When you think of professions that have been upended by the COVID-19 crisis, accounting probably isn’t the first one that springs to mind.
But Eli Fathi is here to tell you that just as, say, brick-and-mortar retailers have shifted their focus to online storefronts and fitness studios have pivoted to offering virtual spin classes during the pandemic, professional services firms are also being forced to rethink the way they do business.
Fathi is the CEO of MindBridge Ai, a five-year-old Ottawa fintech firm that’s carved out a compelling market niche with its groundbreaking fraud-detection software. MindBridge’s artificial intelligence platform quickly scans reams of financial documents and detects anomalies to help auditors do their jobs more efficiently.
“The way the audit profession has been (working) the last 20 years is not sustainable in the next 20 years,” Fathi told Techopia on Wednesday. “COVID has just accelerated this in the sense that you have to really do things remotely in the cloud. Having the ability to go to the office and do substantive testing of documents and so on ... does not make sense from a productivity perspective.”
'Makes us more agile'
Now at more than 100 employees and growing, MindBridge continues to build its customer network. This week, the company announced that MNP, one of the country’s top five accounting firms, will start using its technology to perform external audits.
“Utilizing MindBridge makes us more agile, efficient, and able to better serve our clients,” David Danziger, MNP’s senior vice-president of assurance and national leader, public companies, said in a statement. “The MindBridge AI platform saves us time we didn’t know we had.”
That’s exactly the type of enthusiastic reception Fathi is hoping to hear more of.
In many ways, he says, big accounting firms are still stuck in the past, relying on the same techniques to spot financial discrepancies that have been used for generations despite an exponential rise in the flood of data they’re processing.
"Our motto is ‘AI is not going to replace auditors. Auditors that don’t use AI will be replaced by auditors that use AI.’"
“That’s where we bring the technology to the forefront,” he said. “Our motto is ‘AI is not going to replace auditors. Auditors that don’t use AI will be replaced by auditors that use AI.’”
Partnerships like the one with MNP do more than just boost the young company’s bottom line, Fathi added. They also generate valuable street cred and provide more “real-world experience” for the constantly evolving machine learning technology to draw on.
The veteran entrepreneur is no stranger to pioneering tech companies. One of his first C-suite jobs was a four-year stint as CEO of Telexis, a Kanata video-over-IP firm that changed its name to March Networks in 2000. Fathi later co-founded Fluidware, which grew into one of Canada’s leading online survey providers before being acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2014.
New tech frontier
Now, his latest venture has taken the lead role in exploring another new tech frontier.
MindBridge, which has attracted more than $40 million from VC investors, does business in a dozen countries and counts the Bank of England, Payments Canada and a major North American bank among its hundreds of customers. Earlier this year, it expanded its footprint into Europe with the acquisition of a U.K. fintech startup, and the company recently launched a sales and support team in Australia.
The firm has also started capturing a bit of media attention beyond its hometown, earning prominent space in a Forbes blog post this fall.
Still, Eli cautions that MindBridge’s platform is not a “magic bullet,” noting the technology is still in its infancy.
“The process will take years to mature, but you have to start somewhere,” he said. “The things that we want to do additionally on AI will boggle your mind. There is so much more to do.”