The demise of Lehman Brothers sparked Inbotiqa’s flame: Fintech interview 29

When an email was missed at Lehman Brothers and a hefty fine was triggered by regulators a pair from the corporate actions team were asked to build a technology that would prevent it happening again.

Large corporates have numerous high volume shared inboxes where every email is an action to complete a task which is business critical and has to be done by a deadline. But while email is attractive because it is universally used, can include attachments, and is an official communications tool, it can be very difficult to track and manage.

Missing a deadline in most jobs, because someone overlooked an email, is pretty common. But if it happens once at finance firms that are highly regulated it can be very costly, as the Lehman Brothers fine demonstrates.

It was the death of the investment bank, during the global financial services meltdown in 2008 that made the whole concept of email workflow management tech startup Inbotiqa possible.

When the email was missed at Lehman Brothers, which was unrelated to the company’s collapse in 2008, Vishal Shanbhag and Ludre Stevens were set working on the technology. Some years later, after Lehman Brothers was no more, they started building the technology themselves and launched a company in 2011, originally named YUDO.

The company became Inbotiqa after a rebrand in 2018. It offers a workflow technology platform that overlays existing email. According to co-founder Stevens it aims to take away the pain points of email such as ownership and management reporting but doesn’t take away the benefits. Aimed at back office operational teams the technology helps users manage what they have to do and enables them and managers to keep track of progress. It is most effective when businesses have high volume shared inboxes

And it is not a huge enterprise system with massive upfront licensing costs, but in the spirit of the digital world it is charged per user per month.  “The idea itself isn’t original: overlaying workflow onto email has been done many times, from most CRM and ERP systems, to workflow tools and even event management applications.” Nor were there any copyright issues with Lehman Brothers, as YUDO was designed from scratch and coded in different software language. So no Lehmans documentation or code was or could be used, said Stevens.

Initially the team worked on a proof of concept with an investment bank. After this proved successful the bank decided to look at building something in-house. It is at this point that the co-founders  tweaked the product, after taking on feedback, and built the next version.

Stevens said the founders were lucky that they had worked on the product at a real bank, whose former staff had now spread across the sector. “We were also fortunate due to the unfortunate demise of Lehman Brothers because most of our users have been scattered across the industry so we have a ready base of potential customers that had already used the technology.”

Inbotiqa, which is based in the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s (CBA) innovation hub in London, was part of Barclays’ Rise accelerator programme run by Techstars, which it graduated earlier this year. It was its time at Barclay’s Rise which accelerated its growth and put it on its current path. It is understanding where the product fits was the big challenge to the founders that were focused on the technology.

The company was rebranded last year and increased its small team up to ten people. It has its tech team of five people in India and is looking to add another ten IT staff. But these will not be in India because, according to CEO Liza Russell staff in India move around too much and the company “wants staff that want to go on a journey with us.”

Russell was brought in as CEO prior to the Barclays programme to get the company moving. “I am not a techie but I have worked in areas where these workflows are used. I come at it from a banking background with an understanding of how useful it can be,” she said.

She said traditional email doesn’t offer automated services to ensure emails are actioned and tracked. “The people using our technology are teams where almost every email is an instruction to do something. It all has to be done in a certain timeframe and people need to know it has been done.”

She said email continues to be an essential communications tool so businesses are always looking to improve its usability. “While there are lots of tech services aimed at finance firms that are alternatives to email, the communication channel is still preferred.” Russell said one of the customers recently had 125,000 emails going through its system in a single month. “We are an enterprise industrial technology. These large banking customers have hundreds of share inboxes.

But traditionally keeping track has to be done manually on spreadsheets to allocate work to a team.

Inbotiqa’s technology enables people to manage and track every item. It provides an onscreen dashboard for users about what they are working on and deadlines etc. “Nothing can be missed as the que has to be cleared at the end of the day,” said Russell.

The technology also helps businesses automatically organise emails into groups and remove duplication. This reduces the number of cases being worked by automatically linking emails that are about the same thing. Email chains will be consolidated under a single ID. It also helps managers remove emails that are not relevant. Russell said: “Using analytics with one customer we were able to identify a lot of noise coming out of the traders, who were taking the scattergun approach when it comes to emailing in the hope that someone will answer.” The technology can automatically close cases if the analytics identifies it as not requiring action.

The next stage of development of Inbotiqa will see it work with machine learning technology to integrate into its next versions.

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