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This Dubai-based startup helps financial institutions improve customer experience by blending AI with banking

Having spent 20 years in the banking tech industry across 50 countries, Aditya Bhagat and Surya Prasad realised that there is a major gap in the customer expectations, and the offerings from financial institutions.

They also realised that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to bridge this gap but, the implementation of the AI layer in banking requires deep domain and banking technology expertise. Therefore, the duo decided to leverage their experience to build functional AI products to ease AI deployment and enhance the customer experience in the shortest time.

Founded in 2017, BankBuddy’s platform combines bots, workflow automation, computer vision, big data, and natural language interactions to help financial institutions with customer experience management, hyper-personalisation, and operations automation.

BankBuddy

Aditya Bhagat and Surya Prasad



Aditya believes that with rapid disruption in the financial services space from fintechs and big tech companies, and expected changes in the business models from open banking, the survival of financial services companies will hinge on the low cost of customer acquisition, excellent proactive service, and continuous cross-sell, upsell, and retention.

“Financial institutions are trying to keep up with rapid changes in customer behaviour, be it ubiquitous presence across new messaging channels, uberised customer service expectations, or relationship-based proactive and personalised service delivery, AI can solve the vast majority of the challenges by bringing in ‘intelligence’ into digital channels. However, this requires a unique combination of AI, technology, domain channels, customer experience, and a huge amount of unbiased data plus continuous maintenance. There is a need for a banking domain-specific product like BankBuddy to bring back “personalisation” in banking,” Aditya says.

The company, though based in Dubai, provides service to about 11 countries including India.



Operational model

BankBuddy leverages AI and serves as the information glue across legacy systems, products, departments, and processes to bring intelligence in customer interactions. It is a cognitive platform for financial institutions with a blend of multiple AI realms like deep learning, machine vision, NLP, and recommendation systems to offer a single AI platform across customer journeys.

BankBuddy’s solution is implemented by financial institutions as a white-labelled cognitive banking platform for customer experience enhancement. It helps financial institutions to:

  • Gain competitive advantage (time-to-market) by deploying pre-built AI applications across messenger platforms and existing channels like mobile and internet.
  • Reduce cost and time invested in AI application creation, deployment, and maintenance across physical and digital channels.
  • Leverage data and AI to create true digital transformation.

“BankBuddy uses a ‘clustered strategy’ while prioritising markets for expansion. Before investing in a region, we assess a typical customer or financial behaviour, cultural and language requirements, and regulatory constraints. Currently, we are the leading AI platform in the Middle East and Africa (MEA),” Aditya adds.

Why Dubai?

According to the founders, BankBuddy was designed and formed to be a global enterprise, and Dubai was selected as the initial target market due to its diverse demographic, ethnographic, and linguistic user base, as well as, the culture of innovation.

“Additionally, the UAE’s strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship has enabled it to attract startups from around the world. The whole startup ecosystem (accelerators, financial institutions, government bodies, etc.) has a very cohesive approach, which has immensely helped in our growth. We recently got the Global Fintech startup of the year award and won the Finablr IOT challenge,” Aditya says.

Aditya has a Master’s degree in international business and is a banking solutions expert. He has over 20 years of experience across 50 countries and has scaled multiple startups like Kony, i-flex/Oracle, and Ameyo.

Surya Prasad is a BTech graduate and a banking technologist. He has about 25 years of experience in building high-performance software solutions with i-flex/Oracle and Accenture. He has also bootstrapped a startup in BFSI consulting with a successful exit to a large software major.

The duo, on discovering the challenges in the banking tech space, decided to start BankBuddy.



The startup had participated in the DIFC FinTech Hive accelerator programme in 2018. DIFC FinTech Hive accelerator programme, launched in 2017, consists of a three-month curriculum in which a group of selected finalists work closely with stakeholders and representatives from various fields to create innovative and forward-looking solutions, that aim to address the evolving needs of the region’s financial services industry.

During the programme, the team interacted with over 20 financial institutions within a month, carried out four proofs-of-concept, and went live with a large financial institution. As part of the programme, they also got valuable inputs on product positioning, funding, and market feedback.

“We were mentored by a large bank and an insurance company, where we brainstormed with our mentors on the applicability and feasibility of our solution in the new market. They also highlighted the possible areas where AI and our solution could be applied. We then started co-creating POCs with our mentors, and they also guided us in expanding our solution from a domain and local requirement point of view,” Aditya says.

He adds that the startup was selected by around 25 percent of FinTech hive sponsors for mentorship, and most of the sponsors became its customers. At present, BankBuddy has 12 paying customers across the MEA region.

The number wagon

The company claims to have customers across 11 countries. The product is licensed on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model with multiple revenue streams like annual subscription, set-up fee, and consulting fees. It also offers managed service for both cloud and on-premise deployments.

According to MarketWatch, artificial intelligence opportunity in banking and insurance is a $20 billion market today and is expected to grow at 48 percent CAGR.

BankBuddy has received undisclosed seed capital from angel investors. The founders claim that the startup is cash positive.

Talking about the startup’s future plans, Aditya says,

“We are on a hyper-growth path and are expanding in Europe and Asia, and leveraging the DIFC FinTech Hive global network of partners to accelerate our market entry. The DIFC FinTech Hive programme is continuously helping us with innovation opportunities, for example, ENBD API Sandbox partnership; ongoing knowledge expansion, for example, PWC clinic; and continuous guidance and participation in events, for example, Dubai World Insurance Congress, Singapore Fintech Festival, etc.”

(Edited by Suman Singh)


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Written by Jigar Thakkar

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