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FinTech Female Fridays: Nikki Cross, Director of Data Science, Mission Lane

As a data scientist at a credit company, what‘s your day to day like?

I am the company’s resident expert on external data sources and also manage people and projects. I play an integral role in prioritization and planning discussions, both within our data science team and across the company as a whole, and I regularly meet with new or existing data providers to understand how their assets and capabilities can advance our work. I am also part of a group we call “The Roadies,” who drive employee engagement through fun events, volunteerism, and our support of Mission Lane’s culture.

What’s led to data scientist roles becoming a necessity for companies? When do you believe that this pivot occurred?

I remember visiting my father’s office as a kid - he was an accountant and his office was filled with 6-inch thick binders of factory inventory reports, which were documents that required manual review and monthly reprints. His ability to make the numbers tell a story was limited by the physical storage of data, a basic calculator for computing, and a team of people to do data creation and verification.

Today, my phone stores more data than his entire system could. As data storage and processing costs have continued to decrease, the ability to collect massive amounts of data – and actually derive useful insights from it – has only become more common and important. Having all this data is only part of the battle, though; translating it into action still requires domain expertise, particularly in a highly-regulated industry like financial services, making data scientist roles integral to the work most companies do.

How have data scientists affected the finance and tech ecosystem?

Data scientists impact all parts of the finance ecosystem these days, from helping drive down operational costs and identifying fraud, to improving risk targeting and optimizing marketing decisions. At Mission Lane and many other tech start-ups, data science is not just machine learning and modeling, but everything that surrounds and enables it as well: data collection and hygiene, tooling creation or selection, and software engineering to support or implement the solution. As the competitive landscape becomes more crowded, everyone looks for ways to differentiate, and data is the foundation of it all.

There has been a surge of credit companies within the FinTech space for those people that may not have credit (ex-pats) or those who do not have good credit scores. How is Mission Lane differentiating themselves?

Mission Lane is dedicated to helping everyone have access to fair and clear credit. We believe in creating a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with our customers, even when folks have previously stumbled in managing their finances. Unfortunately, if you have damaged or limited credit, the loans or credit cards you’re usually offered tend to have hidden fees or terms that are difficult to decipher. That’s why we are so focused on providing better credit cards with easier-to-understand terms. Our customer-facing team is the heart of our organization, and we invite our customers to take our credit education courses. By treating people fairly and clearly, we hope to earn their respect and their business.

Reach out to Nikki on LinkedIn.

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