Upbeat on AI: Fintechs Forecast Rebound Informed With Deep Learning

Conversational AI, recommendation systems are on the rise, fueled by cloud services and GPUs.
by Rick Merritt

While a panel on AI in financial technology was one of many events canceled in New York this month, it didn’t mute the panelists’ optimism on the topic.

A trio of so-called fintechs described ways they are using AI to enhance customer support, speed up the process of getting a loan and more. They see techniques such as conversational AI and recommendation systems as keys to the future of finance.

“If we need to reboot the economy fast, we need to validate small and medium businesses for loans, make sure there’s no fraud and provide a view into this 44 percent of the economy,” said Hicham Oudghiri, chief executive of Enigma.

His company uses AI to refine a database of about 30 million such firms that Enigma’s customers can access online to speed jobs like processing a loan. The service has attracted a dozen Fortune 500 clients, including American Express and PayPal.

Hicham Oudghiri, chief executive of Enigma
Hicham Oudghiri, chief executive of Enigma

“We’re in the business of providing the ground truth on small and medium businesses, and this is the sector that’s probably going to get hammered the most,” Oudghiri said. “How we treat these businesses beyond a relief package for getting access to credit and doing business expediently will be massively important.”

AI Cuts Down Paperwork

For its part, Ocrolus uses natural-language processing to analyze paperwork for processing loans, receipts or new accounts for companies such as Behalf and BlueVine.

The crisis provides a reminder of the value AI brings by accelerating such time-consuming tasks, says Pieter Nel, CTO of Ocrolus. “I expect this event could speed up the automation of business-critical tasks. With more people working from home, it’s an imperative,” he said.

The company implements computer vision and NLP algorithms, combined with human-in-the-loop verification, to interpret financial documents and deliver actionable insights. Now they aim to harness complex BERT models shown in the past year to deliver human-like comprehension on text.

“We’re doubling down on all the latest NLP advances,” said Nel.

Good Advice from Good AI

“Recommendation systems and conversational AI from companies like NerdWallet will help consumers most hurt to make better financial decisions at a time when many traditional customer services teams may be swamped,” said Kevin Levitt, NVIDIA’s industry leader for fintech.

NerdWallet combines AI and content from a staff of crack consumer-finance writers to give more than 10 million monthly users individual guidance on their best choices in credit cards, mortgage rates and more.

“Improving the financial lives of users is an energizing mission for me,” said Ryan Kirkman, a senior engineering manager who leads the team that supports NerdWallet’s recommendation system.

Ryan Kirkman, a senior engineering manager who leads the team that supports NerdWallet’s recommendation system.
Ryan Kirkman, senior engineering manager, NerdWallet

It’s a service the Australia-born software engineer lacked when he moved to San Francisco several years ago to join its startup community. “Despite having a good credit rating, the first time I applied for a credit card in the U.S., I was rejected and that didn’t feel great,” he said.

AI Could Accelerate Economic Snapback

“AI can help businesses more efficiently and effectively serve their customers, and that’s always important,” said Kathryn Van Nuys, head of fintech startup business development for Amazon Web Services.

Loan processing and fraud detection were the early use cases for AI in the financial sector. Now Enigma, NerdWallet and Ocrolus, along with fintechs Kasisto, nCino and Personetics, are embracing recommendation systems and conversational AI.

The technologies — running on AWS services like SageMaker often powered by NVIDIA GPUs — can personalize financial assistance or customer support, enhancing the customer experience. But it’s just the start of a broader transformation she believes is possible with AI in finance.

China’s largest insurer, Ping An, already uses conversational AI to sell insurance, notes Alex Qi, head of fintech developer relations at NVIDIA. It’s a demanding app because “it requires a lot of intelligence to gauge a speaker’s mood and emotion,” Qi said.

That said, AI promises a new level of mass personalization. “It’s challenging to get a human to understand every customer well enough to provide personal guidance, but we can provide that guidance with AI,” said Kirkman of NerdWallet.

Plenty of Performance on Demand with GPUs

Companies implementing AI traditionally face three challenges, said Nel of Ocrolus, a former AI analyst for McKinsey: Hiring top data scientists, getting access to large, labeled datasets and having adequate computer power.

The last one has pretty much gone away, said Kirkman of NerdWallet, a user of Amazon SageMaker, Redshift, ECS and other AWS services.

“In 2008, IBM built Roadrunner, a petascale supercomputer, for $100 million. Today, I can rent 1 petaflops on demand with GPUs on AWS for $34 an hour. That sort of advance in computing is mind boggling,” he said.

Many of the fintechs said they’re looking to NVIDIA V100 and T4 Tensor Core GPUs available on AWS services to run their most demanding jobs.

Like NerdWallet, Enigma relies on AWS for all its AI computing. “With what’s available out of the box at AWS, it’s almost embarrassingly easy to set up infrastructure,” Oudghiri said.