Coming soon: An app to answer all of your dreaded budgeting questions

Tina WadhwaThe Clinc Team

A team of computer science professors at the University of Michigan are trying to change the way we manage money.

Clinc, a startup that was one of the companies to win “Best in Show” at Finovate last Friday, was born out of a research lab, by programmers taking an entirely different approach.

“Clinc is a company we created with the mission of taking the best science and technology from academia, from our research lab, and creating real solutions for humans,” said founder and CEO Jason Mars, who is a professor of computer science and engineering at the university.

Clinc can be described as a sort of Siri for your bank account, and the app features a financial genie aptly named, “Fini,” which has a sophisticated understanding of natural language.

“You can talk to it like it’s a person,” said Mars. “It’s different to other chat bots out on the market right now in that the user doesn’t have to remember specific ways to ask questions or speak any key words.”

They use a data driven, deep learning algorithm versus the usual rule based approach. “We’ve never taught this thing a single rule,” said Mars. “We’ve trained it with experience and examples.”

The programming professors built from scratch five distinct artificial intelligence engines using completely neural network technologies. A neural network is a system of hardware and/or software patterned after the operation of neurons in the human brain.

Clinc’s mission is to give people the tools to understand their financial story in a really easy way. For example, you can ask Fini what your spending looks like this year so far, and she breaks it down complete with graphs and pie charts broken into categories. You can ask her to show a breakdown of your travel spending, and a few seconds later she’ll come back with the numbers, broken up into hotels, taxi’s, flights and the like.

I was intrigued, so I went and tried it out at their booth after the demo. I asked it things like, “How much did I spend on sushi this year?”
And then the dreaded question, “How much am I spending on Ubers?”

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know the answer to these questions, but I figured my bank account would thank me.

You can also take it one step further and ask it questions like, “Can I spend $300 on a nice dinner tonight?” Fini analyses your historical restaurant spending and auto generates a budget based on your own history.

Or, if you want to remember the name of a great restaurant you went to on your trip to Italy last summer, she can show you all of the restaurant transactions from that trip, from one year ago.

She can also do various admin tasks like transfer money between accounts and send payments to friends.

The startup officially launched on Friday at the Finovate conference.

It’s a B2B business model, and they are looking to sell to banks like Chase or Bank of America who want to deliver Fini to customers through their banking apps.

“Financial institutions can’t do this on their own,” said Mars. “They’re not tech companies. But that’s why we’re here.”

Clinc was a hit at Finovate Fall, which featured a who’s who of the financial technology world. Over two days, 72 startups each got seven minutes to demo their ideas to banks, investors, and potential customers. Slides weren’t allowed.

Instead, each startup had to show how to use their product in real-time, to an audience of over 1500. Pretty much every bank, consulting company and payments company was there, looking to scope out the competition and keep their fingers on the pulse of technology.

While there are a lot of other startups looking at integrating chatbots and artificial learning technology into banking apps, this university startup could be onto something new with this sort of natural language recognition.

“Academics come at it from a different angle,” said Greg Palmer, VP of Finovate and the Master of Ceremony at Finovate Fall 2016 in New York. “In a data heavy industry, they can spot the holes that exist.”


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