Experian can trace its origins back as far back as 1803 when a group of London merchants began swapping information on customers who had failed to meet their debts. Official associations began to spring up across the UK to protect merchants offering credit throughout the 19th Century, and one of the largest, the Manchester Guardian Society which was formed in 1826 would become an integral part of Experian more than a 150 years later.
In the US, during the 1850s, the first credit agencies emerged, with the aim of transforming a broad variety of information into a product that could be sold for profit. One the earliest US credit agencies, Merchants’ Credit Association, was founded in 1897 by a man called Jim Chilton. Nearly a century later, this would become another foundational part of Experian.
The development of the credit reference industry was spearheaded by visionary entrepreneur, Simon Ramo, in the 1960’s. Ramo, along with Dean Wooldridge founded the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, a defence and electronics business, in 1953. The business later merged with the larger Thompson Products and the joint business became known as TRW. In 1961, Simon Ramo gave a lecture predicting the ‘cashless society’. He envisaged how information was going to change the way people lived and believed that systems would enable the establishment of patterns of payment and individual credit worthiness. TRW entered the credit reporting industry in 1968, acquiring a business called Credit Data. It quickly became one of five leading US credit agencies.
In the UK, the business that we now know as Experian developed during the 1970’s through Great Universal Stores (GUS), an established retail conglomerate with millions of customers paying for goods on credit. Sir John Peace, a computer programmer at the time, helped to combine the mail order data from various GUS businesses and created a central database in Nottingham which later added Electoral roll data as well as county court judgements. In 1980 the decision was made to commercialise GUS’ database under the name, Commercial Credit Nottingham (CCN) and the business was led by Sir John Peace.
The coming together of two leaders
Following a change of ownership, TRW was renamed Experian in 1996 and in the same year the business was acquired by GUS and combined with the CCN Group. This deal completed on 14 November 1996. Two businesses, each leading the field in their countries were brought together under the leadership of Sir John Peace and indeed it was his vision of building the first global information business that has been the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Experian.
The merger established a global leader in the market for credit reference and credit risk management services. The new group, which adopted the name Experian, now supported multinational clients across all the major credit markets, with the ability to develop common global platforms and draw on a broad range of analytical products and expertise.
One of the first priorities was to change the perception of Experian in North America as a credit data business. The aim was to move it towards the more integrated model developed by CCN, which combined data with value added analytics and decision support software for credit risk management and direct marketing purposes.
Broader capabilities, broader reach
Over the next ten years, Experian strengthened its global leadership, broadening its product range, expanding into new industry sectors, beyond financial services, and extending its geographic reach into the increasingly important markets of Latin America, Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe. The business expanded through a combination of organic development and strategic acquisitions.
The acquisition of ConsumerInfo.com, in 2002, contributed to the rapid expansion of the Consumer Services business. It established Experian as the market leader in the supply of credit reports to consumers, enabling them to monitor their credit status and reduce the risk of identity theft. In 2003, Experian fully acquired Scorex, a decision analytics company, firmly establishing the company’s global leadership in this marketplace.
In 2004, Experian strengthened its marketing services business with two acquisitions in the fast developing field of digital marketing; QAS, a global leader in address management software and CheetahMail, a leading email marketing company.
Demerger from GUS
On 10 October 2006 Experian was successfully demerged from GUS. The following day, shares were traded for the first time on the London Stock Exchange. The demerger was the culmination of the GUS strategy of focusing on businesses with above-average growth potential and gave GUS shareholders the opportunity to invest directly in the growth potential of Experian.
Continued global growth
Experian has continued to grow through a combination of expansion into new geographic and vertical markets, product innovation and investment, and leveraging its global scale and common platforms to deploy products quickly into new markets.
In 2007, Experian made its most recent major acquisition by taking a controlling interest in Serasa, the world’s fourth largest credit bureau and the largest in Brazil. Serasa had been formed in 1968 by a consortium of leading Brazilian banks. Just like the early credit agencies in the US, Serasa provided risk assessments based on negative data, supplied by the banks or taken from public sources. Experian’s acquisition of Serasa in 2007 proved to be its most significant step forward since the British and American businesses were brought together in 1996. The acquisition gave Experian a commanding position in one of the world’s fastest growing markets, becoming a platform for growth in Latin America. The deal also consolidated Experian’s global leadership in credit services.
In 2011 Experian further expanded its Latin American presence with the acquisition of a 98% holding in Computec, a leading credit services information provider based in Colombia.
Today Experian is the leading global information services company, employing approximately 17,000 people and providing data and analytical tools worldwide. From its early focus on financial services and retailing, Experian now supports clients in almost every major industry, from telecommunications and healthcare to government and automotive.
Experian’s vision is that its people, data and technology become a necessary part of every major consumer economy.
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