Finn.ai co-founders Nat Cartwright (left) and Jake Tyler

Finn.ai co-founders Nat Cartwright (left) and Jake Tyler

Finn.ai recently won Capgemini's global InnovatorsRace

Talk about going the distance. First, Vancouver-based Finn.ai was the only North American company to reach the top 10 in IT consulting giant Capgemini’s global InnovatorsRace. Then at a recent ceremony during the VivaTech conference in Paris, the financial technology outfit was one of five winners in the competition for early-stage startups, taking the fintech and mobility category. Not too shabby, especially given that almost 1,000 companies from 37 countries entered the race.

Finn.ai, founded by CEO Jake Tyler, COO Nat Cartwright and CTO Guru Atlu, has developed a virtual financial management assistant for the banking industry. Its prize for winning the InnovatorsRace: US$50,000 in equity-free funding and a partnership with France’s Capgemini. “They’re helping us bring deals in,” Cartwright says. “They are a trusted adviser to banks, and they’ve vetted us for banks, and so they’re helping us find appropriate partners and helping bridge that relationship for us, which is much more valuable than the overall win.”

With its white-label offering, billed as conversational banking, Finn.ai is helping banks move into popular messaging and voice channels such as Facebook Messenger, Kick and Google Home, Cartwright says. “The second part of that is that it’s all powered through natural language processing,” she explains from San Francisco, where her company is participating in 48Hrs in the Valley, a twice-yearly event held by non-profit C100 that introduces up-and-coming Canadian startups to Silicon Valley mentors, investors and executives. “People can ask ‘How much money do I have?’ or ‘What’s my balance?’ or ‘Do I have enough money to buy this?’ and it understands.”

Artificial intelligence lets Finn.ai provide a personalized experience at scale, in a cost-effective way, Cartwright adds. As a result, banks can be more predictive, more proactive and more like a financial adviser to all customers, regardless of their assets. “An example of that would be things like push notifications about when your MasterCard payment is due, or advice about what debt you should pay off first,” Cartwright says.

Finn.ai began its life in 2014 as Payso, a peer-to-peer payment app for Canadians. Although that venture was relatively successful, Canada isn’t a big enough market for the kind of investment she and her co-founders were seeking, Cartwright says.

While doing an accelerator program in Silicon Valley last year, they met several executives from a Canadian bank who liked the Payso app, which was based in online chat. The bank wanted to do something white-label; after creating a bot within Messenger, Cartwright and her colleagues built out their financial assistant.

Today, Finn.ai has 20 full-time employees and works with six banks on four continents. When Cartwright started in fintech, there was a “false dichotomy” that firms like hers would disrupt the banking business, she recalls. “That narrative’s changed, and it’s all about collaboration,” Cartwright says. “When you’re a fintech, banks are an amazing partnership, because they’ve got scale, they’ve got an incredible amount of operational capacity, they take care of the risk management and security, and then we can just work on building a great user experience in partnership with them.”

Finn.ai is part of a rising Vancouver fintech sector that includes players such as Grow Financial. “We don’t get pushback from anyone else in the world except sometimes from Toronto,” notes Cartwright, who holds an MBA from Spain’s IE Business School and spent three years helping manage a global investment fund in Geneva before launching what is now Finn.ai. “‘How can you be a financial technology company and be based in Vancouver?’ Not a problem at all. We really punch above our weight when it comes to fintech in Vancouver—almost, I think, in part because we don’t have as many banks taking the talent.”

The whole country is represented at C100, which also hosts a monthly networking event for Canadians living in and visiting the Bay Area. “The coolest thing is, there’s people from Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax,” Cartwright says. “It’s all companies that are thriving; that’s why we get invited down. So I think increasingly, as technology becomes more democratized, location is less and less important.”