How can banks help customers maintain financial health in an economic downturn?

Tuesday 6 December 2022 10:12 CET | Editor: Oana Ifrim | Interview

Uday Akkaraju, CEO of BOND.AI and creator of The BOND Network, explains how banks can help customers lead financially healthy lives as they navigate the current crisis



Uday, can you please introduce yourself and your professional background?

Since my early years, I have sought an understanding of the mind and how it reacts to sensory and physical information. At university, one of the focus areas of cognitive science is artificial intelligence (AI), a field dedicated to engineering computational systems that behave on par, or at least attempt, that of humans.

Applying this knowledge to the real world has always been my goal. I spent a lot of time trying to identify people’s problems—when I realised I actually had a problem myself. None of my banks were able to empathise with my financial situation, and the only way I saw to get out of it was to create a program that helped me understand myself holistically as a third person. I had to empathise with my future self. In 18 months, I came out the other side and realised I had a framework that could benefit others too.

“The only person you actually listen to is yourself—and yet consumers don’t necessarily know what they need.”

After studying 20,000 people, I found this was a huge problem not just for me but people all over the globe. So that's how BOND.AI started.

What is the story of BOND.AI? When your company started, what was its vision, and what was its purpose? What problems does the company solve?

When the company began, and still today, the question at our core is: “How do we increase the end customer’s financial health?”

As a society, we have information overload, and sometimes we get lost in what we want. AI is the medium to access that answer: To communicate with consumers and create another version of ourselves that thinks like us and can help us see what we couldn’t before. It's a paradox of choice everywhere. We are using AI to declutter. To channel the overload of information and find the optimal solution to help each unique individual.

The economy is facing massive disruptions (inflation, great resignation). How are customer needs changing and how can fintechs help? 

Inflation affects everyone. But what we’re seeing in the economy is it affects people disproportionately. Mortgage rates are still more than double what they were at the beginning of the year, yet some are buying and, at times, renting out second homes. There are two sides to the coin. The majority are facing lots of challenges. But on the other end, we have people maximising the market.

It comes down to personalisation. Until we give some kind of insight or advice based on people individually, it's not going to help. Unless technology or fintech creates one-to-one personalisation at scale, we will have these problems again and again.

Let's flip the switch to work—we also see people reverting their behaviours, right? For two years, the future of work was hybrid, people lost connections, and we saw resignations followed by quiet quitting. Today, Elon Musk and leading CEOs are telling people to come back to the office. The great resignation and quiet quitting were not trends but adjustments as the whole economy tried to return to normal life.

People's behaviour is reverting, but thanks to fintech's ability to personalise and identify unique customers' needs at scale, they can better tailor service offerings. Banks and businesses can combine forces to serve customers more effectively and ultimately improve individual financial health, which is better for the greater economic good.

If people are returning back to these old habits of spending more now that the countries are open again, and options like Buy Now Pay Later help customers spend even easier, how can they manage their financial health?

The pandemic’s blessing in disguise for the banking and fintech industry is they had a lot of investments in technology and digital channels to reach the customer. Now, they must strategise to use these communication tools, measure KPIs, and help guide customers—without also returning to past mistakes.

AI chatbots are making banks’ branches obsolete as customers today know they can have many financial services at their fingertips, and banks must get on board to stay relevant. These technologies may not be as evolved as we would like yet, but tools as simple as a live chat will start to bring useful insights. And the more data you give to the banks’ technologies, the more they will evolve in understanding the services they can provide.

How can banks stay relevant as customer preferences and needs change?

They need to remember: It's not about the technology, it's about the customer. If we look at TikTok, its model allows customers to find relatable content in digestible videos and directly message the creator 24/7. But financial influencers do not have the data needed to provide content on every issue. Banks can take inspiration from the algorithms, 24/7 communication tools, and engagement rates and use their data to reach their customers in a personalised way.

It starts with the customer data, identifying their needs, and then using technology as the tool to communicate, analyse, measure, and enhance that channel.

How is Embedded Finance changing and challenging traditional banking?

Every company is a fintech company; whether customers are making direct e-grocery payments or processing a housing loan. Before, we would go through a bank to manage our financial lives. Today, we do not need one. I can do my budgeting, use credit cards, and make payments much faster and cheaper without having a traditional bank. So, how can banks survive in such a scenario where you don’t even need a bank account? That's the biggest question. If banks don't adapt to this speed of change, it'll be difficult for them.

Banks must change the mindset that they make all products by themselves. If there is a product out there, like Venmo, Paypal, or Cash App, leverage that. Leverage it and enable customers to as well. Join networks and look out for potential partners.

What the banks really must focus on is engagement. As we mentioned, it’s a paradox of choice, information overload, that lacks digestible guidance. In times of uncertainty, people come back to a trusted source. For now, banks hold their positions as financial experts, but it’s down to them to use their existing tools, understand the data, and advise the customer to retain this spot.

About Uday Akkaraju

Uday Akkaraju is the CEO of BOND.AI, and has a background in interaction design and cognitive science that focuses on making machine intelligence empathetic. Recognized as an ‘International Innovator’ by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and has presented at various international conferences like Money 2020, IBM Tech Talks, Paris Fintech Forum, Signal, Finovate, and more. Before BOND.AI, Uday founded and successfully ran an AI research lab that helped early-stage companies design the product and take it to market. Outside of the office, he advises several AI startups & entrepreneurs to create fair and equitable machine learning systems.


BOND.AI is a human-centered AI platform powered by the world’s first Empathy Engine®. It helps financial institutions & employers intimately understand user behavior and nudge them toward improving their financial health. BOND.AI products help increase user engagement, and lifetime customer value, and, most importantly, help monetize data for banks and employers. 


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Keywords: fintech, banks, artificial intelligence
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Companies: BOND.AI
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Banking & Fintech


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