Percipient, a Singapore artificial-intelligence company, is using its first institutional round of funding to scale a product it thinks will completely change how financial institutions go about digital transformation.
Navin Suri, CEO and co-founder, says for the vast majority of financial institutions, the challenge of going digital has been expensive and confusing, and the majority of banks – from tier-2 banks on down – have not even gotten their heads around the challenge. “The transformation problem is deep and persistent,” Suri said.
His firm’s answer was inspired by virtualization techniques found in manufacturing. Percipient creates what software developers call a digital twin. (Its own product is called “the Twinn”.)
The Tesla of fintech?
Tesla is the poster child for this technique. Every car it sells is laden with sensors that feed back to the factory, in real time, every facet of the car and how it’s being driven. Tesla recreates this experience in the form a digital twin that the company uses to run analytics and feed machine-learning algorithms, improving its cars on the go and nudging the company closer to commercializing autonomous vehicles.
One reason why Tesla’s stock value now surpasses Toyota’s by a country mile is because Elon Musk has the biggest data trove about drivers in the world.
That’s what Percipient is beginning to do for financial institutions, with the bank substituting for the car, and bankers for the driver. Suri he categorizes his product as domain technology – that is, a technology that encompasses the entire domain knowledge of a banker, unifying the underlying infrastructure, the core systems, and the front-facing apps and customer journeys.
It is meant to allow banks to achieve the same results of digital transformation without having to actually change either their legacy hardware or their software.
APIX and the VC
This is what caught the attention of Marquis Cabrera, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Stat Zero, an investment firm that has led a $5 million round into Percipient for an undisclosed stake.
“The Twinn, with its ‘use-what-you-have’ design, turns the current digital transformation process on its head,” Cabrera said. “Prohibitive costs and timelines are replaced by non-invasive, ready-to-use digital components. The potential impact on mid-to- lower tier financial institutions, the long tail of digital laggards within the industry, will be both wide ranging and significant.”
Percipient hasn’t done this in a vacuum. It is one of the system providers to APIX, the API Exchange created by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the International Finance Corporation (the private sector arm of the World Bank); more recently, Hong Kong’s AMTD Group became a shareholder in the project.
APIX is a marketplace for smaller banks and insurance companies in developing countries who need fintech, and for global fintech companies looking for an efficient way to service small, distant clients.
Suri spent time as APIX was developed with MAS and IFC people learning the challenges of institutions that rank in the second and lower tiers of the industry: for the most part, institutions that lack the resources to go digital.
But, citing a report by Juniper Research, Suri says there are already 2.4 billion people using digital banking services – a figure estimated to jump to 3.6 billion in just four years. That’s a huge market that banks will fail to win if they aren’t digitalized. COVID-19 has only made it more obvious which institutions aren’t prepared for the brave new world.
Percipient’s Twinn is actually two products. The front end is the “logical data model”, which abstracts and harmonizes all aspects of a bank’s data, both historic and live. This allows Percipient and its client to become aware of what every bank customer is doing in real time.
The back end is a suite of pre-built APIs tracking all sorts of journeys, from onboarding a consumer to approving a credit card to detecting fraud – all the functions a bank will need.
Percipient will charge banks an annual licensing fee for its Twinn model, and a per-usage fee for the pre-built APIs. Suri would not detail the specific charges but says using the Twinn will be far cheaper than a traditional systems migration – for one thing, clients won’t need to actually change their legacy setup.
For example, it is trialing the Twinn with a Middle Eastern bank, which Suri would not name, that lets a prospective customer onboard simply by clicking on a QR code, key in their relevant identity information, and receive a credit limit within minutes. (This works so smoothly because the country has a digital national identity database.) All of this is performed on the bank’s legacy tech stack.
Some of the funding will go to expanding Percipient’s market. In November it will offer a version for insurance companies that are on the APIX platform.
By early next year it hopes to have a service to help fintechs integrate more easily with banks. “B2B fintechs assume they’ll just get access to a bank’s data, but it’s usually a very difficult integration,” Suri said.
He also sees a future in which Percipient can cater to the sophisticated end of the banking market, as its Twinn a go-between between firms and their various cloud providers, or among ecosystem partners.
“We’re changing how banks change,” Suri said. “We become the heart of the bank.”