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Sidharth Saxena Of Docyt On The Future Of Money and Banking

An Interview With David Liu

Learn good financial modeling and excel skills. You will often find yourself negotiating in BIPS and Points. Seeing the cascading impacts of minute percentages is critical in business decision making.

The way we bank has changed dramatically over the last decade. It was not too long ago when you had to wait in line in a bank to deposit money. Today things are totally different. You can do your banking without ever walking into a bank. In addition, the whole concept of money has changed. In the recent past, money usually meant bills and coins. But today, the concept of money has expanded to include digital currency and NFTs. What other innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?

To address this, we are talking to leaders in the banking, finance, and fintech worlds, to discuss the future of banking and money over the next few years. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sidharth Saxena.

Sidharth Saxena is the Co-Founder and CEO of Docyt, an AI-driven accounting software focused on helping small business owners significantly reduce operating costs and eliminate issues associated with manual and high-risk back office tasks. Docyt software’s AI-powered data extraction, auto categorization and auto reconciliation makes enterprise-level accounting automation solutions affordable and accessible to small and mid-sized businesses.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in this industry?

My co-founder, Sugam Pandey, and I studied at the same undergraduate college, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Coincidentally, we ended up working together as well at Oracle in Redwood Shores, California, after we each finished grad school in the States. We would brainstorm startup ideas during lunch breaks. By then I had developed tremendous interest in money management and a liking towards financial independence. Sugam, on the other hand, was getting his hands dirty helping his family manage small businesses.

In one brainstorming session, it dawned on us that the back-office of a small business is a pretty neglected area. All the financial operations, accounting, payroll, and business-critical decision making are happening in that tiny room with a broken chair and a small desk covered with paperwork. Then we started talking to small business owners about digitizing all their paper documents as the first step towards having a more organized back office. Slowly and steadily this led us from digitizing and securely storing documents to using these documents to fuel and automate financial workflows.

The ultimate realization was that all paperwork in the back office ultimately ties to money movement and the accounting general ledger. That was a lightbulb moment.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I am an immigrant to the United States. When I switched jobs, the visa process required me to collate and prepare hundreds of pages of digital PDFs of my entire life history. There were some 30+ unique types of documents that were needed. And in one such instance, I shared a bundle of these PDFs with my employer’s immigration lawyer handling my visa case. Somehow that email got shared with my new hiring manager, the recruiter, and a few other folks. Now all my old pay stubs, social security number, birth certificate, and all manner of data was sitting in these folk’s inboxes. It was a wake up call, early in my career, that drilled the importance of data privacy and data security in my mind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The quote that resonates most with me is from Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

Be it passing the world’s toughest competitive college exam (IIT), or working as a designer with no coding skills in one of world’s most rigorous and hardcore software engineering organizations (Oracle), to building a company in a vertical with which I had no background, it takes a certain degree of tenacity and determination.

In my personal and professional life, I tend to be attracted to people who tend to be active rather than passive. When you are surrounded by energetic doers, then moving mountains becomes possible. And tenacity in facing and overcoming tremendous challenges is what I have found to be the ultimate trait of success. The mere act of deciding to act and the tenacity to follow through in tough circumstances is what produces results worth celebrating.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

At my company, Docyt, we are building artificial intelligence (AI) powered software that does accounting in real-time. As I mentioned earlier, business owners need to make business-critical decisions on a daily basis. However, their back office financial data is a black box. They don’t have real-time visibility into income, expenses, and profitability. This is one of the biggest challenges in back-office finance, and the ultimate frontier in fintech. Manifesting real-time accounting is quite challenging because in any business, money is touched by almost every process and every person. To add another layer of complexity, accountants are always chasing their clients (the business owners) for direction, data, and documents. This puts a lot of stress on both businesses and accountants. Docyt alleviates this stress and creates tremendous efficiency for business owners and accountants by bringing all the back-office data and workflows together in a simple interface where accounting happens seamlessly under the covers.

How do you think this might change the world?

Every business in the United States needs to have accurate, up-to-date financial statements in order to pay taxes, get approved for loans, fundraise capital, or attract business partners and other stakeholders. Real-time financial reports also speed up business-critical decisions and make business operations nimble. But in my opinion, the biggest benefit it brings to an organization is accountability. Which in some sense is the goal of “accounting”.

What most excites you about the banking or payments industry as it is today? Can you explain what you mean?

There really hasn’t been any significant innovation in how money moves and is accounted for since digital banking and accounting software became widely available about 25 years ago. With Docyt, distributed accounting ledgers digitize money (or trust) on the front-end, and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) removes mundane data-entry work on the back-end. Real-time is the name of the game. Real-time finance and real-time accounting will be the keywords all of us will be hearing frequently this decade.

What most concerns you about the banking or payments industry as it is today? What would you suggest needs to be done to address that?

There are two critical challenges that the banking and payments industry needs to tackle. First is payment fraud, and the second is the trivialization of the end-customer experience in the race to make money.

Payment processing timelines are shortening and payment volumes are increasing. This means that fraudsters have a much greater opportunity to steal money, go undetected, and escape consequences. Zero-trust payment processing will be the next frontier in payments. Cryptographic segmentation in financial workflows and counterparty risk management will be important areas of innovation.

The second concern I have is that the banking and payments industry in general cares only about money transfer volume and velocity and not about their end-customer’s success. Innovation in the front-office is coming at the expense of increased burden on the financial operations in the back-office.

Real-time accounting systems like Docyt will be needed by modern CFO to address these issues.

How would you articulate how the concept of money has changed in recent times? Is it really a change? How is it still the same? Can you explain what you mean?

Money or coinage is rooted in trust. After the 2008 financial crisis, trust in banking institutions, who are at the top of the value pyramid, eroded. However, trust slowly moved down the pyramid to the technological infrastructure.

Decentralization as a concept is foundational in establishing trust in the infrastructure layer. This change had an inbuilt “double accelerant”. First, money, or trust, got digitized. So now it is possible for software to manipulate, slice, and dice money as per the need of the contract. Second, money can now be exchanged at the speed of light by software systems. Humans are optional. Compare this to the old era, where a silver coin needed to be carried to the market in person, and exchanged human to human.

This is also a double-edged sword. If trust can build at the speed of light, it can evaporate at the same speed. The pendulum will eventually swing the other way, where public institutions will re-emerge as a store of trust. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Based on your vantage point as an insider in the finance industry, what innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?

In the short term, the financial industry is focused on increasing network throughput. Meaning bigger volumes and faster velocity through the ACH and Fedwire pipes. Eventually, in the long run, the accounting general ledger will be the source of financial innovation. We can expect greater emphasis on real-time finance, real-time counterparty risk management, real-time audit, and zero-trust payments.

How has the pandemic changed the way banks interact and engage with their customers?

Banks went all-in on the digital experience and reduced reliance on brick and mortar locations. Instead of marketing-driven inbound customers coming to a banking location, partnerships with fintech companies are taking lending and credit direct to consumers using digital-app-based processes. This results in faster decisions, and a simpler process for consumers, but also limited choices. Rise of digital apps and bank feed aggregation systems like Plaid also pushed banks towards modernization of their data feed architecture.

Banks are interacting with customers in their customers’ homes and offices either directly or through partner fintech apps and virtual digital banks.

In your particular experience, how has the pandemic changed the way you interact with, and engage your customers?

Communication with customers has actually become more personal and more frequent. Pre-pandemic, a lot of time was wasted on travel. Now I’m on zoom calls and phone calls with customers as part of my daily routine. My company also became geographically diversified. As a result, the entire team is equipped to connect with customers at a moment’s notice. Work actually moves faster. And, problem resolution happens faster.

In my work in the telecom space, I’m very interested in the importance of user experience. How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, encrypted messaging apps, phone, or video calls? How has this shift impacted the user and customer experience? What challenges do these apps present when used as a customer engagement tool?

We care a lot about giving a personalized experience to our customers. Chatbots are just used as an initial routing mechanism. But there is always a person at the other end of the support system. As we scale our customer base, we struggle a bit on providing a consistent customer experience across touchpoints. Customers expect support to be convenient and meet them wherever they are at, which could be phone, text, video call, email, or within our app. So we have to be on top of improving our internal tools and processes. So far we haven’t found that one perfect system. If you know one, I would love to learn about it.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

I’m not a fan of real-time rapid chat in work or a customer response scenario. Humans need a few seconds to reorient themselves and craft a proper response. I feel there can be an interesting opportunity in asynchronous communication feeds. Tools like Loom could be much better than real-time chat or Zoom calls.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Modern Finance, Banking and Fintech industries?

  1. Learn how to read an income statement and balance sheet of a company. These financial reports often shine a clear spotlight on their business models.
  2. Develop business negotiation skills. Partnerships are critical in developing a career in fintech.
  3. Learn good financial modeling and excel skills. You will often find yourself negotiating in BIPS and Points. Seeing the cascading impacts of minute percentages is critical in business decision making.
  4. Learn marketing fundamentals. Knowing the basics of positioning, pricing, and distribution will keep you employed for the long term.
  5. Finally, nothing sets you up for success in finance and fintech more than building and running your own small business. Burning the midnight oil in search of profitability and refining your business model and go-to market strategy is the fastest crash course you can take, to build a career in finance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Hire women freelancers from economically weaker countries using platforms like Upwork. You will help bring prosperity and dignity to entire communities. This prosperity will encourage these societies to support and advance girls’ and women’s literacy, and improve gross national happiness.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m not much active on social media, and prefer to stay private. But I would encourage folks to follow me on Twitter @sidharthsaxena.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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