May 02, 2005

April, known as the cruelest month, was particularly harsh this year for many high school students. The source of their suffering? The release of the first scores from a revised Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The SAT now includes a written essay and multiple-choice grammar section, in addition to the traditional math and verbal (sans analogies portion) sections. Accordingly, a perfect score (achieved by 107 students, reports the College Board) now totals 2,400, up from 1,600. But the bottom line can be summed up in this statement from a California high school student who told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: "Nobody knows what a decent score is."

Another take came from a student quoted in the New York Times: "It's difficult to know how they graded the essay since it's the only part of the test not done through a machine. There's always going to be a certain amount of bias on the part of the grader." The College Board does not plan to provide in-depth analysis of the test results until the revised exam has been in use for a year.

As one who took the SAT in the early '70s and ended up as a history major at a liberal arts college, I'm inclined to think that incorporating an evaluation of writing and analytical skills into the exam is not a bad idea. But comments such as the ones I've cited here should not automatically be dismissed as typical teenage whining, and, in fact, they should give bankers some food for thought.

Consider the huge amounts of money and time financial institutions are investing in analytics-related systems - tools and processes designed to provide banks with quantifiable insights into once-unmeasurable things such as the reliability and profitability of customers, the relative riskiness of loans and investments, the growth potential of new products and markets, and the possibility that illegal transactions are occurring (see Executive Editor Ivan Schneider's related analysis, page 54).

Are these complex and costly metrics contributing to improved performance and more-secure operations? Is there room for redefinition as market conditions change? The evidence suggests that it is becoming more feasible for financial institutions to apply real-world metrics to risk, customer service and even competitive analysis. But it's a work in progress, subject to refinement and second-guessing - just like the revised SAT.

Katherine Burger, Editorial Director kburger@cmp.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...