Christopher Brown, the chief executive officer (CEO) and country manager of Credit Info Jamaica — a credit bureau — is encouraging Jamaicans to “be vigilant in guarding their credit history and their credit data and in managing them” to ensure there are no surprises when individuals or businesses seek to access services which require a credit report.
Brown, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, reminded Jamaicans that they are entitled to one free copy of their credit report each year by law. He said Jamaicans should go to any of the credit bureaus and request their credit report each year and scrutinise it for “errors or outdated information” and where these are found, “they can then lodge a formal dispute after which it is the responsibility by law for the institution that they have lodged the complaint against, to investigate and correct it, once it is proven that it is an inaccurate record that is kept for that individual”.
He said errors can occur in the case where people may “have closed an account and completed payments on a loan account or a mortgage account, or a hire purchase agreement, and unfortunately it is not updated in the system and it is negatively impacting their credit score. So even after you have closed an account or some contract, or some credit cards or loans that you have paid, it is good to check to ensure those information are updated in the system so that your credit report is always current and up to date, because managing your credit is very essential in these days where credit is king and so fundamental to economic livelihood and, by extension, economic growth.”
He told Sunday Finance that if the entity against which the error complaint is brought, investigates and validates that there was an error, the law requires an updated credit report to be generated and dispatched to the institution which the individual had sought to do business with in the last six months. Whether terms or conditions of any agreements change after the updated information is then to be negotiated with the entity with which the individual is doing business. He stressed the importance of having the records updated because entries stay on the report for seven years.
Brown said getting Jamaicans to be vigilant in guarding their credit data is the message Credit Info Jamaica is pushing.
Credit Info Jamaica is the first credit bureau that was established in the country following the passage of the Credit Reporting Act in 2010. The company, which started its Jamaica operation in 2011, is part of a global network which has operations in Europe, Africa and sections of the Caribbean. In the region it also has facilities in Barbados, Guyana and the Eastern Caribbean.
“We see ourselves as an important part of the local financial infrastructure...part of the push for economic growth,” he outlined. Credit bureaus “have been a fundamental part of the whole improvement in how individuals and institutions now manage their risk in an integrated way. Whereas in the past, institutions would have to take the information that is given to them either by the client and other sources that they have to use intelligence to gather, now they can get it instantly, automated and at the click of a button, they can have the information of a customer sitting infront of them. It makes the application process more efficient and faster. It allows institutions to know how and who they can market their products to and what type of products they can market to individuals. It allows them to determine the credit terms that they will offer based on the credit history associated with the individual,” he added. He indicated that this has seen Jamaicans being more responsible because the list of institutions which credit bureaus collect information from to create a credit profile on an individual is extensive.
“It's not just financial institutions — banks and insurance companies and credit unions or the microfinance industry and those types of institutions — it is also credit from your utility companies, credit from your cable companies. Remember when you take light, water, telephone services, Internet services, most of these are granted on credit and you pay later– so part of the law allows for those data to be collected. It allows an individual who does not have a mortgage but is paying their phone bills or their hire-purchase bills on time or paying their electricity bills and water bills on time to build up a credit history. You also have people who sell to businesses on credit and want to ensure that those individuals who approach them to do business on credit, have solid credit records and credit history, so they can be confident in offering credit to them also,” he continued.
As for Credit Info Jamaica, Brown said with the coronavirus pandemic pushing people into the digital age, the entity is now offering services to help institutions to electronically verify and authenticate potential clients, a process which would previously require the individual to go into the institution. “We are also into that business in terms of e-KYC, the electronic know your customer — where you know the electronic knowledge of your customer. It is a big product we are now offering to many institutions in the new digital age — facilitating digital onboarding of your customers, digital identification of the customer without the customer having to go into the institution physically.” He said the service is extended to entities in the gaming sector which have hundreds of retailers who sell products for them and who hold a lot of resources for them, “they too want to know that the individuals who are holding those resources have a strong and good credit history.”