One of the clearest messages from our conversations with fintech analysts and observers this year has been the importance of RegTech. Whether the challenge is financial inclusion, open banking, or simply making ever-more complex business processes less cumbersome, less error-prone, and less expensive, RegTech is increasingly seen as a critical component of financial technology.
We caught up with Nicole Newlin, VP of Solutions for Ocrolus, to talk about how the company leverages artificial intelligence to automate critical business tasks like underwriting for lenders. Via a combination of patttern recognition, crowdsourced data verification, and fraud detection, Ocrolus’ technology brings both transparent analysis and rigorous documentation to the credit decisioning process.
We also thought this would be a great opportunity to revisit and wrap up our celebration of Women’s History Month. To this end, we asked Ms. Newlin about her work with NYC Fintech Women, as well as her thoughts on how women are faring in the world of fintech and financial services.
Finovate: I would be remiss not to ask how Ocrolus is coping with the current global crisis with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak. How has this affected the company and the work it does?
Nicole Newlin: The COVID-19 outbreak has caused companies around the world to change the way that they do business, and prepare for the long-term. Planning for the unpredictable is an oxymoron, but we’re certainly seeing the difference between companies built for scalability – those able to flex up/down with demand – and those with a less agile workforce. In volatile times like these, scalability is key to success.
We see digitization and virtualization particularly impacting the financial markets that Ocrolus serves. If we zoom in on the state of lending, it’s a historically low rate, quarantined world, with more than 3,000 borrowers per day seeking mortgages and refinancing online. In parallel, many lenders are more bandwidth-constrained than ever, creating a gap between rising demand and lenders’ ability to meet that demand.
A key factor in lender scalability is the elimination of data entry bottlenecks. Our customers don’t have underwriters keying in borrower information or performing “stare and compare” analysis of income, asset and identification documents. Instead, they are using document digitization services and data aggregators to provide underwriters with actionable data. Replacing manual data entry and review with API-called data connectivity enables our customers to accommodate fluctuating loan volume on-call rather than scrambling to add, subtract, or redeploy human resources.
For these reasons, our customers are better able to flex up/down with the markets.
We’re also seeing new customers expedite their Ocrolus integrations to lessen the gap between demand and their ability to meet demand without needing to bring on additional resources.
Finovate: And if I may ask, how has it affected you as a professional? Have you had to make dramatic changes to the way you work, or the way you work with your team?
Newlin: Moving to a fully remote workforce is a new muscle for most of us. Fortunately, Ocrolus has always embraced a flexible work from home policy, so our team is able to adapt to working remotely with relative ease.
That said, without the built-in face time of being in an office, communication is critical, so we’re relying heavily on Slack and Zoom video calls to ensure ongoing communication. We’re also spending more time clarifying objectives and expectations so that we can continue to work towards our shared goals remotely.
To maintain culture and morale, we’re experimenting with virtual events. Our first-ever Virtual Happy Hour was a big hit!
Finovate: Ocrolus finished 2019 with the introduction of a new extension to its platform. Ocrolus+, which offers advanced document-based data extraction. Can you tell us a little bit about this feature, perhaps by way of introducing the company to our readers?
Newlin: While Ocrolus transforms documents into actionable data with over 99% accuracy, Ocrolus+ is an advanced version of our fintech infrastructure platform for capturing financial information, validating the veracity of data, and performing cash flow analytics. Ocrolus+ is the first turnkey solution for ingesting documents and digital data streams through a single API. The platform enables lenders to corroborate data retrieved from submitted documents with source data from financial institutions through a partnership with Plaid. Moreover, our partnership with SentiLink enhances our fraud capabilities by enabling us to detect use of synthetic identities.
Finovate: What markets does Ocrolus serve primarily?
Newlin: Ocrolus primarily serves a broad array of lending businesses – including small business lenders, consumer lenders, and mortgage lenders – with some analyzing different sets of documents based on application requirements. Regardless of asset class, Ocrolus has become a critical part of the modern lending infrastructure.
Finovate: Ocrolus interestingly has partnered with a number of other Finovate alums like Plaid and BlueVine in recent years. In fact, you spent some time at Plaid/Quovo, if I read correctly. Why are partnerships important in your industry? What makes for a productive relationship between fintechs?
Newlin: We are in an age of partnerships and collaboration. With technology and market conditions changing at such a fast pace, it’s virtually impossible to build everything internally. Competition is growing, and we’ve seen tech behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Apple making moves to break into financial services. Partnerships are key to staying ahead in a competitive market. By partnering with best of breed companies, you can save resources, accelerate time to market, and hijack otherwise steep learning curves. However, it’s important to note that partnerships must be aligned with the company’s strategy and values. And they should benefit both organizations in order to ensure long-term alignment.
Finovate: You came to Ocrolus after being a founder and president of a fintech/financial services consultancy. What drew you to Ocrolus? And now that you’re here, can you tell us a little about the work you do for the company as VP of Solutions?
Newlin: I was introduced to Ocrolus via a few current board members that had also supported my previous employer, Quovo (acquired by Plaid). Once I met with the leadership team and learned more about what Ocrolus offered, I was intrigued. The opportunity to work at a company that could cross many verticals with its offering was interesting to me, because that spoke to the flexibility and endless possibilities of staying nimble and being relevant. Of course, that has been proven out even faster than expected with COVID-19 as we see new opportunities in a challenging environment!
When I joined Ocrolus, my primary focus was to build out a strong Solutions team that would support all sales activities via sales engineering/implementation, which includes all aspects of client onboarding and API integrations. As I’ve built out the team and developed those functions, we also work closely with our Product/Operations team in piloting new verticals/services. Lastly, a big focus today is ensuring we promote strong client relationships via our account management and client success teams. In a nutshell, our team is the client-facing division of our firm in the entire customer lifecycle.
Finovate: You’ve recently joined the NYC Fintech Women’s Leadership team. Can you tell us about the organization and its goals? How did you come to the decision to work with them?
Newlin: NYC Fintech Women is a community of women fintech executives, founders, and engineers, who are opening the doors of Wall Street by facilitating access to education, community, and coaching. I want to contribute by supporting and mentoring these women. Additionally, given my path into fintech and the number of talented women transitioning from traditional firms, I feel a strong sense of duty to support their efforts.
Finovate: What are the two or three steps that would do the most good to promote women’s leadership in fintech and financial services in general? And what are the greatest challenges or obstacles to pursuing these steps?
Newlin: I think women have a hard time breaking into financial services because there have never been that many in the space. The reality is that there are still fewer women in tech positions, senior positions, on boards, etc. There isn’t a magic button to press for greater equality – we have to take the initiative to create diversity in the industry.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Ability is of little account without opportunity,” by Lucille Ball. In that spirit, here are three things we can do to promote women’s leadership in financial services:
- We must give women the chance to succeed. I look to leadership in all companies of all types to consider how they are offering opportunity across a wide and diverse employee and candidate pool. Look at your organization and consider who is the next to move forward in their career and how leadership must mentor their employees. Don’t let great team members slip away because they see no career path.
- Consider how diversity in hiring grows market share, promotes creativity and stimulates fresh ideas.
- Finally, think strategically about how you are building teams and providing thoughtful professional development.
Ocrolus was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in New York City. Sam Bobley is CEO and co-founder. With more than $33 million in funding, Ocrolus includes Oak HC/FT, Laconia, and Bullpen Capital among its investors.