Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Experian CFO on turning credit scorer into tech giant

Experian CFO on turning credit scorer into tech giant

Lloyd Pitchford, finance head of the fast-growing firm, reveals in an interview with Financial Director how a career spent in roles out of his comfort zone has paid off.

“Data is the new oil” is a phrase frequently used to describe the opportunities for companies owning vast sets of customer information. Of all people, Lloyd Pitchford, CFO of consumer credit giant Experian, should know. Having spent years building his career in the oil and gas industry, he is now playing a key role in transforming the FTSE 100 giant into a global tech firm.

When he was approached about the position five years ago, Pitchford say he was really interested in the size, complexity of the company. “But when I started to dig and understand the company, I got very excited,” he says- relating to the group’s myriad ways of mining the data that is focused on individuals’ credit scores.

The business that grew out of retailer Great Universal Stores (GUS) little more than a decade ago has continued to develop in multiple channels since the digitalisation of credit reports required for obtaining items such as credit cards. “If you need to identify somebody, authenticate them, remove fraud, aggregate data with certainty, all of those things are our world. That means our addressable market is expanding all the time,” he says.

Established in 1968, Experian was sold after being flipped by private equity firms to GUS in 1996 which was in the process of combining its mail order data with electoral roll data and county court judgements. In the following decade before it was demerged and listed in London, Experian broadened its product range to new industry sectors, beyond financial services, and entered new markets such as Latin America, Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe.

Meeting Experian’s CEO Brian Cassin, with whom he says there was “pretty instantly rapport and chemistry”, was another reason to join from testing giant Intertek, another FTSE 100 constituent, where he was CFO and executive director.

“When I joined Experian it was going through the first time in its history of no growth. We really changed the heart of the business to be one of technology and innovation, and we’ve seen over the last five years the share price has more than doubled.”

To consumer credit scoring has been added products such as Mosaic, a segmentation tool used by political parties to identify groups of voters. Last year Experian formed a partnership to add identity document verification and biometric facial matching to its range.

The group’s rapid growth has not been without its challenges. Experian announced that it had discovered a breach existing between 1 and 16 September 2016 that affected as many as 15 million people who used the company’s services, although this was overshadowed by US rival Equifax that was fined $700m for a breach involving 147m customers in 2017.

The momentum of Experian’s growth, including a combination of acquisitions, launches of new products and development of joint ventures, has resulted in what Pitchford describes as “a broad portfolio of companies.” But what has motored growth in recent years, giving it a market value of over £22bn, has been efforts “to combine and bring the power of every bit of the company together on every client interaction,” says Pitchford.

Mining to data mining

Brought up in  a pit town in Staffordshire, before attending Birmingham City University where he studied business, Pitchford says: “My father was a coalminer, my brother, both grandparents, every uncle, every cousin were all coalminers, and I was the first person in the family to go to university,” he reveals.

He says it was an upbringing that impressed on him a strong work ethic. “What I do is not real work compared to what my Dad did. I remember there were two or three years when I was a boy that the only days he had off were the two week summer holiday and Christmas day, so he worked every Saturday and Sunday,” he says.

A sandwich year at oil giant Mobil north sea oil business resulted in Pitchford being hired to work for the firm in London in financial reporting, where he undertook a CIMA course and then four years at its Aberdeen office to eventually pursue a commercial role. There he completed an MBA at Heriot-Watt University straight after accountancy exams. “In my mid-20s they gave me a small number of gas platforms (operated by Arco that would be soon taken over by BP) to manage.  That was a fascinating experience, as I had, drillers and geologists reporting to me,” says Pitchford.

A move to BG’s (formerly British Gas) gas storage division in the Midlands saw Pitchford launch a  strategic review of the business, which was then sold to Dynergy. Preferring to stay with BG, he was made CFO of the group’s Egyptian business which had saw a $10bn investment after a massive gas discovery in the Nile Delta, “in a time when it was really booming.”

After nearly two years of being “well out of his comfort zone”, Pitchford took the opportunity of being made BG’s UK-based deputy financial controller to thrust himself into a Sarbanes-Oxley project, a SAP implementation project and an IFRS conversion. “Concentrating on the sum total of little steps”, helped deliver big change, an approach he employs at Experian. “I’ve always remembered that a change journey actually for most people isn’t a nine month journey, it’s what are we going to do by Friday?” he says.

Personal leaps forward were becoming group financial controller of BG, where he stayed for over a decade, then group CFO of Intertek, “a great opportunity, great company, really global in nature and in 110 countries, 36,000 people, but a complete change of industry. The biggest learning in moving to Intertek was how you cast a shadow across a really broad, global team and get them moving in the right direction. It’s a very different skill set to what you need in an oil company,” he adds.

To the core finance function, the global IT was added, and towards the end of Pitchford’s tenure at Intertek the south Asia business encompassing India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka was bolted on to his set of responsibilities. In the role he recognised the value of a close relationship with the CEO. “You have to have a common view about how you feel about the business, how you think about value creation, how you think about what the company’s mission is, so the partnership with the CEO is absolutely critical to the CFO role,” he says. “Moulding yourself around and complementing the CEO’s skillset is a big part of the job,” he adds.

Given the wide brief of most CFOs having a string deputy/financial controller is viewed as critical, says Pitchford. “As you come up the career ladder, what is undervalued is the change management teams you need, the teams that put in the dashboards, that implement the ERP systems and digital transformation,” he adds.


The next stage of Experian’s development is focused on “understanding how the market is changing and how our data is changing and how can we create optionality for ourselves”, says Pitchford. It’s a position he says need to be conveyed to investors and analysts. “Helping people understand what our opportunities are in the market and making sure that they’re educated in what we’re doing is the important thing, because we’re a complex organisation and technology is changing,” says Pitchford.

He says the firm launched a venture fund two years ago that has bought into companies such as London & Country, a UK online mortgage provider, often with co-investors such as Amazon and Softbank. “With an oil company you can hit a thousand home runs with one well, with a technology company investment it is a bit like that,” he reveals.

A new product to be rolled out in the UK that has seen success in the US is Experian Boost, that can build a credit profile from data such as payments of utility bills. Another area of development, particularly valid in Asia is credit assessments based on mobile phone usage.  “Last year we did 2bn assessments of data from mobile phone users in countries including Philippines and Malaysia, and we’re using that to develop the first credit file of people that don’t have bank accounts or credit cards,” says Pitchford.

Underpinning this expansion, Pitchford is on a journey to finesse Experian’s finance function, which when he joined had a very small shared service centre (SSC), but over five years has grown to a point where over half of the group’s finance operation is based in three SSCs in Malaysia, Costa Rica and Bulgaria.

“We had a programme called Finance2020, which really turned finance into becoming a global organisation. We’re now launching the next stage of it called Digital Finance where the tools, technology and the data can be unleashed so that the activity of people can really add value on top,” he adds.

“Now technology requires you to organise data, so you need different skill sets in finance. You need data scientists and data managers, so that you can move the heart of finance from pre-report work to post-report, making it meaningful for real decisions to improve the company, as the future of finance is as an advisory business partner role. That’s where the value is, and technology can help migrate to there,” says Pitchford.

How important is it to be creative in his position? “I think the most important thing you need to do is find time for the important, not the urgent. I know from every CEO and CFO I spend time with, being able to find the time to focus and think about the things that are important is most critical” says Pitchford, who travels globally 60-70% of his working life. “That’s my thinking time,” he says.




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