The credit-score company VantageScore Solutions, which beat an antitrust lawsuit last year, is taking precautions to avoid repeating the experience.
The Stamford, Conn., company is a joint venture of the three credit bureaus, which compete against each other to sell services to banks and other lenders. Last year an appeals court upheld its victory in the lawsuit brought by Fair Isaac (FICO). The dominant provider of credit scores had accused VantageScore of antitrust violations, trademark infringement and false advertising.
Despite that success, VantageScore and its credit bureau backers are trying not to give its adversaries any ammunition for further legal challenges — even if that means handicapping some of its operations and sales efforts.
When asked about the number of lenders that are now using VantageScore, its chief executive says that the company can't track that.
"We're kind of operating with one arm, maybe both arms tied behind our backs on who's actually using us," VantageScore CEO Barrett Burns said in an interview last month.
"We don't know specifically who uses us, and the reason we don't is for antitrust purposes," he said. "You can take market share from somebody but you cannot collude to do it. … So our board meetings and our communications with our backers are very careful not to talk about sales or who they're selling to."
The credit bureaus Experian, Equifax and TransUnion own VantageScore, and try to sell it to lenders as an alternative or supplement to the better-known FICO score. Lenders are increasingly looking for better ways to assess the risk of potential borrowers after the financial crisis, but many of the biggest banks are relying more heavily on in-house analytics instead of outside scoring models.
Burns acknowledged that avoiding even the appearance of collusion can be difficult and "painful," as VantageScore tries to boost adoption of its service and compete with Fair Isaac.
Some of its adopters are public record. The company says that Sears and K-Mart credit cardholders, customers of Alliance Credit Union, and people who buy Suze Orman's "Approved" prepaid card all have access to their VantageScores. Some investors in private label mortgage-backed securities can also use VantageScores to help track the performance of the underlying loans.
"Little by little we're getting our arms around the marketplace," Burns said.
But he acknowledged that VantageScore is unlikely to ever fully replace the FICO score, "nor should we. I don't mean to be altruistic about that, but there should be competition," he said.
"Our view of success is when we become a household name. … Then a reasonable number of lenders will be using us, a lot of consumers will be getting their VantageScore somehow," he added. "Our mission is to create choice in the market place and competition, because otherwise you get fat, dumb and happy."
Burns was speaking on the sidelines of the Underbanked Financial Services Forum in San Francisco, an annual conference sponsored by American Banker and the non-profit Center for Financial Services Innovation.