Aliens, Co-founders and Starting a Bank
A few weeks ago my mother invited me out to a movie, Arrival. This is being posted a few months after it’s theatrical release so I’m confident that I won’t be spoiling it for you if you continue reading, but be forewarned: spoilers ahead. Kinda sorta.
I had no idea what sort of movie Arrival was and my mom put it rather succinctly when I enquired. I remember her telling me it was “one of those Alien movies where ‘they’ come down to visit us”, and the drama that goes along with aliens moseying down from the cosmos. As the movie progressed and towards the conclusion, I realized that Arrival wasn’t really an alien movie, rather it was a data analysis story.
You see, our protagonist played by Amy Adams is a linguistics savant and is tasked with deciphering what message the aliens are conveying to us. Are they here to take over our planet? Maybe they just want to say ‘hi’? Amy Adams is just the woman to find out! Over the course of many meetings with the aliens she slowly begins to notice patterns and structure to the mode of communication that the visitors employ and uses this to communicate back with these beings in a meaningful and productive manner. Ultimately, she achieves the near-impossible feat of fluency.
As we walked out of the multiplex, I could sense my mother’s dissatisfaction over yet another mediocre alien movie and she quickly dismissed my glee with the film as me just being my usual self: a self-important and self-aware idiot. Although her expectations of Arrival did not meet the reality of the film, my non expectation was blown out of the park by a story of how data science and the quest to understand what’s in front you can save the day. You see, Amy Adams and all the other governments and militaries dealing with the aliens were given tremendous amounts of unstructured data with no real way of knowing what to do with it or how to manipulate that. Our protagonist connects the dots in the nick of time and saves humanity from making war on aliens who were just in fact, here to say ‘hi’.
Arrival brings me to a text conversation I had with my partner in crime and co-founder a few nights ago. I’ve never been a big text message/iMessage person so when he asked “How do you feel about starting a bank?” I naturally gave a vague answer in hopes that he’d pick up the phone and follow up with an actual conversation, not just a back and forth of emojis and words. Since that conversation never took place, I figured it would be productive to write a little about how I feel about starting a startup bank.
In all frankness, I don’t really feel anything about starting a startup bank. Creating a bank that deeply integrates with a comprehensive personal finance toolbox and common sense financial literacy/education is just addressing a hole in the market that has been sorely neglected by legacy players. I don’t really see myself as creating a bank at all, but rather creating a new financial language similar to Amy Adams with the aliens.
The future of banking, personal finance and money management is in data. Although I call Enrich, the startup that we’re working on, a bank its so much more than that. Enrich is an all-encompassing financial platform that automatically takes unstructured data from your life (social, transactional, news, markets, promotions, anything really) and structures it to create a financial blueprint of who you are. We use this information to create a Rosetta Stone of sorts of your financial language. If you’re the sort of person who spends money you don’t really have and also have trouble sticking to goals, Enrich will learn this about you and play hardball with you as a method to condition you to spend smarter and actually save.
The value in offering a banking solution is the access to data that our customers trust us with. It is our responsibility to be as transparent with our customers as possible as to how we collect and use their data (unstructured, structured or otherwise). We believe that offering as close to free banking services with Private Bank level service and support is a fair trade between us and our customers.
Enrich’s mission is to be the financial conscience of a generation, namely millennials. In order to achieve that mandate, Enrich needs to actually be a conscious entity. It’s prime directive is to help millennials do more with less as many in this demographic work longer for less in jobs that they are overqualified. Our mission is to make the earning playing field as even as possible for millennials and we feel that a bit of AI, a splash of behavioral mechanics and hint of long term discipline from our customers will get them to their version of The American Dream faster.
At the end of the day, we’re not here to radically change the banking system. After all, its kept the world working in one form or the other since the ascent of the Florentine bankers of the renaissance. What I’m excited to be doing is rebalancing banking by bringing back an ingredient that many US and International retail banks skimped out: trust. Millennials trust technology and it’s incumbent on Enrich and other fintechs to leverage this trust into solutions that actually work for and with millennials.
In the days after watching Arrival, I told my mom who was still disappointed with her movie selection that the alien movie was ok, but the real mission and messaging was about connecting the dots. This is the same answer that I’d give Greg, my cofounder. Fintech banking based off of our vision with Enrich is going to be great and exciting, but the real meat, the stuff that gets me over the moon and everything in between is the prospect of creating a financial intelligence platform that can take random and meaningless unstructured data and stitch it into a cohesive message that can save the world or at the very least help just one overworked and under appreciated millennial achieve financial freedom.