AI Behind the Idea Europe

Behind the Idea: Aveni

Behind all of the hype surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), many firms are working hard in the background to provide solutions using the technology to make a genuine difference.

Co-founded by Dr Lexi Birch, a senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, and Joseph TwiggAveni looks to develop AI-driven products that make financial services more efficient and productive, while reducing the bottom line for firms that use them.

In this week’s Behind the Idea, we hear from Dr Birch to learn the problems Aveni was set up to solve, how it plans to utilise AI, as well as finding more about its company culture and what it believes the future holds in store.

Tell us more about your company and its offering
Dr Lexi Birch, head of Aveni Labs
Dr Lexi Birch, head of Aveni Labs

We’re a business focused on AI for financial services, using a specifically developed Natural Language Processing (NLP) platform to transform risk, compliance and productivity challenges.

AI, and particularly generative AI, is going to change the way we all interact. Never has that been more apparent, but it is vital that this is done ethically and with as much relevance to its users as possible.

I am a co-founder with Joseph Twigg – combining financial services domain expertise and engineering and NLP excellence. This is a combination which we believe is unique in the fintech world.

I am a research fellow and Associate Professor at the University of Edinburgh, and my expertise is in multilingual NLP, for which I have been ranked in the top 100 NLP engineers globally. Joseph’s 20-year career to date has focused on business strategy and management in investment and wealth firms.

What problem was your company set up to solve?

We designed our platform specifically for the financial services industry. Initially, our platform was developed to address Consumer Duty regulation requirements, which we introduced in July 2023. Risk and compliance remain vitally important in this sector and can come with very serious financial and even legal consequences, so we believe our products are going to become an essential part of any company’s technology investment.

Since launch, how has your company evolved?

We have continued to grow our team of engineers, customer service and sales staff, as we generate income and secure further private equity investment.

On the product side, we have extended our platform to two core solutions – Aveni Detect, our compliance product, and Aveni Assist, a productivity solution.

We have also signed exciting partnership agreements with some of the biggest names in financial advice, banks and asset managers. Customers include Cavendish Online (part of Lloyds Banking Group), Aviva, Schroders, 7IM and Age Partnership.

What has been the biggest challenge or most ‘tricky moment’ to overcome?

Defining our unique selling proposition was very difficult because there are so many interesting problems to solve at the intersection between finance and NLP.

We had to pivot a great deal in the early stages as we grew to understand our customers better. But from the point of having a product and some proof of concept projects up and running, the technical difficulty has been developing reliable machine learning models with very little labelled data.

What are your biggest achievements or ‘proudest moment’ so far?

I am very proud of our ability to delight our customers and make their lives easier. It is fantastic when we hear feedback from customers that they find our product indispensable.

I am also extremely proud of the NLP team and how they have developed from having strong academic backgrounds, to having deep expertise in data pipelines, MLOps and the backend to deliver our NLP solutions to customers at scale.

How would you describe the culture of your company?

We are a young and scrappy team of smart people with a genuine desire to cut through the ‘hype’ with AI and develop solutions that offer real value. Our deep expertise in NLP is being focused on bringing bespoke products to the financial services market. We are developing models trained for specific purposes on very specific data sets with a lot of accuracy.

Our focus on one vertical means that we understand our customers and can create bespoke solutions with higher levels of explainability, reliability and usefulness. This type of Vertical AI is going to be super important, especially for the highly regulated financial services industry, where greater transparency is needed.

What’s in store for the future?

We are at an exciting phase of the journey as we move to a multi-product offering and we are working to secure our Series A funding investment. We will grow our team as we gain more customers and increase investment. Our main deliverables at this stage are continued commercialisation of Aveni Detect and gaining clear market traction with Aveni Assist.

But the thing I am most excited about is a greater investment in research and development. With more traction and resources, we will be better able to leverage my work at Edinburgh University to shape future Aveni product offerings. The focus at the moment is on the development of a foundational Large Language Model trained specifically on UK Financial Services data. We are calling this FinLLM.

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