Harnessing banks’ big data

Jessica Satherley
Harnessing banks’ big data

Researchers are harnessing banking data and determining whether it can be a useful tool for public policy. 

For example, if the city you lived in experienced an outbreak of Gastroenteritis, would you still spend money at your local bar?  

Researchers from The University of Auckland were investigating just that when they analysed spending patterns during an outbreak for the purpose of disease surveillance.  

When looking at Westpac NZ’s anonymised transaction data during a Gastroenteritis outbreak in Havelock North in 2016, researchers found that the amount of transactions in the Health category actually decreased compared to the weeks before, but spending increased.  

“That means that even though fewer visits were made to health-related shops, more money was spent there than at alcohol and entertainment related merchants,” the report said.  

Using transaction data to analyse the behaviours of a community piqued the interest of NZTA to see how events influenced spending patterns.  

“NZTA were interested in how this data could also analyse whether infrastructure investments like a cycle lane or motorway instead of a car park would impact spending at local shops,” Shaun Hendy from Auckland University, who worked on the research, said.  

“The Government were interested in analysing the resilience of a community after storm events as well.   

“The faster people start going out spending after a storm, shows their resilience to natural disasters,” Hendy said.  

Westpac NZ Government Innovation Fund funded the Havelock North research grant and provided the transaction data to the University research team for analysis.  

“Westpac provided the team with transaction data that had been through rigorous de-identification process to ensure no customer details could be compromised,” the report said.  

Following the gastro study, the team looked at transactions in the Queenstown area in 2013 and 2014 during both annual flu seasons from April to November.  

“The data showed that transactions and spending on health increased significantly in the beginning of June – coinciding with the start of winter and the flu seasons.  

“Spending in the Health category decreased at the end of June and during the whole month of July – replaced by transactions and spending in alcohol and entertainment related merchants,” the report said.  

Researchers believed this indicated that locals stocked up on health products at the beginning of winter and later spent their disposable income on the Winter Festival and entertainment during the July school holidays.  

“Monitoring the spread of disease during or in advance of an outbreak can allow authorities to minimize harm to society and reduce the financial burden of such events on government,” the report said.  

The Innovation Fund, which supported the research, is jointly governed by Westpac and the Government to support innovative ideas and opportunities that make a difference for NZ.  

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