by James Henderson

From a Singapore shophouse to a fintech frontrunner

May 30, 2019
Financial Services IndustryStartupsTechnology Industry

Amit Gupta, CTO of Canopy, goes under the technology covers of the private wealth startup

Amit Gupta, CTO of Canopy
Credit: Canopy

In a fintech market expanding at pace across Singapore, driven by the emergence of a new breed of startups, the early beginnings of Canopy buck the trend.

Founded in a local shophouse in 2015 – rather than a collaborative studio or incubator – the fledging business was built on the foundations of data, forming part of the Mesitis Group.

Backed by client and investor Credit Suisse, Canopy offers account aggregation, portfolio analytics and client reporting solutions to financial institutions, wealth management professionals and high net-worth individuals.

With profitability now in sight, the importance of leveraging technology to improve customer experience stands tall as a leading priority for the startup.

“Focus is of immense value,” acknowledged Amit Gupta, CTO of Canopy. “Our strategic focus is on looking granularly at each aspect of customer experience and being able to fill in the gaps in the ecosystem.

“We understand that we are playing a part in completing the ecosystem and our ability to scale, connect and disseminate will decide our role in the future of private wealth.”

As a result, Gupta is spearheading four key technology initiatives in 2019 and beyond, with deepened focus across micro-services architecture and serverless, robotic process automation, machine enabled decisions through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), in addition to “moving from user-initiated to intervene-when-necessary”.

“We are also converting all functionalities as application programme interfaces (APIs) and multiplying our ability to customise the workflow without tinkering with soul of Canopy,” Gupta explained.

“Our customers will be able to completely control the Canopy workflow as needed – and I am not talking about changing colours, fonts or logos, but having your own version of Canopy.”

Thinking global

With three leading private wealth regions in the world – spanning the US, Europe and Asia – Gupta acknowledged that for Canopy to reach potential, a global strategy must be created.

“Canopy is an established name in Asia, new to Europe and yet to launch in the USA,” he said. “However, through being an aggregation and analytics player – we process private wealth bank data from all parts of the world.

“USA as a market is quite mature in terms of data access via API unlike Asia and Europe. Asia is the laggard in terms of open APIs and thereby we process lots of PDF bank statements.

“PDF processing is an aspect which is not evolved technologically and is supported by other players via manual processing.”

Gupta said Canopy has evolved an AI strategy in which the startup can process more than 1500 types of bank statements robotically without human touch.

“This helps us inch closer to our goal of being able to provide a universal data format for all private wealth needs,” he added. “We measure success in technology by value creation at the customer end.

“We closely track value as a return on investment (ROI) which various customer segments get in return for their subscription and is a continued reason why they should keep using us.

“We believe in competing with ourselves all the time and that ensures we always listen to our customers and keep making futuristic changes.

“As a startup and as a partner to private wealth banks – we know agility and innovation will keep us in good stead.”

Balancing act

In theory, operating as a startup allows for a blank technology canvas, on which the CTO or CIO can shape a strategy from scratch. But for Gupta, such an approach differs in reality. 

“All the calls in a startup are always a trade-off,” Gupta cautioned. “With limited resources, we must make a call whether to innovate or to fix temporarily.

“When I must choose one between the two, I look at our product roadmap coupled with our business objectives and take those decisions – at times to maintain the legacy and mostly to rewrite it for benefits which can be reaped in the future.”

Aligning to the belief that ‘information is power’, Canopy has built a platform based on data extraction, aggregation, visualisation and analytics.

In addition, key modular solutions span Engine, Analytics, Visualizer and Reporter, which are customised to user needs using APIs through the cloud.

“From a real application standpoint, we use AI and ML quite a bit,” Gupta explained. “Using AI and especially image processing, we process hundreds of bank statements to digitise the data, reconcile the numbers, augment it and run multiple robotic analysis.

“Human intervention is required only when an anomaly crops up. I have seen AI and ML play a crucial role in automating and creating value in today’s world.”

Likewise, Gupta continues to explore the internet of things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR), in response to increased adoption across the Asian and global markets.

“The way fitness bands have claimed their space in the world and the pace they are bringing in new possibilities shows you the potential,” he added. “With respect to VR, it’s only limited by imagination.

“It was never about replicating realities but about imaging and creating an experience which is transformational, experiencing something which does not exist yet.”

Currently, Gupta said Canopy is “experimenting” with VR and personal voice assistants, allowing investors to talk to financial data via Amazon Alexa and other in-market assistants.

“Using VR headsets, we also facilitate client interaction with their data – we believe the possibilities are limitless,” he added.

Stepping back, Gupta acknowledged that innovation is currently lacking in the private wealth industry, which forms the startup’s target audience.

“It’s a fragmented industry in which lots of work is happening in silos and there is no common thread between those innovations,” he observed. “Take, for example, private wealth bank statements – they all are different, not offered via APIs.

“Also, vital elements such as performance calculations are not standardised across banks. That’s where Canopy comes into play – we are trying to create a common language across silos and filling in the gap.

“Hopefully, Canopy will be the catalyst for digital transformation where none of the existing systems will need to change but emerging technologies can run on top of Canopy. We are exploring this aspect with an established bank.”