Fintech Luminaries – Meet Dr. Sindhu Joseph of CogniCor


Digital Wealth News is pleased to bring you our “Fintech Luminaries” series – featuring thought leaders within the digital wealth and blockchain ecosystems.  

CogniCor has built an artificial intelligence-driven digital assistant platform that enables wealth management firms to provide their advisors and staff members with guidance for highly manual, often time-consuming tasks. It may seem like small potatoes, but the sheer volume of requests for support for essential functions – finding and filling out forms correctly, for example — can quickly overwhelm other more value-generative priorities.

So says Dr. Sindhu Joseph, founder and CEO of the Palo Alto-based company, whose digital assistant solutions aim to help firms reduce the time and resources they expend on user support. They do this by leveraging AI to take on simple support requests, thereby freeing up human-based support systems – call centers, help desks — to focus on more complex, mission-critical issues.

CogniCor’s technology is based on research into AI-based logical reasoning by Dr. Joseph, who holds six patents for innovations related to her academic work. We recently sat down with her to discuss the company’s progress, along with her experiences as a female fintech founder.

NAME: Dr. Sindhu Joseph
Founder & CEO

Can you give us a brief history of CogniCor and how you got to where you are today?

CogniCor grew out of my Ph.D. research at Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, where my studies focused on the intersection of traditional inductive artificial intelligence and advanced AI-driven deductive reasoning. Traditional AI approaches are examples of inductive reasoning, in which specific data points are used to form generalizations. Deductive AI goes in the other direction, starting with a general statement or hypothesis to make inferences about what is likely to happen in a specific instance. By combining these two forms of logical reasoning — which humans have been using since ancient times and continue to use today — I believe we can unlock the full potential of AI. We started CogniCor as a way to apply this approach to the wealth management space.

We’re all familiar with (and perhaps been frustrated by) digital assistants in the past. What makes CogniCor’s assistants different?

Many digital assistants, particularly the early ones, guessed at user intent and spat back canned responses. They were of limited value. As some assistants have started leveraging AI, they have become more sophisticated.

Our digital assistant platform CIRA is powered by AI and built for the financial services domain, but those characteristics alone are not what differentiates our technology from other assistants. Our platform combines AI algorithms with the knowledge base that an enterprise has accumulated about every facet of its operations, from procedural knowledge of processes and workflows to the institutional knowledge captured in internal memoranda. Our platform organizes the knowledge base into “knowledge graphs” that link together related topics and concepts and narrow down the universe of answers the user could be searching for. This is different from pure AI, in which huge amounts of data are thrown at algorithms, which must analyze it and learn from scratch by sheer brute force. In our model, the algorithm gets a vital leg up — context — that enables it to better interpret user intent and ultimately give users more appropriate responses.

What makes the wealth management industry a particularly good environment for CogniCor’s solutions?

We think there is a significant opportunity for digital assistants in wealth management (and in financial services, generally) because complexity is inherent in everything users in the space do. In no small part, this is due to the heavy regulatory requirements on the industry, a burden that leads to complex processes being implemented to handle even day-to-day tasks. Firms end up spending inordinate amounts of time and resources on user support for these processes – time and resources that could almost certainly be put to better use elsewhere. We see a tremendous opportunity to leverage our technology to simplify and streamline user support and, crucially, make it scalable.

What’s the greatest challenge in translating academic research concepts into actionable business ideas?

One challenge is articulating a relevant business case that establishes why a new technology is the right for the market right now, at this moment. Often, these innovations are driven by an idea that has the potential to revolutionize how things are done, but the market may not be ready to embrace this kind of seismic shift.

This is particularly true with trying to introduce new enterprise technology, meaning that many “lab to launch” ideas for enterprises have a longer time to market, and adoption cycles are much longer than more mainstream ventures. This can delay revenue and growth and create challenges for funding, given that most venture capital firms are looking to invest in ideas that have shorter adoption cyclesand can achieve explosive growth in under three years.

Accelerators are a good way to address these issues. It helped us to participate in three accelerator programs, all of which put us through a process of connecting us to our customer base, getting pilot solutions rolled out, adapting the product positioning to fit market needs and putting in place other relevant sales and marketing processes to set us up for success.

Can you share the top lesson you have learned as a female founder and CEO?

Everything is harder for a female founder, starting with fundraising, establishing your credibility and convincing potential customers of your value proposition. It was more complicated for me because I came to the United States as an immigrant, with almost no professional network.

That meant I had to work harder – double, triple – to raise brand awareness of CogniCor in the market and build the relationships that have been the lifeblood of the business thus far. I have learned how important it is for founders – male or female – to cultivate bonds with venture capital firms and religiously keep them up to date on the business’ progress.

Meanwhile, I learned that as a female founder, it’s very important to have female mentors who have previously pursued leadership roles in the wealth management space. My mentors helped me with tactical and strategic advice on running my business and, as importantly, provided reassurance and validation that I was on the right track. Leadership can be a lonely journey, and it’s doubly so for women because there are so few female tech founders and CEOs. The support of other female leaders has been tremendous for me personally, as well as for CogniCor.

What’s the “next big thing” in wealthtech, in your opinion?

Forms seem to be ubiquitous in the wealth management space. They clearly serve a purpose, and for centuries of human history — in one incarnation or another — they have mitigated the limitations of verbal transmitting large amounts of information. They allow one person to collect information relatively easily from many people, without having to meet directly with each one, and they enable that person to do so asynchronously. That is, someone can fill out a form now that will communicate information to those who need it later, sometimes much later.

Yet, in the 21st century there must be a better way. Our Forms Digital Assistant not only helps users find the right forms for their intended task, but it also can pre-fill them for the user and assist in filling out the rest. You can see where this might be headed: With systems potentially intelligent enough to complete forms entirely, what need do we have for forms in the first place, particularly if they create confusion and delays? AI can simulate conversational, one-to-one interaction in a scalable way that may eliminate the need for forms. It’s hard to fathom right now, but we could have a world without needless paperwork sooner than we think.

Dr. Sindhu Joseph is co-founder and CEO of CogniCor, the Digital Assistant platform based on knowledge graphs used by leading financial services businesses for transforming customer engagement. She holds a Ph.D in AI and is inventor of 6 US patents and is the author of several leading journal publications in AI.