Active.ai is offering personalised chat bot services to banking customers

(From left) Active.ai co-founders Parikshit Paspulati, Ravi Shankar and Shankar Narayanan.
Imagine teaching how to transfer money online to a family member who isn’t very comfortable with technology and possibly does not use e-wallets or online banking. What if all they had to do was tell the banking app to transfer money to so and so person and it would be done?

Active.ai’s chat bot solution Triniti offers to help you with your needs, like a personal assistant but with the security expected of a banking service. The bot gives you special offers on your birthday, reminds you about impending payments, and even asks you if you need any financial assistance after studying your accounts.

Singapore-based start-up Active.ai, with a large R&D base in Bengaluru, saw this need in the market for personalised banking services and put their financial expertise to use behind it. The tech start-up recently raised $8.25 million in Series-A funding from investors like Vertex Ventures and Temasek, the sovereign fund of Singapore.

“The threat of fundamental disruption is very real in financial services, and companies such as Active.ai are making it easy for incumbents to not just remain relevant but get ahead in an ever-evolving market. At Vertex, we have been strong believers in AI helping solve problems specific to industry verticals, and that has been a key driver of our decision to partner with Active.ai,” said Ben Mathias, managing partner at Vertex Ventures.

Product and opportunity

“In the past 24 months we saw two very interesting shifts in the world. A significant number of people were starting to use messaging as a key communicating tool. Also in China, messaging app WeChat became a very large fintech operator with millions of users. It was logical that banks outside of China will need similar technology,” said Ravi Shankar, co-founder of Active Intelligence, which owns Active.ai.

Identifying a global trend and turning it into a business opportunity led Ravi Shankar, Shankar Narayanan, and Parikshit Paspulati to launch Active.ai in 2016. The company specialises in offering AI, natural language, and machine-learning based messaging services for fintech companies like Finacle, the proprietary banking application from Infosys.

Each of the founders has over 20 years’ experience in banking and the fintech sector. This led them to work on payment solutions. The founders were curious to see how business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies would utilise this space for chat bots and personal assistants.

“Banking is a very structured process while messaging is rather unstructured. The only way to decipher such language for banking services would be through artificial intelligence and natural language processing, leading us to the product choice,” Shankar said. The trio brought a number of AI experts on board to provide the technical expertise and have a workforce of around 65 so far.

The new round of funding will be invested entirely in improving the technological know-how and hiring resources. It will also help them scale up presence in North America, said Shankar.

Business model

As a SaaS (Software as a Service) company offering paid services, the bank is charged a one-time implementation fee, followed by charges per user using the services. Over four banks in India including Axis Bank, which announced a partnership in December 2016, have introduced these services. Internationally the company has over seven banking clients.

The 19-month-old venture is yet to turn profitable although the founders expect to break even within six months.

“From the revenue side we hope to see the revenue growing month on month. The number of users and banks using our services is something we look at. We have clients from Australia to North America. We will be looking at maintaining standard services across the globe and also the number of use cases that we are solving for clients in the long run,” said Shankar.

The flagship product Triniti caters for the banking, payments and insurance sectors and is not going to divert to other sectors in the near future as they want to cater for their domain expertise. The company is looking at maximising the range of problems that it can solve for their financial clients as a major growth marker and will be investing in innovation and security to achieve scale.

The foremost challenge will be to ensure adapting the technology to location-specific languages across multiple geographies. “In English-speaking markets that isn’t a concern but we are focused on customising languages. Also the products themselves need a lot of localisation across markets,” he said.