As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Haller.
Eric is the Executive Vice President and Global Head of Experian DataLabs. Experian DataLabs is responsible for developing innovative products generated from break-through experimentation leveraging artificial intelligence and data assets from a variety of sources. He led the creation of labs in the US, UK, Brazil and Singapore that support research & development initiatives across the Experian enterprise. New products developed in the labs cover mobile, payments, consumer & commercial credit, fraud, targeted marketing & healthcare. Prior to Experian, Eric was responsible for new products with Sequoia Capital backed Green Dot where he created and brought to market the first credit card a consumer could purchase off of a j-hook in a retailer. Eric also co-founded identity fraud detection business iDawg which was later renamed ID Analytics. ID Analytics was acquired by LifeLock which is now part of Symantec. Other roles held by Eric includes Chief Marketing Officer of the first publicly traded machine learning company, HNC Software (acquired by FICO) and executive roles with Visa & MasterCard. Eric has a B.S. in Finance from San Diego State University and an M.S. in Technology Management from Columbia University in the City of New York; he is also a member of the University’s School of Professional Studies Board of Overseers.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started as statistical analyst at Visa. My job was pulling data from the mainframe on our authorization, clearing and settlement systems and assessing if there were any peculiar activities taking place that necessitated us changing our policies or system changes. This evolved to developing new products and services for Visa clients (banks & merchants) around the globe.
Back in 1994, I was absolutely convinced we were on the verge of a massive proliferation in data usage for decisioning and that analytics was going to be at the crux of it. I left Visa and spent my career focused on solving problems with leveraging data, analytics & software.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I usually don’t laugh at my mistakes. But I did learn a pretty valuable lesson presenting when I was 24 years old. I was presenting on anomalous chargeback behavior at a large global bank. There were about 20 people in the room and the senior executive from the bank in the meeting couldn’t read the “detail” on my slide. Back then they were acetate slides on an overhead projector. So the executive walked up to my projector, pulled the slide off and said they were going to have copies made for everyone in the meeting so they could read along as I explained the analysis. I was caught for 5 minutes or so standing in front of the crowd “killing time” until the executive returned with my slide and the copies. It felt humiliating. While the presentation wrapped up well because of the value of the work, it left me thinking I would never let that happen again. So I never put that much detail in a slide and if detail is necessary it always is distributed as a handout.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Whenever I have felt overwhelmed with life the words of Solomon calm me down. I think it’s important to maintain balance and perspective in life. That thinking has enabled me up to take on more risks and greater challenges while keeping up a resilience to the pressures that tend to correlate with them.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Well, I have started up a few businesses over the years. But the one I’m most proud of is the work we’ve done with Experian DataLabs. We started them 10 years ago with a simple vision to create an environment for breakthrough experimentation that would develop game-changing products in the industries we serve. The bar was high — building intellectual property that would result in significant recurring revenues with high barriers to entry. And we’ve delivered on that vision and promise to the company many times over.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
There will be many times you feel like you hit a dead end and the feelings of failure start to creep in to your mind. That’s when you tap all that network of brilliant minds you’ve spend your career developing. Be clear on the problem and be open to the ideas that come back to you. Maybe you could argue tongue in cheek that the principle is “misery loves company” but think “as steel sharpens still, so does one person sharpen another.” Words from Solomon and I live by it.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have two daughters that went through some significant events in their life. My older daughter got married two days after California announced our shelter in place order. So her wedding of 200 was cancelled and we quickly assembled a small wedding for 13 of us in the backyard. We zoomed it to friends and family. My other daughter graduated in May from USC with her undergrad degree. She was deeply disappointed as well. We celebrated watching the USC graduation on television and zoomed her reaction to friends and family as the university president told them they had officially graduated. My heart went out to both my daughters because these are typically milestone moments in life and they were nothing like they had anticipated. But in the end, we’re recognizing that we are healthy and there are many who are suffering or who have passed as a result of this tragic pandemic. So we make it a family practice to reflect on our circumstances and be thankful for our outcomes.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We’re proud of the role we’ve been playing around the globe as we try to help governments, healthcare providers, small businesses and consumers as they are affected by the pandemic. I’d say the highlights include Covid Radar, an initiative that our lab in Brazil spearheaded with partners including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, Microsoft, Amazon and a number of prestigious universities including the University of Chicago here in the United States. The platform brings together a variety of data sources and machine learning tools that allow stakeholders to analyze disease spread and provide critical supplies to areas of need. For example, the platform facilitated the fulfillment and delivery of 50 ventilators to the Amazonia region from São Paulo. The work is saving lives.
Here in the United States with our COVID Outlook & Response Evaluator (CORE) Model, we are trying to help improve the work done in disease spread modeling by bringing together robust datasets for demographic data, social determinants and healthcare data along with what is reported out related to Covid-19 cases and deaths. This data is provided to government officials and healthcare organizations to predict hotspots and likely critical care demand.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The notion of wellbeing and positive mental health is something that I personally have been sensitive to since the early days of the pandemic. Especially for those that are alone and may feel isolated due to social distancing and sheltering in place. At Experian DataLabs, we have tried to help by sending care packages to our team members at their homes to “cheer them up,” virtual lunchrooms and happy hours for socializing, a weekly all-hands “sharing” time to catch up on what is happening in our lives personally and the provision of resources that can be leveraged for counseling/therapy. This is definitely a time when I feel we are all responsible in helping our colleagues to not feel anxious in a time of turmoil. Perhaps in a time of where we are feeling so separate that we can create new ways to bond together and that those bonds will even build a stronger camaraderie for us when we are back together physically.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
In times of crisis, society usually develops some of its most prolific innovations. I think these times will be no different. Perhaps the single biggest trend that seems more like a tidal wave is the movement to a digital world. How we shop, how we play, how we access healthcare — it’s racing to digital and consumed at home. It’s the evolution of the “anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything” promise that the internet made to us in the 1990s. We’re focused on making sure consumers will be able to move around in that world friction free, safely and securely.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think the idea of a “touchless” society may take hold permanently. If you’ve been in an Amazon Go store, you can experience true touchless in a “brick and mortar” environment. I’m not sure we are destined to have a steady stream of UPS and FedEx trucks coming to our home delivering on 100% of our purchase needs. As convenient as it is to order my groceries online, I still prefer to go to the grocery store. But the part that still bothers me is check-out. People are avoiding contact because of risk right now. But those that innovate by equating risk reduction with convenience will likely serve these behavioral shifts over the long term.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are focused on three things that are Covid-related over the intermediate term. First and foremost is helping consumers that may become vulnerable during Covid flare-ups. Flare-ups can impact work, which in turn can impact income and economic sustainability. So we’re actively building a variety of products that can help our banking clients identify vulnerable or potentially vulnerable consumers to get them the financial products they need to weather these temporary circumstances. Second, we are developing a similar set of products to help small businesses that are also experiencing economic exposure during flare-ups in their local community. And lastly, a focus on the digital world which includes helping consumers and businesses avoid fraud that can take place in that environment.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
During the Great Recession, Apple gave us the iPhone, the Gig economy was born and those that saw the dip in real estate values and capitalized on it did well. The pandemic is no different in that it is creating its own unique set of opportunities and will drive change for good in new ways. I’d encourage others to seek those opportunities, take some risk and enjoy the pay-off that will occur a few years from now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad used to always tell me “he who hesitates is lost” and “fortune favors the bold.” It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening all around us. The natural reaction is to get fearful and act paralyzed. When we were forced to leave our offices and shelter in place, I’d characterize it as organized chaos. Many were scared and the disruption can feel de-stabilizing. Our teams stepped up, tried to articulate and fact find as much as possible what was happening around us and formulated plans. While we have course-corrected a couple time since March, generally that quick planning and action has worked out very well for us.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me on LinkedIn. I post a lot of what we are doing in the labs and willing to make public there.