Tech series: Fluidly’s CEO on how AI can help you take control of the financial future

Tech series: Fluidly's CEO on how AI can help you take control of the financial future

Caroline Plumb, OBE, is CEO of Fluidly, which provides AI-powered intelligent cashflow management software to help businesses forecast and optimise finance

Tech series: Fluidly’s CEO on how AI can help you take control of the financial future

What inspired you to start Fluidly?

My first business was in the recruiting space. In recruiting in particular, you have interim recruitment, so you are paying out for people on a seven-day or 10-day cycle, and you might get paid by the client in 60 days, or 90 days. You constantly have this pressure around working capital. There is always this worry about finances: about cash flow, can I make payroll, have I got enough money for my VAT, and what’s coming up in the future and who should I be paying, and when am I going to pay them. You have data in the accounting platform, but none of that tells you anything about the plan for future. It just gives you a record of the past. And so Fluidly has solved that problem.

How does Fluidly work?

It is for making decisions around the financial future, using the data which is found in the accounting system – because that’s already a fantastic record of what’s happened in the past. We think of it as an intelligence layer, and it’s about not this theoretical business of recording the past and building pretty models of the future, but actually the reality of running messy, real, living, breathing businesses, and the questions that come up. Those questions around payments, around planning, around hiring people, around making payroll, that’s what Fluidly is about. I really felt that pain myself running my own business, using bits of spreadsheets and post-it notes, and chasing up debtors, and figuring out which ones to pay.

How much time will it save?

“Our purpose as a business is to help business owners sleep better at night”

We see people save up to 40 hours a week on things like credit control. But it’s not just about time, it’s all about control, and certainty, and confidence around money. Our purpose as a business is to help business owners sleep better at night. I have been that person with the sleepless nights, literally worrying about survival or payroll or people’s mortgages – that horrible stress. A survey came out a while ago which said a third of business owners can’t sleep at night, because they are worried about their finances.

How can Fluidly help accountants with the service they deliver their clients?

Things I often hear from accountants are what I call the ‘if onlys’ – if only they had come and talked to me before they did that, or if only they came to me when they were worried about something, I could have helped them. Sometimes it’s lack of the client’s knowledge of the services that an accountant can deliver.

For us, it’s about how do we help accountants understand what is going on in their practice, and what’s going on in their client’s businesses if they are not necessarily talking to them all the time. What we do is continuously monitor all of their portfolio all of the time, and help them understand which of their clients are growing fastest, which of their clients are getting into trouble – who to look at, who to target, and work with them to help them to identify, within their client base, the solutions that are right for their client, rather than them having to do all that heavy lifting. You can do that with data.

Do you have many competitors?

We haven’t seen any yet really. I think most people in this space who have thought about cash flow, it has been mainly an exercise in modelling. For us it’s quite theoretical. Ours is the first solution which is a data-first model, and it goes down to a level of granularity so you can see so what is happening with your salaries, what is happening with your rent, what is happening with that particular customer, when that particular invoice is likely to be paid.

How does that help with credit control?

We put them down as good debtors and bad debtors – a naughty list and a nice list! It will tell you for instance, that this particular client normally pays you in 76 days. We can also highlight to you this is where your debt currently is, these are the important ones to collect, and this is the action you need to take now to improve this. And we can say to the accountant practice, looking across your client base, these 10 clients have got an issue with debtors. Maybe you should go and talk to them about cash flow.

Are accountants enthusiastic, or are some worried that apps like Fluidly will take their jobs away?

We have had a really great uptake so far, since we launched in October 2017 at Xerocon, and we launched our cash flow solution in 2018, at Accountex. We haven’t really been in market that long, and we are probably working with about 60 accounting partners today and growing very rapidly. That includes nine of the top 20 firms. What we offer is about how we can use AI, or augmented intelligence, to help accountants see round corners. How do we tell which client to go to who may be in trouble, and which conversation they ought to be having, before the client gets there. So you don’t get ‘if onlys’, you get ‘hi, did you know we can help?’ It’s about how do you move into that pre-emptive, proactive advisory space.

Looking ahead, what other technology changes are we likely to see in the industry over the next five-10 years?

I think we will see a lot more in the anomaly detection space, I suppose, whether that is fraud detection, or in audit. I think we will see a lot more around benchmarking and comparison, which I think we’ll see naturally as data starts to be unlocked. How do you help businesses understand more about and personalise their world by using the sum total of market knowledge and experience to make a difference for an individual business. We’ve seen that already hugely in consumer – your experience at Tesco or Amazon is all about personalisation. At the moment, personalisation is delivered to clients through touch and service, but I think we will start to see personalisation delivered because of data and because of technology that hasn’t really come to the fore yet.

With all of this automation coming into the market, are there still some things which only humans can do?

There are two areas which only a human can do: one is around context, and one is around empathy. It’s those higher level pieces, which actually say what might you do now? So, especially in businesses or accountants dealing with businesses where so much of what people’s goals are are around non-financial things.

“No accountant goes into accounting to process data”

They are growing their business to provide for their family, or whatever those things would be. One of the key things would be around helping businesses understanding that kind of context and matching up the human dimension with the financial dimension to pull that together and doing that in a way that is empathetic. At the same time as AI drives efficiencies, it will allow you to have more of those higher level conversations, and do a lot less of the basic processing. No accountant goes into accounting to process data.

 

We’re really pleased to announce that Caroline will be joining us as a speaker at our upcoming roadshow event in Birmingham on Technology and the Future of the Workforce. Our roadshow is a special event series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Accountancy Age. There’s still time to register for your free place if you and your colleagues would like to join us.

 

 

 

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