Interview: Hello Soda

FStech chats to Paul Shepherd, co-founder and marketing director at Hello Soda, a UK startup behind a platform called PLATFORM, which scans data and social media posts to predict consumers’ creditworthiness

FStech: Tell us a bit about Hello Soda
PS: Hello Soda came about through our frustration that many companies are new world but using old world data. This has led to a lack of understanding of the customer and poorer decision making by financial services firms, meaning those people weren't getting the services they needed at the right costs. We've spoken to students who couldn't get a bank account because they couldn't prove a new address following graduation; and even widows whose spouse handled all the family finances, leaving them unable to obtain credit after their partner’s death. These are just two scenarios from millions and it's not right that old data (despite its clear short comings) is still used in such major life decisions and events.

There are two of us behind the launch of Hello Soda, James Blake co-founder and CEO and myself. James previously headed up the global sales division at Callcredit as well as Experian and oversaw a 64 per cent growth trend during his last five years, and I founded a top 10 UK social and mobile technology agency with clients including Nike, Google, Twitter, Lloyds Banking Group and BBC. Two more former Callcredit employees also make up the management team alongside us. Together we’ve recruited leading data-scientists and engineers from the likes of Skype, General Electric and top UK universities in the field of psycholinguistics, natural language processing (NLP) and unstructured data analysis. With this massive depth of CRA and risk and financial services experience we could access, it really felt like we had the ability to change things which is why we launched, and we are!

FStech: Your press release says that Hello Soda has been attracting interest from some of the world’s biggest insurance companies. Could you give specific examples? And do you envisage interest from other markets?
PS: We can't name some of the bigger names right now because PROFILE provides our clients with such a competitive advantage that there are some timed exclusivity deals on the table. These clients are spread across three continents (Europe, USA, Australia). But one of our clients in this space, Morgan Ash (experts in medical assessments) have already reported time savings for representative claim assessors, a reduction in approved fraudulent claims, uplifts in speed to claim resolution, reduction in cost per policy approved and more accurate pricing based on the additional data delivered through PROFILE. We are already working in the lending and employee vetting sectors. Ultimately we package new forms of data to help companies make better decisions. When you boil it down to that common denominator, it's feasible that PROFILE will work across any sector.

FStech: Investors are pouring some serious amounts of cash into FinTech start-ups. How is Hello Soda faring in this regard?
PS: We're backed by European investors currently, and have offers of further investment but have resisted going in for a Series A or B round while we focus on successful client integrations and delivering an amazing service to our clients. Our growth has been pretty organic and that's something we're proud of, especially when you look at the figures talked about in FinTech today. That said, we know the time will come and we'll choose our partners carefully at that point.

FStech: What are the benefits for both insurance companies and their customers?
PS: We speed up claims, reduce fraud and improve accuracy of quotations. We help insurers gain a deeper understanding of their customers, their customers’ assets and their lifestyles; that reduces risk and improves quotation. Tangibly, we can verify a claimant's age, place of employment and address instantly, identify key lifestyles (smoker or extreme sports enthusiast for example), and determine a claimant's relationships with third parties, helping to identify premeditated ‘accidents’. A lot of this is done by matching structured datasets across a claimant’s social footprint but the real value lies behind the typed word; we use a technique called psycholinguistic analysis to identify character traits much the same as a psychologist uses body language. All of the above means there is less onus on the customer to prove things like age and address because we can already do that. That means faster claims processing, less underwriting and a quicker, more accurate resolution.

FStech: In a competitive market, what sets you apart from your key competitors?
PS: The depth of our analysis is definitely a differentiator, especially the psycholinguistic analysis and natural language processing aspect of what we do. Moreover, because of our respective backgrounds we have a strong knowledge of, and strong contacts in, the industry. We've always known that great technology will only get us so far and are lucky to be blessed with a fantastic commercial team that has built up amazing relationships and that understands the challenges faced by the industry.

FStech: As you're accessing customers' social data, are privacy concerns a potential stumbling block?

PS: We don’t (and can’t) access any information without a customer’s consent. Each and every touchpoint we access is permission based – we explicitly outline why people are connecting their social profiles and what information we will access. We sit squarely between the client and customer to make everyone’s life easier; this is about streamlining the process for customers as well as the client – less paper ID, less time taken, less manual checks and so on. Traditionally, customers can face delays in claim processing and securing an appropriate resolution but with PROFILE this process can be simplified.

FStech: What can we expect next from Hello Soda?
PS: There are numerous markets where PROFILE could work and we are continually exploring these. We have a consumer offering in the development stack and even deeper ID verification products. We are 'out there' now so we're hoping to add more awards, raise our profile, work in more sectors, more products and more team members. We're definitely not going away any time soon, and a huge priority that remains at our core is to shake up the decision making process of those companies making life changing decisions about us all and bring them into the digital age.

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