MEDICI now! Startup Stories highlights the companies that are shaping the new financial technology industry. Keep an eye out each week for new stories! If you or someone you know should be highlighted, send us a note. Without further ado…
Company Name: BOND.AI
Name / Title: Uday Akkaraju, Founder & CEO
Industry Segment(s): FinTech, AI
Target: Market(s): USA
LTP: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Uday Akkaraju: I am an interaction designer specializing in cognitive science & artificial intelligence. With an education in human-centered design, identifying problems around me and creating solutions became a part of life. To solve anything, you need to be empathetic & to solve the problem at the scale you need software or machines that are intelligent in context to human values. That prompted my interest towards cognitive science & artificial intelligence and I went on to do research projects in those fields from Simon Fraser University, Canada.
I launched my career as an entrepreneur right out of college. In 2013, I founded and successfully ran an Artificial Intelligence and Brain-Computer Interface research company. I also sit on the board of few early-stage AI companies helping them design the product & take it to market.
Gathering a unique experience in design, technology & entrepreneurship, I co-founded BOND.AI in June 2016, to solve a long pending human need.
LTP: Give us a paragraph pitch of your company.
Uday Akkaraju: BOND.AI is an omnichannel conversational intelligence platform for banks. It is an artificial intelligence platform that analyzes the bank’s data in context to various consumer and banking needs. It considers an array of parameters such as a user’s transaction history, card transactions, loyalty, wealth management and many more. And external data such as capital market performance, inflation, social, geolocation as well as the bank’s internal data. But how does BOND.AI predict the exact consumer need? That is where one of our unique modules comes into play: the conversational intelligence engine. This module allows the interaction between a consumer and a bank through any existing voice or text channels such as Alexa, Google Home, Siri or even SMS. The natural language processing algorithms are so complex and clever; they calibrate intangible perceptions, behaviors, skills & aspirations to empathize with consumers. We call it the ‘empathy engine.’ Understanding the user is everything and hence conversation becomes a very integral function. The magic is then created in combining conversation intelligence with the proprietary holistic financial analysis, creating BOND.AI’s singular financial intelligence. It spots unique patterns, relationships, behaviors and influences like never done or seen before. The AI is not a rules engine like many platforms out there but an artificial general intelligence for banking.
LTP: In a sentence or two, what problem are you solving today?
Uday Akkaraju: Banks have far richer data than any social media or technology company out there. But the data is not being effectively used to predict financial needs & serve consumers. The challenge for financial institutions is dealing with legacy technology – to find ways to blend their valuable data together with modern systems. To bridge the gap between consumers who want to overcome their financial needs and banks who want to overcome their technology struggles, we built BOND.AI – an AI platform that will transform banks from being product-centric to become consumer-centric. Any bank can easily plug-in and take advantage of the power of BOND.AI’s intelligence. Banks and financial institutions can also build on top of our platform, making it an infinitely scalable financial intelligence infrastructure. Bank executives already say this is the most transformational thing they have ever seen in banking. BOND.AI will significantly power a bank’s digital strategy, increase user retention and create additional revenue streams.
LTP: Who are you selling to?
Uday Akkaraju: We are selling this AI Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to banks. Though they have been experiencing declining growth, I believe they are still pillars of our economy. The decline may be due to the financial crisis of 2007-08 but also due to the rise of unregulated technology companies. Eventually, consolidation will happen. We can now separate FinTechs and banks, but banks will soon become technology companies. Look what’s happening to the PFM market. Many companies are folding up as banks and are building their own apps. It will happen with every other vertical. Banks have the two biggest assets: large amounts of data and a huge consumer base. BOND.AI uses these assets and helps banks transform from a legacy model to banks of the future – to power their growth again.
LTP: Why did you start the company?
Uday Akkaraju: A staggering 72% of the US population struggles and is stressed about money. Money is fundamental in running all our lives and even in this technology era with a large number of tools out there, the situation is very grave.
To find out the cause – we did an extensive user study, talking to thousands of users and studying the various tools out there. We realized that to grow money, doing individual tasks like rounding off spending, cutting on coffee, canceling unwanted subscriptions or just investing doesn’t work or add up. One needs to understand his/her limitations, potential, aspirations in context to what options are available. It requires simultaneously working on a multitude of things in balanced proportions to sustainably grow money, but figuring that out is very tough and complicated, both cognitively & mechanically.
Managing money is a full-time job, but the problem is that each of us already has a full-time job – this results in depriving ourselves of what we can truly achieve. My full-time job as a founder of BOND.AI is to make sure everyone is financially healthy through their own banks.
LTP: What's the most important change coming to your segment in the next 3-5 years?
Uday Akkaraju: Decentralization, open banking and AI powering everything. The power of blockchain will be realized soon and would eliminate intermediaries, enable faster transactions and diminish the need for centralized banking systems. And the open banking phenomenon will come in faster than expected, compelling banks to share data freely through open APIs. Consumers will become owners of their data and will have as many resources as possible to connect it to & understand their finances. Using all the open data out there, AI will automate everything for good.
LTP: What’s your next milestone?
Uday Akkaraju: We just launched in the United States and are discussing proposals with 25 top banks. We wish to empower as many banks as possible not only by helping them generate more revenue but also enable them to keep the user at the center of everything. We have received interest from global banks too and will look to expand to other countries like the UK & India next year.
LTP: Anything else you want to say to our audience?
Uday Akkaraju: If you are a bank executive reading this, you must consider an AI strategy, if you are not already. BOND.AI is very modular and a perfect platform for anyone to start quickly. It has AI modules from ranging from simple to complex – from budgeting, recommendations, automated goal management, wealth management or even a module for bank’s back-office functions like algorithmic prospecting or customer care. You can start with using one simple module and grow from there.
LTP: What keeps you awake at night?
Uday Akkaraju: Not too long ago, my finances were a mess. With a big student loan, car loan, bad credit sitting on my head, I couldn't manage money. It’s a terrible feeling and I can relate to the ~240 million people who struggle. I never want that to happen to me again or anyone else. Taking the metaphor of the unique holistic solution I created for myself, BOND.AI – an empathetic artificial intelligence – was created to empower everyone not only to be financially healthy but also realize their complete financial potential.
LTP: Thank you, Uday!