. Malik said.
Expect more scrutiny in the future of which companies are mining your data and the purposes for which they are harvesting it. Companies will emerge that will help consumers and other companies monitor, screen and profit from its use.
“There will be a focus on permissioned information and its aggregation and combination in ways that are adding value to customers,” Mr. Malik said.
As utility bills have proven to be a valuable new source of data for identity and risk scoring, it has opened applications in new areas, Mr. Malik said. Banks lending to people installing solar panels can monitor energy use to predict which applicants are most likely to repay. Electricity use is one indicator of how busy manufacturers are. More use can equal more production stemming from more orders.
I asked Mr. Malik what the next exciting source might be.
I was asking the wrong question. A better one is how can companies like Urjanet provide more value from connecting information, Mr. Malik suggested.
The digital economy is generating volumes of useful data from mapping and to location data through the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world, and Urjanet plans on being at the center of that excitement, Mr. Malik said.
“The connections that we are creating are incredibly important and are increasing the value of the data.”