App review: Receipt Bank

It isn’t often that one of the apps that I use on a regular basis attracts a large round of funding but it happened recently with Receipt Bank, a London based started which “makes your bookkeeping, faster, easier and more efficient.” Last month, Receipt Bank received a Series B investment worth $50 million from New York based Insight Venture Partners.

Receipt Bank, which started in 2010, targets accountants, bookkeepers and small businesses. It offers them an online platform through which users can submit their invoices, receipts, and bills by taking a picture and uploading it through Receipt Bank’s mobile app (see Fig. 1), desktop app (see Fig. 2), or an email submission. Receipt Bank’s system then automatically extracts relevant data, sorts and categorises it. Apart from viewing your processed expenses online, Receipt Bank also publishes everything to the user’s accounting software of choice, FreshBooks or Xero for example.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Receipt Bank iOS app

 

 

Fig. 2 – The entry in Receipt Bank for one of my receipts

Given that I’ve been using Receipt Bank for a while now; instead of just reviewing existing functionality, I’ve also had a think about how I’d use a $50m war chest to further build out the Receipt Bank product:

  1. Faster! Faster! Faster! – When I started using Receipt Bank last year, I emailed the customer support team enquiring about the wait between submitting a picture of a receipt and it being “ready for export”. I got a friendly reply explaining that “we ask for a maximum of 24 hours to process items, but we are usually much faster than that.” The customer support adviser also explained that “the turnaround time also depends on the number of items waiting to be processed by the software and also their quality.” I’m sure Receipt Bank uses some form of machine-learning, algorithms to automatically interpret and categorise the key data fields from the picture of a receipt. As the field of Artificial Intelligence continues to evolve, I expect Receipt Bank to be able to – eventually – process receipts and invoices within seconds, with no need for the user to add or edit any info processed. Because I envisage machine learning to be the core driver of Receipt Bank’s proposition, I suggest spending at least half of its latest investment on AI technology and engineers specialised in machine learning.
  2. Not just tracking my bills and invoices – Yes, everybody is jumping on the chatbot wagon (and some of the results are frankly laughable). However, I do believe that if Receipt Bank can learn a sufficient amount about its customers and their spending and accounting behaviours, it will be able to provide them with tailored advice and predictions. For example, if I pay my supplier in China a fixed amount per month to keep my stock up, I’d like to ask Receipt Bank’s future “Expense Assistant” how my supplier payments will be affected if there’s massive volatility in the exchange rate between the British Pound and the Chinese Yuan. Similarly, when I look at most of today’s finance departments, the people in these teams seem to spend on matching the right payments received to the relevant invoice(s) sent out. I realise that the machine learning around multiple invoices wrapped into a single payment is easier said than done, but I don’t think it will be impossible and the $25m investment into AI (see point 1. above) should help massively.
  3. What if the days of paper bills are numbered!? – Now that I’ve effectively spent $25m on AI technology, I’ve got $25m left. The first thing I’d do with this remaining money is to prepare for scenarios where invoices or receipts are no longer issued on paper but provided orally. At the moment, capability like Alexa Expense Tracker is mostly used for personal expenses, but I do envisage a future where people use Alexa or Siri to add and track their expenses. Given that voice technology is still very much in its infancy, I suggest restricting Receipt Bank’s investment into this area to a no more than $1m.
  4. Integrate more (and please don’t forget about Asia) – If I were Receipt Bank I’d probably use about $10m of the remaining fund to enter new geographies and integrate with additional systems. For example, I like how Sage’s Pegg hooks into any expenses you record on your mobile, whether it’s via Slack, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. I don’t know whether Receipt Bank is looking to enter the Asian market, but I feel there’s great opportunity to integrate with messenger apps like WeChat and Hike, without spending more than $2m on development and marketing. Also, integrating with payment processors, like Finsync did recently with Worldpay, is an integration avenue worth considering! 
  5. But don’t forget about the current product! – I feel Receipt bank would be remiss if it were to forget about improving its current platform, both in terms of functionality and user experience. For example, I can’t judge how well Receipt Bank does in retaining its customers, but I feel there are a number of ways in which it can make the existing product ‘work harder’ (see Fig. 3 below). In my experience, some of my proposed improvements and features shouldn’t break the bank. By spending about $1m on continuous improvements over a number of years, Receipt Bank should have at least $20m left in the bank, as a buffer for difficult times and any new opportunities that might arise during the product lifecycle.

Fig. 3 – Suggestions to make Receipt Bank’s existing product work harder:

  1. Some touches of gamification – I’d argue that the longevity of the relationship between Receipt Bank and an individual user is determined by how often the users uploads bills onto the platform. I assume that most users will most probably not view managing their expenses as fun, I think it would be good to look at ways to make the experience more fun. For example, I could get a gold star from my accountant once I’ve successfully synced my month’s expenses into my accounting system. I feel that there’s plenty of room to reinforce the current gamification elements that Receipt Bank uses. For example, the message that Receipt Bank managed to save 27 minutes of my time doesn’t really do it for me (see Fig. 4 below). Instead, the focus could be on the productivity gain that I’ve made for billable work (if I’m a freelancer for example).
  2. Better progress and status updates – Even if it does continue to take up to 24 hours. to categorise and process my expenses, it would be great if Receipt Bank could make its “in progress” status more intuitive and informative.
  3. Clearer and stronger calls to action – For example, I can see that I’m not making the best use of my Receipt Bank subscription (see Fig. 5 below). However, there are no suggestions on specific actions I can take to get more value from my Receipt Bank plan.

Fig. 4 – Screenshot my Receipt Bank usage

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my Receipt Bank “Usage summary”

Main learning point: Having thought about Receipt Bank’s current product offering, and my understanding of their target market, I suggest investing a good chunk of the recent investment into optimising the machine learning algorithms in such a way that both processing speed and accuracy are significantly increased. By doing this, the customer profile and behavioural data generated, will create additional opportunities to further retain customers and offer adjacent products and services.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://uk.businessinsider.com/receipt-bank-raises-50-million-from-insight-venture-partners-2017-7
  2. https://venturebeat.com/2017/07/20/receipt-bank-raises-50-million-insight-venture-partners/
  3. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/receipt-bank-business-expense-scanner-tracker/id418327708?mt=8
  4. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.receiptbank.android&hl=en_GB 
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/07/07/machine-learning-artificial-intelligence-and-the-future-of-accounting/#49bb42ac2dd1
  6. https://hellopegg.io/
  7. http://uk.pcmag.com/cloud-services/87846/feature/23-must-have-alexa-skills-for-your-small-business
  8. https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/tech/accounting-software/case-study-receipt-banks-rapid-growth
  9. https://www.finextra.com/pressarticle/70263/finsync-connects-with-worldpay-us
  10. http://www.bankingtech.com/520502/symitars-episys-core-system-integrated-with-amazon-echo-baxter-cu-an-early-taker/

App review: Toutiao

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of www.toutiao.com/ homepage 

When I first heard about Toutiaou I thought it might be just another news app, this coming one from China. I learned, however, very quickly that Toutiaou is much more than just a news app; at the time of writing, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total, with ore than 78 million users reading over 1.3 billion articles on a daily basis.

Toutiao, known officially as Jinri Toutiao, which means “Today’s Headlines”, has a large part of its rapid rise to its ability to provide its users with a highly personalised news feed. Toutiao is a mobile platform that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content to its users, based on previous content accessed by users and their interaction with the content (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Toutiao iOS app

I identified a number of elements that contribute to Toutiao’s success:

  1. AI and machine learning – Toutiao’s flagship value proposition to its users, having its own dedicated AI Lab in order to constantly further the development of the AI technology that underpins its platform. Toutiao’s algorithms learn from the types of content its users interact with and the way(s) in which they interact with this content. Given that Toutiao users spend on average 76 minutes per day on the app, there’s a wealth of data for Toutiao’s algorithms to learn form and to base personalisations on.
  2. Variety of content types to choose from – Toutiao enables its users to upload short videos, and Toutiao’s algorithms of will recommend selected videos to appropriate users (see Fig. 3). Last year, Ivideos on Toutiao were played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform. Users can also upload pictures, similar to Instagram or Facebook, users can share their pictures, with other users being abel to like or comment on this content (see Fig. 4).
  3. Third party integrations – Toutiao has got strategic partnerships in place with the likes of WeChat, a highly popular messaging app (see Fig. 5), and jd.com, a local online marketplace. It’s easy to see how Toutiao is following an approach whereby they’re inserting their news feed into a user’s broader ecosystem.

Main learning point: I was amazed by the scale at which Toutiao operate and the levels at which its users interact with the app. We often talk about the likes of Netflix and Spotify when it comes to personalised recommendations, but with the amount of data that Toutiao gathers, I can they can create a highly tailored content experience for their users.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of video section on Toutiao iOS app 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of user generated content feed on Toutiao iOS app

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Toutiao and WeChat integration on Toutiao iOS app

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.toutiao.com/
  2. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/toutiao#/entity
  3. http://technode.com/2017/06/05/podcast-analyse-asia-187-toutiao-with-matthew-brennan/
  4. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603351/the-insanely-popular-chinese-news-app-that-youve-never-heard-of/
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ywang/2017/05/26/jinri-toutiao-how-chinas-11-billion-news-aggregator-is-no-fake/#24d401d64d8a
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toutiao
  7. http://lab.toutiao.com/
  8. https://www.liftigniter.com/toutiao-making-headlines-machine-learning/
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/01/chinese-news-reading-app-toutiao-acquires-flipagram/
  10. https://lotusruan.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/cant-beat-giant-companies-on-wechatweibo-try-toutiao/
  11. https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/tag/toutiao/

 

 

 

App review: Plum

When I reviewed Cleo a few weeks ago, I also came across Plum. Plum describes itself as “your personal savings” assistant and lives in Facebook Messenger.

How did Plum come to my attention?  I came across Plum whilst reviewing Cleo, another virtual savings assistant. I then spoke to Victor Trokoudes, co-founder and CEO of Plum, who gave me a first introduction to Plum.

My quick summary of Plum (before using it) – I expect Plum to not only monitor my spending and saving habits, but to also do my saving for me and transfer savings directly to a savings account of my choosing.

How does Plum explain itself in the first minute? – From the headline to smaller print on the landing screen, it’s apparent that Plum is all about saving, helping me to save. Plum “monitors your daily spending and automagically sets money aside for you.”

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Getting started, what’s the process like?  After I’ve clicked on the “Sign up for free” button, I’m taken to Facebook Messenger where I see a landing page that explains about Plum; “I’m a robot. I was built to help you save money so you don’t have to worry about it.”

At this stage, I’m not entirely sure about how exactly Plum will help me to save money, but I decide to click on the “Get Started” button to find out.

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On the next screen, I’m presented with the choice between signing up and learning how Plum works. I decide to do the latter and click on “How it works”.

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And I’m pleased that I asked the Plum bot to explain how it all works, because I like the response that I get in return:

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I now feel more confident about how Plum works and how it can help me with saving money, so I decide to click on “Sign up”. After entering my email address, the Plum bot asks me for some more information to complete my setup. After clicking on the “Complete setup” button, I’m taken to separate page where I can enter my personal details.

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After I’ve entered my personal details, the next step is for me to link my bank account to Plum. I like how Plum is keeping me posted on progress by striking through the previous two steps of the onboarding process. There’s copy there to assure me that my bank login details will be treated securely by Plum; making it clear that Plum “will never, ever store it (my bank login, MA) on our system.”

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Did Plum deliver on my expectations? – Once I’ve managed to sync my bank account info, and have completed my Plum set up, the app starts helping me to save money. For me, Plum’s biggest draw is that I can add money to my Plum savings. Plum tells me how much of my cash is still available for withdrawal, and prompts to me decide on how much money I’d like to set aside.
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Similar to the standard account and transaction info that your traditional bank offers, Plum provides a neat overview of my monthly and total savings, and I can see my most recent transactions at a single glance. Ultimately, I feel I can only truly answer the question about Plum delivering on my expectations once why I’ve achieved a specific savings goal. In the meantime, I feel that Plum does offer a pretty smooth onboarding journey and a clear path to actually saving money. If you’re struggling to save or understanding how much you can save in the first place, definitely worth checking out Plum and start setting money aside!

App review: Cleo

I wrote about virtual assistants a few weeks ago, which made me realise that I hadn’t yet explored Cleo in more detail. Cleo is a virtual assistant that I believe can help me save money. However, my knowledge of Cleo ends there, so let’s have a closer look at Cleo and its onboarding process:

  1. How did Cleo come to my attention? – I came across Cleo a few months ago as I was looking at so-called ‘robo advisers’ like Betterment and Nutmeg.
  2. My quick summary of Cleo (before using it)? – When you search for Cleo, Google will tell you that it’s an “Intelligent assistant that helps you save money”. I therefore expect a virtual assistant that will give me a better view of my expenses and gives me tips on how to spend less. I expect an app that’s highly personalised, aiming to making saving fun. I guess a bit similar to Qapital, an app that I reviewed a few months ago.
  3. How does Cleo explain itself in the first minute? – I like how how the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/ talks about Cleo being “The simplest way to manage your money” (see Fig. 1 below). The page also mentions “bank level security” although I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of Cleo.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Cleo’s onboarding process feels very intuitive and easy, particularly the part where Cleo syncs with my bank account (see Fig. 3 below). The messaging about how Cleo will treat my current account data instills trust and is clear, even to the point where I get a text from Cleo to say that banks are a bit slow when it comes to synching (see Fig. 8 below). However, when I’m asked to set my monthly income, I’m not sure what purpose this will serve and how I’ll benefit from sharing this data with Cleo (see Fig. 4 below).
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – The simplicity of the onboarding process is reinforced by the text messages that I’m getting from Cleo on my mobile whilst onboarding on my laptop (see Fig. 8 below).
  6. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (1) – After completing my onboarding with Cleo, I get a pretty comprehensive overview of my bills and spending (see Fig. 7 below). Perhaps I hadn’t fully set my own expectations when signing up with Cleo, but I’m left with a faint feeling of disappointment, expecting to receive more insights around my spending patterns or be able to ask Cleo specific questions about my balance. For example, when I ask Cleo about how to best increase my balance, she refers me to the generic balance call to action which she’d shared with me 3 seconds prior in the same exchange on Facebook Messenger (see Fig. 10 below).
  7. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (2) – Some of the machine learning parts that underpin Cleo feel like they’re working pretty well, and getting started with Cleo felt very seamless and self-explanatory. I’m, however, keen to see how Cleo will develop further over the coming months, in becoming truly ‘intelligent’ about my spending habits and ways for me to save money.

 

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/

 

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the first step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of the second step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 4 – Syncing a bank account with Cleo

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of setting a monthly income in Cleo

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Fig. 6 – Screenshots of the workflow around adding bills

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the ‘outputs’ of the info entered into Cleo

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Fig. 8 – Text updates from Cleo throughout the onboarding process

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Fig. 9 – Chat message from Barney, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleo

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Fig. 10 – Chatting with Cleo through Facebook Messenger

Some good conversational UI examples to learn from

It was Dennis Mortensen – CEO/Founder of x.ai – who made me aware a few years ago of the concept of ‘invisible interfaces’. He talked about applications no longer needing a graphical user interface (GUI), taking “Amy” – x.ai’s virtual personal assistant as a good example (see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – Amy, x.ai’s virtual assistant – Taken from: http://www.agilenetnyc.com/business/x-ai/

Since then, I’ve been keeping more of an eye out for bots and virtual assistants, which can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or Amazon Echo. Like “Amy” these applications can be driven entirely by complex machine learning algorithms, or can be more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and operated entirely by humans. Let’s just have a look at some relevant examples to illustrate where I think some of these virtual assistants and chatbots are heading.

Example 1 – Nordstrom Chatbot and Operator offering personalised discovery:

US based Nordstrom recently launched its first chatbot for the 2016 holiday season. If you’re already on Facebook Messenger or Kik, Nordstrom’s virtual assistant is only a click away. Users who engage with Nordstrom’s bot will be asked a number of questions about who they’re shopping for. The bot will then respond with bespoke gift suggestions based on the user’s responses.

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Fig. 2 – Nordstrom Chatbot – Taken from: https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r

You can get a similar experience using Operator, which is driven entirely by human experts who’ll provide you with personalised advice on what to buy (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – Operator’s experts providing tailored advice to its users – Taken from: https://www.operator.com/

Example 2 – KLM sharing flight information via Facebook Messenger:

KLM, the well known international airline, now enables customer to receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger. After booking a flight on KLM’s website, customers can choose to receive their booking confirmation, check-in details, boarding pass and flight status updates via Messenger. It’s built on a Messenger plug-in which customers only have to enable in order to receive ‘personalised’ messages from KLM (see Fig. 4 below).

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of KLM’s Messenger app – Taken from: https://messenger.klm.com/

Example 3 – Telegram using buttons for discovery and shortcuts:

As much as it’s great to have a very simple ‘single purpose’ conversational user interface, there are messenger apps and virtual assistants out there that do offer user functionality that works better with buttons to click. A good example is the Telegram app, which has buttons for specific actions and shortcuts (see Fig. 5 below).

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Fig. 5   – Screenshot of the buttons in Telegram’s messenger app – Taken from: http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui

Main learning point: I’ll no doubt learn more about conversational user interfaces over the coming months and years, but looking at simple examples like x.ai, Nordstrom’s Chatbot, Operator, Telegram and KLM’s Messenger feels like a very good starting point!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui
  2. https://uxdesign.cc/10-links-to-get-started-with-conversational-ui-and-chatbots-3c0920ef4723#.yqpfdz5re
  3. https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r
  4. http://www.geekwire.com/2016/new-nordstrom-mobile-chat-bot-ready-help-shoppers-find-perfect-holiday-gift/
  5. https://www.techinasia.com/talk/complete-beginners-guide-chatbots
  6. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/07/conversational-interfaces-where-are-we-today-where-are-we-heading/
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/30/11331168/klm-facebook-messenger-boarding-pass-chat-integration
  8. https://messenger.klm.com/
  9. https://www.operator.com/