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Digital identity verification company Mitekannounced a new partner today. The California-based company has teamed up with compliance, credit risk, and lending solutions company Abrigo to help the firm’s bank clients access technology to help protect themselves against financial crime.
Specifically, Abrigo is seeking to mitigate check fraud, which is not only prevalent among banks, but is also costly. While the technology behind paper checks seems antiquated, fraud techniques for the payment method are not. According to FinCEN, check fraud suspicious activity report (SAR) filings increased 94% over the course of 2021. Last year, the number of SAR filings exceeded 680,000. “The sophistication of fraud and synthetic checks has never been more concerning,” explained Mitek SVP and GM Michael Diamond.
Abrigo will offer its bank customers access to Mitek’s Check Fraud Defender to help them stop fraudulent activities around checks. Mitek’s Check Fraud Defender uses imaging science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to analyze the images of the checks and verify authenticity to reduce fraud losses.
“By combining Mitek’s cutting-edge technology with Abrigo’s industry-leading platform, we can provide our 2,400 customers with a powerful solution to help protect their institutions and customers from financial crimes,” said Abrigo CEO Jay Blandford.
Mitek was founded in 1986 and offers technology for mobile check deposit, new account opening, identity verification, and more. The company’s solutions are used by more than 7,900 organizations and its mobile check deposit and account opening tools reach more than 80 million consumers. Mitek is publicly listed on the NASDAQ under the ticker MITK and has a current market capitalization of $517 million.
Earlier this fall, Mitek partnered with Equifax to advance the company’s biometric authentication and liveness detection capabilities.
What are the biggest challenges facing banks when it comes to modernization and digital transformation? We checked in with Charbel Safadi, President, Modernization and Transformation, with Zafin, to hear his thoughts on what banks and other financial institutions are doing to future-proof their businesses and better serve their customers.
Zafin made its Finovate debut in 2017 at FinovateFall. The company offers a cloud-based product and pricing platform that simplifies core modernization for the world’s biggest banks. Zafin’s platform enables business teams to collaborate in the design and management of pricing, products, and packages. At the same time, the platform empowers technology teams to streamline core banking systems.
Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, and founded in 2002, Zafin includes Wells Fargo, HSBC, and CIBC among its customers.
When you look at the current landscape for banks, what is their biggest technological challenge right now?
Charbel Safadi: The predominant technological challenge facing banks in the current landscape is the accumulation of legacy technology platforms that impede adaptability and innovation. These platforms, built over several decades, create a significant tech debt, hindering banks from promptly responding to changing market demands. This stands in contrast to agile fintech startups, unburdened by such legacy systems.
For banks, the challenge lies in modernizing these deeply entrenched platforms to enable transformative experiences and stay competitive in the rapidly evolving financial landscape. Despite significant time and financial investments, the traditional “rip and replace” approach has proven unsuccessful. This tech debt, rather than a lack of inherent competitiveness, is the primary obstacle for banks in delivering compelling value propositions, necessitating a forward-looking, progressive modernization strategy.
You just recently joined Zafin and are part of the company’s new transformation and modernization division. Tell us about why you joined the company and what this new division is all about.
Safadi: Zafin’s mission is to empower banks in reshaping their business models and updating technology platforms. As a leader in our organization, my role is to align our vision with clients’ business goals, fostering a cohesive team that mirrors banks’ transformation strategies. With a background in financial services consulting and experience with global banks, I recognize the market’s strong focus for the next decade and Zafin’s potential impact.
Being part of Zafin’s journey excites me, given its pivotal role in contributing to clients’ transformation agendas. Zafin’s strategic position emphasizes technology and business platforms, distinguishing it in the market. This allows us to provide significant value, aiding clients in kickstarting technology modernization while transforming their business models.
I am confident in our ability to guide clients through this journey, making a substantial impact and offering the necessary tools for success. Zafin’s forward-thinking strategy, coupled with our cohesive team and inclusive culture, solidified my decision to be part of this transformative organization.
Tell us about the launch of Zafin Studio. What challenge will it help Zafin customers resolve?
Safadi:Zafin Studio represents a significant advancement in the modernization of technology platforms, specifically addressing the challenge of crafting forward-looking propositions tailored to each client’s unique values and needs. Unlike existing solutions in the market, Zafin Studio adopts a comprehensive approach to banking propositions. Leveraging the Product and Pricing Index (PPI) tool, it rapidly gathers, filters, and segments data and insights for analysis from leading global banks, bridging a crucial market gap. This empowers various stakeholders within a bank, from business users to product managers and department heads.
Our goal is to equip them with the tools to comprehend market dynamics, enabling swift research on top banks worldwide and insights into their product designs and rate structures. The collected information is entirely external and does not involve customer data. Through Product Explorer, Zafin Studio unravels the intricacies of product offerings, merging external market research with an internal product explorer. The drag-and-drop feature of Proposition Canvas in turn empowers banks to seamlessly design and implement cutting-edge functionalities. Essentially, Zafin Studio acts as a governing methodology and framework, revolutionizing banks’ transformation approaches. We eagerly anticipate our clients utilizing Zafin Studio to elevate co-created value propositions to new heights.
Zafin is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. What are some of the top concerns for Canadian banks that might differ from those of banks in the U.S., the U.K., or Europe?
Safadi: In Canada, the banking landscape differs significantly from the U.S., U.K. and Europe due to population size and the number of institutions. Canadian banks are primarily concerned with population dynamics, competition, and the regulatory framework. The evolving regulatory landscape indicates that open banking is on the horizon in Canada. This, combined with the rise of innovative fintech firms free from legacy technology constraints, compels banks to prepare for the coming years.
While fintech companies lack the technological burdens of traditional institutions, they also lack the established customer base of incumbents. To capitalize on this, banks must pivot towards a more horizontally aligned approach to product development and proposition modeling. This involves adopting a holistic view of the Canadian customer, encompassing their entire financial journey and value chain. By consolidating data from diverse systems, including mortgages, lending, and deposits, banks can craft compelling value propositions that genuinely resonate with consumers. Prioritizing strong relationships over sheer customer volume is crucial. This means tailoring pricing, offers, and incentives to match the customer’s entire banking journey. This forward-thinking approach ensures sustained delivery of substantial value and the preservation of loyalty within the existing client base, thereby upholding a competitive edge rooted in customer trust.
Speaking of international activity, Zafin recently announced a new operational center in Dubai and the upcoming release of various AI-based solutions for the Middle Eastern market. Tell us about some of the top trends in fintech in the Middle East?
Safadi: Zafin is making significant investments in Generative AI, with Zafin Copilot serving as a central component in our technology portfolio. This tool is pivotal for both external client interactions and internal team processes. We’ve dedicated significant efforts to explore how AI can enhance product and pricing modeling, effectively harnessing continuously generated data, including customer details, transactions, and relationship data. We’ve made it a priority to equip our clients with the technological capabilities needed for full access to the rich data set within our platform.
Globally, AI forms a fundamental part of our strategy, with a notable emphasis on the Middle Eastern marketplace. This region’s substantial investments in AI makes it an ideal ground to explore dynamic pricing, especially in comparison to markets with stricter pricing regulations.
Our core principles of trust, transparency, and fairness in banking guide all AI development initiatives. We ensure strict adherence to regulatory frameworks across global markets. AI is viewed as an intrinsic element of our entire platform, offering benefits to our customers, end consumers, and internal teams while aligning with our commitment to ethical and regulatory standards.
What trends in fintech and financial services are currently being underestimated in terms of their potential impact in the next few years?
Safadi: Many organizations are considering the adoption of Generative AI technologies. The central question revolves around how AI can effectively be utilized to reassess and improve product design, customizing offerings for each individual. This transition not only poses a challenge but also presents an opportunity. AI has the potential to centralize and grant access to the everyday data encountered by most organizations. The focus should now pivot towards creating dynamic product offerings that align with the unique value of each individual, taking into account the customer’s current life stage, priorities, and preferences.
In addition to well-explored areas like AI, another crucial emphasis lies in the design of the next-generation product architecture. Through global discussions and collaborations with banking clients, trailblazing organizations such as Zafin are actively shaping a horizontal model for the next generation of product architecture in financial institutions. This architecture should span the entire spectrum of banking, delivering a tailored and dynamic experience precisely meeting the customer’s needs at any given moment. Banks should persist in prioritizing depth and loyalty in customer relationships, recognizing their significance in the forthcoming years.
What can we expect from Zafin over the balance of 2023 and into 2024?
Safadi: Zafin is firmly dedicated to executing its strategy, aiming to provide substantial value to our clients. This dedication empowers them to not only modernize their technology platforms but also to transform their business models. Our intense focus revolves around delivering the essential technology, capabilities, and skills required for both these endeavors. Through robust partnerships within our deep ecosystem, our goal is to offer comprehensive customer modernization journeys.
We strive to spare our clients from spending excessive time — potentially three to four years or even longer — struggling to overhaul their technology landscape without having the capacity to contemplate new product architectures and business models. Everything we undertake is geared towards facilitating a low-risk approach to modernize their technology platforms, unlocking the potential to construct next-generation product architectures promptly.
Simultaneously, we remain committed to upholding trust, transparency, and fairness in how our clients deliver products and services to their client base.
Digital asset infrastructure platform AlphaPoint announced a partnership with Coincover.
A blockchain protection firm, Coincover will provide enhanced security for AlphaPoint customers.
AlphaPoint made its Finovate debut at FinovateEurope in 2015 and returned to the Finovate stage two years later for FinovateFall.
AlphaPoint, a digital asset infrastructure platform, has turned to blockchain protection firm Coincover to provide its customers with enhanced security. Courtesy of the partnership, AlphaPoint customers will be able to access Coincover’s Asset Protection solution which helps mitigate a variety of security threats including hacking, human error, and scams.
Coincover secures its clients against hacking and theft by proactively screening and protecting transactions. The company’s crypto threat intelligence and machine learning models continuously monitor activity across millions of digital wallets and transactions, flagging potentially malicious behavior. Coincover’s technology delivers proactive alerts that enable users to take action when abnormal patterns are spotted. The company has more than 300 partners worldwide, protects five million crypto wallets, and has checked $30 billion in transactions. David Janczewski is co-founder and CEO.
“By collaborating with Coincover, a top innovator in asset protection, we’re providing our customers with leading-edge insurance to safeguard their assets,” AlphaPoint CEO and co-founder Igor Telyatnikov said. “This partnership demonstrates our commitment to delivering complete peace of mind through institutional-grade security and infrastructure.”
AlphaPoint made its Finovate debut at FinovateEurope in 2015. The company returned to the Finovate stage two years later for FinovateFall in New York. In the years since then, AlphaPoint has grown into leading digital asset infrastructure company with more than 150 customers in 35 countries. The company’s platform supports more than 10 million registered accounts, more than one trillion in trading volume, and billions in assets. AlphaPoint counts CME Group and XP Securites among its clients. El Salvador chose AlphaPoint to operate its Chivo Bitcoin wallet in 2022 as part of the country’s experiment in mass bitcoin adoption.
Earlier this month, AlphaPoint launched AlphaPoint Labs. The new entity provides advisory, development, and implementation services for FIs, exchanges, and businesses seeking to integrate digital assets and blockchain technology. This spring, the company forged a new partnership with cryptoasset risk management company Elliptic. Over the summer, AlphaPoint teamed up with verification platform Sumsub.
AlphaPoint is headquartered in New York. The company has raised more than $23 million in funding.
Featurespace unveiled its generative AI-powered, Large Transaction Model (LTM), TallierLTM, this week.
The technology uncovers hidden transactional patterns typically undetected by current methods that may be indicative of criminal activity.
Featurespace made its Finovate debut in 2016, appearing at both FinovateEurope and FinovateFall that year.
Fraud and financial crime prevention company Featurespaceunveiled its Large Transaction Model (LTM), TallierLTM, this week. A foundational technology for payments in specific and the financial services industry in general, TallierLTM is a large-scale, self-supervised, and pre-trained model built to power the next generation of AI apps to protect consumers from financial crime.
The technology marks the first time financial professionals in the fraud fighting space have been able to leverage a generative Large Transaction Model. Featurespace noted in a statement that TallierLTM has provided improvements of as much as 71% in fraud value detection compared to the industry standard.
“What OpenAI’s LLMs have done for language, TallierLTM will do for payments,” Featurespace founder David Excell said. “There is widespread concern about how deep-fakes and generative AI have been used to deceive consumers and our financial systems. We plan to reverse this trend by utilizing the power of generative AI algorithms to create solutions that protect consumers and make the world a safer place to transact.”
Connecting to FIs via its enbedding API, TallierLTM analyzes billions of transactions, identifying hidden transactional patterns that current methods often cannot detect. The technology’s insights are based on time sequencing, discovering unusual spending patterns over a short period of time, for example, or between a consumer and a merchant. This increased ability to distinguish legitimate activity from potentially criminal behavior will not only enable data scientists to improve their model’s performance faster, Featurespace Chief Innovation Officer Dr. David Sutton said. It will also allow institutions to “realize the value of machine learning investments more quickly.”
“We know that smarter technology helps financial institutions better understand their consumers,” Sutton added. “We have taken this to the next level by pairing cutting-edge generative AI algorithms with huge volumes of data, enabling a machine to efficiently comprehend the relationships between different customer transactions.”
Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Cambridge, U.K., Featurespace made its Finovate debut in 2016, appearing at both FinovateEurope and FinovateFall. An innovator in adaptive behavioral analytics and automated deep behavioral networks for risk management, Featurespace serves more than 80 direct customers and 200,000 institutions. In recent months, the company announced partnerships with digital payment platform Clip and fellow Finovate alum Zeta. In August, Featurespace launched its ARIC Scam Detect solution to help protect financial services companies and their customers from scams – especially Authorized Push Payment (APP) scams – in real-time.
“As scammers become increasingly sophisticated in their tactics, with the use of Generative AI and machine learning, FIs need an adaptive solution that can protect from changing scam types in real time and monitor both inbound and outbound payments,” company Chief Product Officer Pat Hinchin said.
Featurespace has raised nearly $108 million in funding from investors including Chrysalis Investments, MissionOG, and Insight Partners.
Is there a subsector of fintech that is more eager to adopt AI than the world of investing and asset management? From the burden of ever-growing amounts of potentially valuable data to the demands of managing risk to the challenge of generating alpha and producing above market returns, there are many ways that wealth management will benefit from innovations in AI – and the people involved in wealth management know it.
Founded by a team of former ETH Zurich researchers, aisot is one of the companies that is dedicated to helping asset and wealth managers make the most of the AI opportunity. The Swiss startup, launched in 2019 and headquartered in Zurich, leverages generative AI and access to market and alternative data sources, to deliver analytics, forecasts, and actionable insights to traders, business analysts, data scientists, and other financial services professionals.
“Information moves markets,” aisot co-founder and CEO Stefan Klauser said at the beginning of his Finovate demo in 2021. “At aisot we give you specialized market insights and full costs. (Our technology) reduces forecasting errors by up to 50%, and can enhance your returns. Whether you are a machine learning expert, a quant, or someone that has not had a systematic approach to data before, aisot’s services are always easy to use.”
aisot launched its AI Insights Platform earlier this month. The cloud-based solution enables asset managers and wealth managers to offer their clients personalized investment portfolios at scale. The platform consists of three components: the AI Insights Dashboard, the Custom Feature Suite, and the Product Launch Pad. Via the Dashboard, users can investigate multiple market scenarios and fine-tune investment strategies. Dashboard features include an integrated portfolio builder, an optimizer to analyze historical data and market trends, and a statistical toolkit to enable users to review and evaluate portfolio performance. The platform’s Custom Features Suite allows users to vote on future platform enhancements and additions. The Product Launch Pad gives users the ability to launch structured notes, transforming investment strategies into tradable and liquid securities.
Klauser put the new offering in the context of the company’s overall philosophy as a “digital-first company.” He explained, “We conscientiously push technological boundaries while upholding core principles and stringent controls. Our relentless focus remains on our customer, shaping the platform based on their evolving needs in terms of performance, personalization, and scalability.”
The new product launch comes in the wake of aisot’s rebrand in July. In addition to a preview of the company’s AI Insights Platform and a new website, aisot also shared information about aisot Labs, the firm’s AI engine, as well as the company’s new investment products. These include aisot’s AI Balanced Digital Assets. An Actively Managed Certificate that enables investors to participate in the performance of an underlying investment strategy, AI Balanced Digital Assets is a long only, AI-driven, crypto portfolio built to match the volatility of a Bitcoin or Ethereum tracker while at the same time maximizing performance.
aisot has raised a total of $2.5 million (CHF 2.3 million) in funding, most recently securing $2 million (CHF 1.8 million) in seed capital this spring. The round was led by Haute Capital Partners, with angel investors, including members of the Swiss ICT Investor Club (SICTIC), also participating. The investment will enable aisot to add to its team, drive continued product development, and support the company’s growth projects.
Haute CEO and Chairman Thibault Leroy Bürki praised aisot as “a leading provider of AI solutions for asset and wealth management.” He added, “We chose aisot for their innovative approach to wealth management, advanced AI engine, and ability to generate alpha in real-time … aisot’s AI engine provides clients with the amazing ability to adjust customized portfolios to market trends in real-time while generating alpha.”
Content and technology company Thomson Reuterslaunched an e-invoicing product called ONESOURCEE-Invoicing this week, a tool that marries e-invoicing and tax compliance.
The new offering will be added to Thomson Reuters’ ONESOURCE software suite. It will not only help users manage global tax compliance– which is already available within the ONESOURCE software line– but will also bring in e-invoicing compliance by connecting financial systems and ERP systems.
Thomson Reuters has partnered with Pagero to leverage its Smart Business Network that connects buyers and sellers to exchange orders, invoices, payment instructions, and other business documents. Pagero will help automate the process and ensure compliance.
“Compliance with e-invoicing mandates is accelerating as a key priority, and historically it has not been an easy task, with regulations varying significantly across regions,” said Thomson Reuters Head of Product, Transactional Compliance Ray Grove. “We’re excited to be able to support businesses in overcoming these challenges with ONESOURCE E-Invoicing. This helps them accurately and efficiently meet compliance obligations – increasing confidence and peace of mind on what can be a daunting and ongoing task.”
ONESOURCE E-Invoicing offers a single location where customers can manage e-invoicing compliance across networks and borders with ERP and API integrations, and save time with automated e-invoice validation. In addition to e-invoicing and tax support, the ONESOURCE software suite also provides tax determination, indirect compliance, and a certificate manager.
The Canada-based firm, which is known for its news and media content as well as for its legal, tax, and compliance support, recently acquired Casetext, an AI-powered legal research technology company, for $650 million.
Thomson Reuters has demoed at two Finovate events– showcasing its App Store solution at FinovateFall 2012 and at FinovateSpring that same year. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TRI and currently has a market capitalization of $57.33 billion.
The partnership between Pidgin and Exchange Bank will give the bank’s customers the ability to access faster payments to transfer funds between accounts, as well as pay employees, vendors, and more. Direct payment routing from financial institution to financial institution means that funds are settled and available in the recipient’s account almost immediately as soon as the transaction is completed.
“Banking has changed drastically since 1909, but our long-standing history is a testament to our bank’s dedication to keeping up with our customer’s needs,” Exchange Bank chairman and CEO Ricky Ray said. Ray referred to the partnership with Pidgin as an example of the bank’s ability to evolve and offer new ways to help its customers “thrive financially.”
Added Pidgin founder and CEO Abhishek Veeraghanta: “Today’s customers are looking for instant payment options to gain more flexibility and control over their transactions. We look forward to empowering Exchange Bank and their customers with more efficient payment options.”
Pidgin leverages its status as a central connection point to the Federal Reserve’s FedNow Service as well as faster payment networks such as The Clearing House’s Real-Time Payment Network. Founded in 2022, the company made its Finovate debut last year at FinovateFall. At the conference, Pidgin demoed its faster payments ecosystem, which enables FIs to send and receive faster payments almost instantly, while providing greater security compared to virtual wallet alternatives.
Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Pidgin was among the first fintechs to secure certification for the FedNow instant payments service launched by the Federal Reserve earlier this year. Also this year, Pidgin announced a new partnership with U.S. Century Bank, a Miami-based institution with more than $2.1 billion in assets. The bank will leverage its new relationship with Pidgin to provide instant payments to its growing customer base of small business owners, professionals, and entrepreneurs based in south Florida.
Other partnerships forged this year by Pidgin include the company’s work with fraud and compliance platform Effectiv (also a Finovate alum) and Community Bankers’ Bank.
Financial document automation platform Ocrolus has proven its technology as a useful tool in the mortgage industry. The New York-based company is augmenting its reputation today, after announcing this morning it has enhanced its dashboard for mortgage lenders.
The new capability enables both wholesale and direct mortgage lenders to enhance their loan origination workflow. It also automates complex income calculations for both traditional and self-employed borrowers, including those with non-traditional employment, multiple borrowers, or several employers.
“Manual document processing and income analysis create a bottle neck in the origination process,” said Ocrolus COO Vik Dua. “With Ocrolus’ enhanced mortgage offering, we’re empowering lenders with accurate document analysis to help reduce processing time, mitigate risk, and maximize profit margin on every single loan. We provide lenders with a highly flexible and scalable back office so they can focus on their core business.”
Significant to the enhancement is the combination of three of Ocrolus’ tools: Classify, which enables lenders to speed up processing time with automated document indexing; Capture, which combines AI computer vision and human validation to extract key information from documents with over 99% accuracy; and Analyze, which enables lenders to streamline income calculation for both traditionally and self-employed borrowers with automated, transparent and flexible worksheets.
The technology also has positive implications for borrowers as it offers an objective and standardized approach to evaluating income and supports streamlined communication channels between the borrower and the lender.
Ocrolus was founded in 2014 and has gone on to raise $127 million for its AI-powered document automation platform. The company, which demoed its technology earlier this month at FinovateFall 2023 and won Best of Show honors at FinovateFall 2021, counts PayPal, Brex, SoFi, and Plaid among its clients.
Digital ID verification company IDVerse will help embedded finance platform FutureBank enhance its onboarding processes with fast and secure digital identity verification (IDV). The new partnership will let FutureBank customers to use IDVerse software and also allow IDVerse customers looking for a middleware platform to connect their API credentials take advantage of FutureBank’s technology.
An integration platform for core banking providers that features embedded financial services, FutureBank operates as a middle layer between banks and third-party providers. As such, the company helps banks and fintechs launch new solutions faster, more efficiently, and more securely. IDVerse brings not only its Identity Service Provider status to FutureBank – status that comes with 20 certifications from the U.K.’s Digital Identity & Attributes Trust Framework (DIATF). The identity verification specialist also offers technology to help businesses combat the problem of deepfake accounts, a problem made all the more challenging by the way fraudsters are exploiting tools like generativeAI.
“Generative AI is breeding many different fraud types,” FutureBank CEO Sergio Barbosa said. “With ChatGPT, fraudsters can create very authentic documents and profiles for people at a low cost.” Barbosa called cybercrime “the third biggest economy in the world.”
Adding to Barbosa’s sentiments, IDVerse General Manager EMEA Russ Cohn underscored the challenge of deepfakes. Cohn agreed that “synthetic media is becoming the new tool of choice for fraudsters looking to make money” and added: “Our fully automated identity verification system can offer FutureBank customers a reliable solution to spot deepfake accounts that fraudsters are increasingly trying to create.” Cohn explained that IDVerse’s technology can detect subtle shifts and patterns in a person’s face that the unaided human eye cannot see, such as the way a person’s heartbeat slightly changes the color of their skin. These “natural yet invisible patterns,” Cohn said, enable IDVerse’s technology to distinguish real human images from deepfakes.
IDVerse’s platform also features Zero Bias AI-tested technology that leverages generative AI to train deep neutral networks to resist race, age, and gender-based discrimination.
Introducing itself to Finovate audiences in 2016 as OCR Labs Global, the company rebranded as IDVerse earlier this year. Founded in Australia in 2018, IDVerse is headquartered in London, and maintains offices in North America, Asia, and Europe. The company provides identity verification services in more than 220 countries and territories.
IDVerse has raised $45 million in funding from investors including Equable Capital and OYAK. This year, the company has forged partnerships with fellow Finovate alum Experian, bank verified digital identity service provider OneID, and cryptocurrency platform Coinmetro. John Myers is CEO.
Lighter Capital raised a $130 million credit facility.
The company will use the facility to continue funding early-stage companies.
Lighter Capital recently surpassed the milestone of distributing $350 million in growth capital via more than 1,000 rounds of financing.
Revenue-based financing fintech Lighter Capital has closed a $130 million credit facility this week. Today’s funds come from ATLAS SP Partners, i80, the Victorian Government, and iPartners.
The credit facility will be used to fund early-stage companies, something Lighter Capital has been doing since its launch in 2010. In fact, the company recently surpassed the milestone of having distributed $350 million in growth capital to more than 500 startups across the U.S., Canada, and Australia through more than 1,000 rounds of financing.
Lighter Capital’s revenue-based financing model helps startups that offer SaaS, technology services, subscription services, and digital media to access up to $4 million in growth capital without selling equity.
“Lighter Capital’s model is so innovative — a debt provider that’s essentially a VC partner,” said Qnary Founder and Chairman Bant Breen. “We get the financial rigor, network, and strategic guidance that a VC would give us, and that’s been incredibly helpful.”
Recently, the Seattle-based company has opened new offices in Australia, unveiled more non-dilutive funding options, and launched an online networking community for startup CEOs.
“After more than a decade in business, 2022 was our best year in the company’s history,” said company CEO Melissa Widner. “It’s a great privilege to help founders achieve their dreams on their terms by providing funding that doesn’t require selling equity or giving up control.”
Lighter Capital and other alternative financing startups are experiencing a moment in the fintech spotlight. That can be attributed to two factors. First, because VC funding is in decline, it is difficult to obtain equity financing. Additionally, banks have started to tighten their lending standards because of economic uncertainty and decreased collateral values.
An early Finovate alum, Lighter Capital’s most recent Finovate demo was at FinovateFall 2013, where then-CEO BJ Lackland demonstrated how the company’s small business lending platform leveraged CRM data to predict a borrower’s future performance.
Will 2023 be known as the year AI came of age? With the advent of Generative AI and tools like ChatGPT, the technology world got an unexpected boost this year as interest in the potential for artificial intelligence soared.
What does the surge in interest and activity in AI mean for financial services? How can fintechs leverage the technology to help banks, credit unions, and other financial services organizations and institutions better serve their customers with more choice, more security, and more efficiency?
We caught up with Dr. Benjamin Harvey, founder and CEO of AI Squared. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AI Squared made its Finovate debut earlier this year at FinovateSpring and will return to the Finovate stage next month for FinovateFall. The company specializes in integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into existing apps. We discussed the rise of AI, the impact AI might have on financial services, and the work of AI Squared in helping businesses take advantage of the emerging technology.
We also talked about the challenges Harvey has faced as an African American entrepreneur and founder in the technology industry. As we commemorate Black Business Month here in August, we are also happy to share his insights and advice on what African American founders and entrepreneurs need to keep in mind when starting out.
Let’s start with a big picture question: what is overhyped about AI, what’s underhyped, and what are we getting right?
Benjamin Harvey: There’s a lot of hype around AI, and some of it is warranted, but not all. One of the most overhyped ideas is that AI will replace humans in the workforce on a large scale. While AI can automate certain tasks, it can’t replicate the creativity, empathy, and critical thinking that humans bring to the table. On the flip side, what’s underhyped is the potential for AI to be simple while being useful. Many AI products have incredible potential but are too complicated for widespread adoption. Simplifying AI and making it more accessible can unlock its true potential and bring about transformative change across industries.
What most observers and commentators are getting right about AI is that it’s here to stay. AI is not just a passing trend; it’s a technological revolution that’s reshaping the way we live and work.
Now let’s turn to your company. What problem does AI Squared solve and who does it solve it for?
Harvey: AI Squared is a platform designed for product owners, data scientists, and enterprise leaders. We empower users to accelerate both predictive and generative AI projects, measure their benefits, and drive significant revenue growth and cost reduction. Our solution is industry-agnostic and loved by our users.
We address a critical issue in the AI industry: 90% of AI and ML models never make it into production or use, largely due to the time and cost involved. AI Squared tackles this problem head-on, reducing the time to production and use of AI and ML models from an average of 8 months to 8 hours or less. We provide a secure environment for accelerating AI projects, enabling users to measure benefits, use no/low code solutions, and deliver trustworthy AI results. By streamlining the AI deployment process, we help organizations harness their data to drive game-changing AI capabilities, driving innovation and growth.
How does AI Squared solve this problem better than other companies, other solutions?
Harvey: We understand that the key to successful AI adoption is seamless integration into existing workflows. Our solution is designed to fit effortlessly into the applications that our customers already use on a daily basis. By embedding AI capabilities directly into these familiar tools, we eliminate the need for users to switch between different platforms, thereby reducing friction and increasing efficiency. This approach not only enhances the user experience, but also drives greater AI adoption across the organization. Our technology is versatile and accessible, making it a valuable asset for teams at all levels, from operational staff to executive leadership. The result is a more informed, agile, and productive organization that can leverage AI to its full potential.
What is your primary market? What has their response to your technology been like?
Harvey: Our primary market is financial services and the response has been overwhelmingly positive! Financial services organizations are constantly seeking ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance customer experiences. And our platform has been proven to address these needs by accelerating the deployment of AI and ML models, making it easier for these organizations to harness the power of their data.
When clients see how we can reduce AI implementation from 8 months to 8 hours they’re blown away. We’re proud to say that we’ve turned our clients into our biggest champions. The value we provide goes beyond just the technology; it’s about the tangible benefits that our platform brings to their operations. They appreciate the speed at which they can now bring AI projects to fruition, the ease of integration with their existing systems, and the measurable ROI that our platform delivers.
Are there any deployments or features of your technology that are especially noteworthy?
Harvey: First and foremost, we prioritize data security and privacy. Unlike many other AI platforms, we don’t store or copy our customers’ data. This is a crucial differentiator, especially for organizations in highly regulated industries like financial services, where data privacy and security are paramount.
We offer flexible deployment options to suit the specific needs of our customers. Our on-premises deployment ensures that all data remains within the customer’s own infrastructure, providing an added layer of security. For those who prefer a cloud-based solution, we offer a multi-tenant deployment that still maintains robust data privacy and security measures.
One of our standout features is our Human-in-the-Loop (HITL) capability. This feature allows human verification and corrections to be made to the data generated by Generative AI before it’s used in critical business applications. This ensures a high level of accuracy and reliability in the data, which is essential for making informed business decisions. Our HITL feature is particularly valuable for organizations that need to ensure the utmost accuracy in their AI-generated data, such as those in the financial services sector where even small errors can have significant consequences.
You and many of your team have significant backgrounds in academia and the government. How has the transition into a more entrepreneurial space been?
Harvey: The transition from academia and government to the entrepreneurial space has been both challenging and rewarding. Initially, it was a bit of a culture shock to shift from a focus on the technical aspects of AI to a more value-driven approach. In academia and government, the emphasis is often on the theoretical and technical aspects of AI, whereas in the entrepreneurial space, the focus is on delivering tangible value to customers.
But once we got past the initial adjustment, we found that our diverse backgrounds gave us a unique perspective and a competitive edge. While our experience in academia has equipped us with a deep understanding of the technical intricacies of AI, our government experience has given us insights into the importance of security and compliance, especially when dealing with sensitive data.
We’ve been able to leverage these insights to develop a platform that not only delivers powerful AI capabilities but also addresses the specific pain points and challenges faced by our customers. Our approach is rooted in a deep understanding of both the technical and practical aspects of AI, and we’re able to offer solutions that are tailored to the unique needs of each customer.
We also want to showcase AI Squared as part of our Black Business Month commemoration. What challenges have you faced as a Black founder and entrepreneur? What advice would you give?
Harvey: Launching a company as a Black entrepreneur, particularly in the AI/technology space, comes with its own unique set of challenges. One of the most significant hurdles is the lack of resources and representation in the industry. As a Black founder, I often found myself navigating uncharted territory without the benefit of a robust network or role models to look up to. However, I believe that these challenges can be overcome with determination, persistence, and a strong support system.
My advice to aspiring Black tech founders is to build a solid network of mentors, advisors, and peers who can provide guidance and support along the way. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks or rejections; instead, use them as learning opportunities to refine your approach and strategy. Do your homework, stay informed about industry trends, and be prepared to articulate the value proposition of your technology clearly and convincingly. Most importantly, reach out to other Black founders and executives who have walked the path before you. Their insights and experiences can be invaluable as you navigate the complexities of the tech startup ecosystem.
Remember, you are not alone in this journey. There is a growing community of Black tech founders and professionals who are eager to support and uplift each other. By working together, we can break down barriers, create more inclusive opportunities, and pave the way for future generations of Black tech entrepreneurs.
Speaking of African-Americans, AI Squared is headquartered in Washington, D.C. What is the technology scene like there?
Harvey: D.C. is a hotbed of tech innovation, especially in security and intelligence. Being close to the Federal Government and defense agencies, we’re in a unique spot to work on projects that matter for national security. It’s a vibrant scene here, with big tech firms, cool startups, and research hubs all mixing it up. We’re a tight-knit community, always meeting up, sharing ideas, and pushing each other to innovate.
The best part is that if your tech is good enough for national security, it’s good enough for anything. We’re talking finance, healthcare, consumer goods – you name it. Being in D.C. gives us the credibility to branch out into these sectors. It’s an exciting place to be, and we’re happy to be part of it.
You demoed your technology at FinovateSpring earlier this year. What was that experience like for you?
Harvey: The experience of demoing our technology at FinovateSpring was exciting and valuable for us. It provided us with a unique platform to showcase our product to a large audience of stakeholders, and to connect with key decision-makers in the financial services industry. We got valuable feedback on our product.
But the demo wasn’t without its challenges. Some technical difficulties with signing in and that, combined with the strict time constraints of the event, impacted our demo. These are things that tend to happen when demo-ing in a new forum. But it’s in our DNA to adapt and we did – and received positive feedback from attendees and made valuable connections that have since led to fruitful discussions. Overall, the experience was a great opportunity for us to showcase our technology, connect with industry leaders, and learn from the challenges we faced.
What can we expect from AI Squared over the balance of 2023 and into next year?
Harvey: Our primary goal for AI Squared is to continue delivering exceptional value to our customers, with a focus on the financial services sector. We’re committed to optimizing our product to enhance the customer experience and build strong, lasting relationships. As we approach the end of 2023, we are on track to exceed our internal goals, thanks to the dedication of our team.
Looking ahead to next year, we have ambitious plans for growth. We’re preparing to raise our next round of funding with a strategic team of investors who share our vision. This funding will enable us to continue providing world-class service and products. We’re also planning to expand our product offerings and explore new markets. We are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and look forward to sharing our progress with you!
Launched in the fall of 2021, Merlin Investor is on a mission democratize access to investment strategies. The fintech offers a while label, multi-asset, educational, strategizing and tracking tool that helps investors accomplish two critical goals: building long-term positive results and limiting potentially catastrophic losses.
Merlin Investor’s technology is compatible with all trading platforms. The technology is suitable for both retail and professional traders, and is available for both the desktop and mobile. Merlin Investor enables users to retrieve market data and sentiment from multiple sources and apply that data to a massive range of tailor-made investment strategies.
With offices in both West Palm Beach, Florida, and Lugano, Switzerland, Merlin Investor made its Finovate debut at FinovateEurope earlier this year. The company returned to the Finovate stage in May for FinovateSpring. We caught up with Merlin Investor founder and CEO Guido Petrelli (pictured) this summer to learn more about the company, its mission to democratize access to investment strategies, and what to expect from the company in 2023 and beyond.
What problem does Merlin Investor solve and who does it solve it for?
Guido Petrelli: Merlin Investor was born as an intelligent protection and conscious guide for a more farsighted management of investments aimed limiting potential catastrophic losses while building long term positive results. Thanks to the Merlin platform, retail investors can educate themselves, study the markets, and create and track their own investment strategies to easily understand, balance and diversify investment risks.
In other words, we help and empower a new generation to invest with strategy in mind. This is the key to becoming successful and is the only factor distinguishing between gambling and investing. As we are on a mission to democratize financial inclusion and investment planning, our technology was built to allow anyone, regardless the level of knowledge or experience, to become independent and the one and only master of their own financial future.
How does Merlin Investor solve this problem better than other companies?
Petrelli: In the retail investor space, we see many companies focusing on execution, meaning focusing on the act of buying and selling assets. But executing without evaluating multiple sources of information first, combined with the lack of a diversified and balanced investment strategy, can lead to uncontrolled and unlimited potential losses because of the market’s ups and downs. While it may imply the chance for quick gains, it’s actually not the norm as wealth is usually built over time by managing a positive-sum game.
That’s why from the very beginning Merlin was designed as a complementary product to a trading platform and not as a substitute solution. Merlin Investor addresses the strategic essence of investing while the majority of the competition just focuses on enhancing the trading experience – which is already well supported by several financial institutions in a pretty similar way.
Who are Merlin Investor’s primary customers. How do you reach them?
Petrelli: Our primary customers are financial institutions focusing on educating a new generation of retail investors and offering the possibility to trade different asset classes through their digital banking platforms. We attend multiple fintech events in several countries that are attended by financial institution decision-makers responsible for delivering an innovative and digitalized experience to their clients. We also analyze the markets to identify those prospect clients we believe to be a fit in terms of services and client base. Then we look for the people focusing on retail digital products and platforms and reach out to them to introduce our company and technology. Last, we work to be featured in fintech-specialized magazines having financial institutions as target audience.
Can you tell us about a favorite implementation or deployment of your technology?
Petrelli: We offer our technology as a white-label solution that financial institutions can easily embed into their own digital platforms through API keys, while having the possibility to customize product’s appearance and features. As result, our product is delivered to the final users in the bank’s name and as a sub-section of the same app/e-banking they are already familiar with. Through our B2B partner’s portal, we grant to financial institutions the flexibility to choose from the full Merlin product those asset classes, sections, features, and contents they intend to integrate based on their own specific needs. In this way, they can design a tailored solution and experience for their own clients, while sticking to the overall structure and design of the banking platform they already offer.
What in your background gave you the confidence to respond to this challenge?
Petrelli: In a nutshell, it was the combination of my knowledge around investing and the problem I personally experienced as a retail investor that led to Merlin Investor. In fact, I was just a teenager when I first started to trade. Then I quickly realized that executing trades “per-se” – meaning the simple action of buying and selling assets – is the less strategic and relevant part to achieve long term positive results. Instead, studying different market sources, and then designing a diversified and balanced investment strategy, are what make the difference in the end. Still, (available) banking and trading platforms were not enough to educate me about investing, or to (help me) design and analyze my own investment strategies.
As a result, for years I was forced to create time-consuming and unfriendly spreadsheets to the point where I couldn’t accept it anymore – not in a world like today’s where we have an app for everything we do! At the same time with trading platforms booming basically everywhere, it became more and more clear that a new generation wants to invest autonomously and in the right way. As I couldn’t find any product in the market like the one I envisioned, I decided to create it. And that’s how Merlin Investor was born.
You recently demoed at FinovateSpring and will be demoing your technology at FinovateFall in September. What brings you back?
Petrelli: This year I’ve demoed the Merlin platform at FinovateEurope and FinovateSpring, so FinovateFall will be my third appearance. So far the experience has been great. We have been able to show our cutting-edge technology to major financial institutions in Europe and North America, while receiving much interest and establishing meaningful connections with decision-makers within the banking industry. The high visibility and key connections with prospect clients are the two main factors which bring us back to FinovateFall. The well-organized events and the team at Finovate are also a plus.
What are your goals for Merlin Investor?
Petrelli: Our goal is to be recognized by the major global banks as the innovative partner to work with when it comes to educating and empowering a new generation of retail investors. We focus on establishing solid and strategic partnerships with a limited numbers of players in the banking industry to achieve our mission of democratizing financial inclusion and strategic planning globally, while helping young investors to reach financial independence and to become the masters of their own financial futures.
What can we expect from Merlin Investor over the balance of 2023 and into next year?
Petrelli: We’ll continue to prioritize continuous and never-ending improvement of our technology by looking to upgrade the experience we offer either to financial institutions and to the final users to whom our product is deployed. We will also continue to work to boost our market presence to make the Merlin platform known to more financial institutions serving retail clients in several countries. We will eventually concentrate on scaling the team and operations to be able to manage expectations. We will accomplish all of this without forgetting our mission to make conscious and strategic investing accessible to anyone through strategic partnerships with financial institutions.