An Advertising Feature is created, supplied and paid for by a commercial client and promoted by The Irish Times Content Studio. The Irish Times newsroom or other editorial departments are not involved in the production of advertising features.

Fintech ‘outsider’ Aylien wins double at Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards

Aylien named as overall winner and also came out on top in the ‘most disruptive fintech’ category of the second annual Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards

Pictured (L-R): Parsa Ghaffari, AYLIEN; David Dalton, Deloitte. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Pictured (left to right): Parsa Ghaffari, AYLIEN; David Dalton, Deloitte. Photograph: Andres Poveda

 

Aylien’s team of 36 employees has already started updating its email signatures and slide decks with news of its recent double win at the 2021 Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards. Parsa Ghaffari, CEO, comments; “It means a lot, and it’s a big testament to the work of our team. Our risk intelligence product Radar might look like an overnight success, but we’ve been developing it for the past two years. These awards inspire our team who have been putting in a lot of work.”

Ghaffari believes winning the awards will also help raise the profile of Aylien with customers and investors in the financial services sector where the company still considers itself “almost as outsiders”; a case of less ‘fin’ and more ‘tech’. Aylien’s team of data scientists and engineers between them had produced 26 academic publications in the fields of deep learning and natural language processing (NLP), and had presented at noted industry conferences like NeurIPS, ACL, EMNLP.

Preparation and timing were key ingredients in its success. The deadline for submissions happened to coincide with the Dublin-based company having its risk intelligence product Radar, fully ready and developed ahead of a full launch this September.

Pictured: Parsa Ghaffari, CEO & Founder, AYLIEN. Photograph: Andres Poveda
Pictured: Parsa Ghaffari, CEO & Founder, AYLIEN. Photograph: Andres Poveda

“Luckily this was the right time because we had done a lot of the work,” says Ghaffari. “A lot of the material existed internally, such as use cases, the value proposition and return on investment for customers. We had done some pilots for select customers and then we looked at the awards and we brought those elements together in our presentation.”

Timing came back into play as Ghaffari remembers having to distil this material into a pitch tailored to impress the Financial Services Innovation Awards judging panel. It evidently worked: Aylien was named both as the overall winner and also came out on top in the ‘most disruptive fintech’ category of the second annual Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards.

Then, almost as soon as the virtual ceremony had ended, good timing struck again. “We had an investment pitch immediately after the award, with a major strategic investor in the financial services space, so we started the conversation with the award,” says Ghaffari.

After the company was founded in 2013, its initial products focused heavily on text analysis of news information. Two elements triggered a crucial pivot change of direction. The first was that NLP and text analytics technology evolved faster than expected to a point where everything from web searches to Siri and smart home devices all now use NLP in some form. At the same time, some of Aylien’s early customers had been using its application programming interface product for risk analysis. “Organically and almost through osmosis, that paved the way towards Radar: a narrow but deep application of NLP very specifically towards risk,” says Ghaffari.

Having identified a potential market need, Aylien raised €5 million in funding led by Finch Capital in late 2019. Then the team spent hundreds of hours doing market research and talking to professional customers like Wells Fargo. Other customers of the Dublin company include Aon, Moody’s, Microsoft, and Revolut. “We interviewed over 30 risk professionals, chief risk officers and risk analysts to understand what their big problems are that our product could solve,” says Ghaffari. It also added specific financial services and risk expertise to its board of advisors.

Innovation in the true sense must be aligned with business needs, and I think we’ve found a good balance for that

Ghaffari believes the awards’ judging panel look for innovation that combines a company’s technical expertise with an ability to meet market demand. “Innovation for the sake of innovation is great but really belongs in academia. Innovation in the true sense must be aligned with business needs, and I think we’ve found a good balance for that,” he says.

“We have a very entrepreneurial management team but, in many cases, we’ve had past failures from building a product based on what we thought the market needed. With Radar, customer research came before any product development. There are merits to both approaches, but the more systematic and sustainable approach is definitely the approach we took with Radar: a well thought out methodology, where you really go deep and solve customer problems.”

And risk definitely qualifies as a problem many organisations in the financial services sector want to solve. Since the financial crisis of 2008, fines and operational losses across the financial sector have exceeded $350 billion. “What they all have in common is some risk monitoring flaw which is what Radar aims to fix by helping reduce the amount of fines and losses,” says Ghaffari.

The bottom line for companies is that they can identify revenue-generating opportunities in new markets and save costs in the process

Aylien has identified 7,000 organisations across banking, insurance and asset management firms as potential customers, mainly located in North America and Europe. Radar has reduced the manual effort for analysts in the risk identification process and has saved many of its customers from needing to hire additional people for other markets where a different language is spoken. The bottom line for companies is that they can identify revenue-generating opportunities in new markets and save costs in the process.

Confident in its pre-launch product, Aylien was ready when Mike Waldron, its VP of marketing, saw the publicity about the Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards and shared it with the management team back in April of this year.

“We felt strongly we could be a good candidate, that the audience is the right audience, and Deloitte is the right organisation to engage with on an award like this. Other factors like the strong judging panel and the quality of contestants just made it relevant, credible and helpful,” adds Ghaffari.

“As they say, timing is everything. It’s luck meeting preparation I suppose. We had done all the hard work and the perfect moment arrived and we managed to jump on it.”

The awards' halo effect has already begun. Since the win, Aylien attracted further pre-launch interest in Radar from qualified sales leads. The company is also starting to engage with investors ahead of a planned series B financing round set for 2022.

Find out more about the Financial Services Innovation Awards and all category award winners