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Polished pitch a plus for entrants to Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards

There’s a compelling reason for early-stage fintech companies to apply for the Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards

Many technology startups are so close to their product that they describe it using language that appeals to technical buyers but not necessarily to business decision makers. For Dublin-based AYLIEN, working on a submission for the judging panel meant fine-tuning the narrative and sharpening the language to make its concept appeal to a specific audience in the financial services space.

“The submission was a challenge in a good way. It forced us to really think about the core idea of RADAR, our risk intelligence product, and the problem we were solving,” says AYLIEN CEO, Parsa Ghaffari.

“The Deloitte award has quite a succinct submission form. The questions were all about innovation and real-world application. So even if you think your product or innovation is at an early stage, the advice I would give is, definitely apply for the awards at least to act as that forcing function to think about the true worth and value of what you’re building,” he adds.

AYLIEN specialises in artificial intelligence, and it has developed proprietary natural language processing technology that analyses news content. Its latest product, RADAR, analyses large volumes of news and regulatory information to identify emerging risks. This makes it especially attractive to the financial services industry.

The judges evidently liked what they saw in the pitch and named AYLIEN as the overall winner of the 2021 Deloitte Financial Services Innovation Awards, and as the ‘most disruptive fintech’.

“Of course, there were the benefits of winning the award, but that aside, that process really helped us. It has formed the basis for what we use in a pitch deck for RADAR today. In a way, it gave us a positioning document at the end of the process,” says Ghaffari.

The advice I would give is, definitely apply for the awards, at least to act as that forcing function to think about the true worth and value of what you're building

In the runup to the awards, the RADAR product was in its infancy, seen by a handful of early adopters in the financial services and risk markets. It has since moved into the beta testing phase and will go on general release in April.

The company has high hopes for the product. By the end of financial year 2023, AYLIEN hopes to see up to 50 per cent of its revenues come from RADAR.

AYLIEN’s freshly refined pitch deck has already been put to good use. It recently closed a deal with one of the biggest financial services companies in the world, based in Boston. “There’s no doubt that having the stamp of approval from Deloitte has helped with that,” says Mike Waldron, VP of marketing at AYLIEN.

The company has expanded its working relationship with a large US bank to monitor reputational risk, and has continued to build a strong partnership with Revolut, the payments app. It is also working on a commercial partnership with an operational risk organisation in the financial services space where all the major European and global banks share knowledge and data around risk monitoring, losses, and risk events.

The proposal material is also being used in conversations with potential investors, ahead of a possible future funding round.

It let everybody within the company rally behind the idea that we're onto something big

Winning the awards proved to be a morale-booster for the entire team at AYLIEN during the Covid-19 restrictions. “It let everybody within the company rally behind the idea that we’re onto something big. We were getting a stamp of approval which was so important. It was mentioned certainly on all-hands calls, and there were company-wide celebrations about it,” says Waldron.

The Deloitte awards’ focus on innovation meant that everyone in AYLIEN felt they had a stake in the eventual outcome. “From research, engineering, product management, marketing, and sales, it spanned the whole organisation, and everybody could say ‘I’m a part of that’. It gave recognition to the guys in the backend who are doing fantastic work,” Waldron adds.

That’s because innovation has always been at the core of what AYLIEN does. “We’re quite unique as a small company that has a research and science division. Usually, that’s something big corporations and multinationals build out,” Ghaffari comments.

AYLIEN’s team includes PhD-qualified data scientists and engineers who work with the company through partnerships with universities in Dublin and Galway. Many of them have subsequently taken up full time roles with the company.

“We try and have a cadence where the research team is innovating and applying the latest state-of-the-art technology to real-world projects. They’re probably six months to a year ahead of what we would put in a product. They’re researching, writing papers, and building demos. We take those, bring them to prospective customers, then roll them out and get the engineering and product teams involved. So, it becomes a cross-functional innovation team,” Waldron explains.

AYLIEN also makes a point of working with researchers who have data engineering skills. This means they can take concepts from research into building product demos within days or weeks to validate the work.

The company has 40 employees and is still growing, with five open roles across engineering, product marketing and sales divisions. Winning the awards have also helped to raise the company’s profile in recruiting talent. “We have the innovation award badge in every email signature, and we have links all over the site to blogs where we speak about the awards. Being recognised for innovation definitely would have helped in attracting people,” Waldron says.

It’s part of a very dynamic fintech sector in Ireland, which he points out is attracting growing levels of investment and ramping up activity, from emerging startups to challenger banks. “It’s an exciting time, and we feel the whole risk management and risk monitoring area is hot and ripe for disruption,” he says.