Building better business finance: Engineering Aion Financial Technologies

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Interview with Head of Engineering of Aion Financial Technologies about building SME finance platforms with the help of AI.

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Technological advancements continue to change the business finance landscape. Banking as a Service (BaaS) has created new opportunities for banking innovation and the seamless integration of additional financial software solutions. Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) are paving the way for automation that couldn’t exist previously.

In this article, we hear from Deepesh Sunku, head of engineering and co-founder of the San Francisco-based fintech, Aion. Aion was established in 2017 as an all-in-one modern finance platform for businesses. Aion makes it easy for companies to manage their finances, unlock capital from their assets, and get back to building their business. Bringing together convenient online banking, intelligent financial software, and cost-effective capital, Aion is setting itself up as the financial partner of the future for small and medium-sized businesses to fuel their growth. 

 

Deepesh Sunku Background 


Deepesh graduated from RNS Institute of Technology in Bangalore, India, with a Bachelor of Engineering, Electronics, and Communications Engineering degree. He then went on to receive a Master’s degree in Telecommunications Management from the University of Maryland, graduating in 2012. It was at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the University of Maryland’s business school, that Deepesh first gained experience as an early-stage entrepreneur.  


 

Tell us a bit about your career history prior to Aion Finance? 

Prior to joining Aion I had a variety of engineering roles, primarily building software solutions in the social media marketing and healthcare spaces, and for federal agencies. My fintech journey first began with founding a peer-to-peer payments platform called “WalletBuddies”. This was my first foray into the fintech world. Based on the ACH payment rails, we auto-pooled funds from different sources and made payouts on a schedule set by the user. While we decided not to commercialize the product, it was a great learning experience for me to understand the banking space and kickstarted my career in fintech engineering. 

It was in the engineering space that I first worked with Satish Palvai. Not long after, Satish founded Aion and asked me to join him on the journey to empower small and medium-sized businesses with an intelligent, easy-to-use finance platform. 

 

What led you to the decision to run engineering at Aion?

When Satish asked me to join him as a co-founder and head of engineering at Aion I jumped at the opportunity. Satish and I worked extremely well together and shared a passion for streamlining manual, cumbersome financial operations. We found some core challenges businesses were facing: 

  • 82% of businesses face cashflow gaps 
  • 60% of owners don't feel confident managing their finances 
  • 25% use redundant software products and   
  • it’s a trillion dollar market 

 

There was a real opportunity to make a difference for small- and medium-sized businesses. And we were eager to do just that. 

How have you grown as a professional over your time at Aion?

Building a fintech business is tough. You’re essentially starting with a blank canvas and working to create something that hasn't been done before – and, like all startups, with limited resources. Working in this kind of environment means you have to blend >

  • creativity 
  • problem-solving 
  • out-of-the box thinking and 
  • patience 

Fintech, specifically, adds another layer: Compliance. It is critical that compliance and security are top-of-mind for the entire team – from engineering to sales. Everyone must be highly familiar with compliance, fraud risks, and banking regulations. 

In previous startups, it was easy to get things done quickly. If we had an idea that made sense, we would build it and learn along the way. Fintech is different.

We need to carefully consider compliance at every step and ensure nothing we are doing poses any risk. We are working with businesses’ finances, so everything has to be done right the first time. This experience has been invaluable, especially in communicating with other technical team members about the importance of regulation and the processes we need to follow to remain compliant. This is so important for our continued success as I build and grow the engineering side of the company.

Given all the compliance requirements and the banking regulations - how do you feel about security?

Security is critical when there are so many bad actors out there trying to get around our systems. We do regular penetration testing and all of our systems are set up with the appropriate industry standards to ensure we are fully compliant. We're also in the process of having our software validated by third parties, such as SOC2. We are constantly building Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and other intelligent processes to make sure we remain compliant with everything we do. Security, of course, is an ongoing process – we’re regularly following industry best practices to stay ahead. 

What is one key thing you’ve learned in your career?

It's crucial to be a team player. Success at work comes from developing as a team. You may have responsibilities of your own, but group success is what drives the business forward. Big projects need more than one perspective to succeed. If you regularly work alone, you may discover that what seemed best in a vacuum isn’t really successful in the long run. Collaboration is good for both personal growth and product development.

How do you manage the age-old tension between evolving customer needs and the realities of development? 

Over time we have fine-tuned our internal processes. Through careful planning, retroactive discussions, and ongoing open lines of communication, we try to be more proactive than reactive. If you become reactive, it means you can start falling behind on the business needs. Overall it’s a very delicate balance. It’s important that all of the work we are doing is being connected back to our larger business goals. Our current process ensures our business goals are at the core of everything we do. Our team is agile and able to quickly ship new features. This keeps both the business development and engineering teams aligned and happy. 

How are you approaching AI within the Aion Platform

When you're building AI systems, you have to assess what features in a piece of data contribute to establishing a pattern in the data set. We then ask how to train that AI model to detect the anomalies. The hardest part is having access to a clean data set that has been trained. This is great in theory, but also involves a lot of human intervention. Platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS) are providing more and more free, open-source data models, so it is becoming easier to solve certain problems. For our particular business, financial fraud is always a concern, so we are constantly using AI tools to improve the monitoring and early detection of transactions in real-time. It’s a constantly evolving area that we are actively embracing. 

If you could give another head of engineering one piece of advice, especially in the startup phase, what would that be?

The speed of iteration and experimentation are crucial to creating software products that users will love. With highly regulated industries, put compliance at the forefront of everything you’re doing. Otherwise, do not let bureaucracy and unnecessary processes get in the way. 

What is one of your biggest accomplishments?

Being part of the founding team at Aion and creating the platform from scratch. We started with no customers – just the mission of building an all-in-one financial platform for small and medium-sized businesses. One of my biggest accomplishments is playing an instrumental role in making that mission a reality. When we first started Aion, I was a team of one responsible for:

  • creating the architecture for the platform – setting up our cloud-based tech stack 
  • writing the first line of code with no other engineering resources and 
  • launching our MVP via an iOS app to carefully selected customers. 

 

From here, we iterated over time, with feedback from customers and partners alike. I grew our engineering team to 7 people across the globe, and we created a new robust platform with both mobile and web-facing apps. We added AI tools, and an API-driven microservices platform that is capable of servicing hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in the US. This aspect has been really fulfilling and there's so much more to do. It’s satisfying to look at the numbers and realize we have more than $50 million worth of invoices being processed and we’ve provided over $90 million in working capital for small and medium-sized businesses. There is so much more to do, as we have barely touched the surface. 

So what's your vision for the future of Aion? 

To build smart, scalable self-serve software that will expand to other industries and serve a wide range of small and medium-sized businesses. We are working towards an all-in-one financial software suite that provides a robust banking solution, working capital, all driven by AI/Machine Learning (ML) at a low cost of ownership. As head of engineering I want to continue to invest in the latest technologies to provide unparalleled automation across finance operations. I want us to build intelligent systems and processes to eliminate the complexity of various siloed systems, reducing fraud, and providing exceptional user experience that delights customers.

How do you see Aion playing a role in the fintech landscape in 5 years? 10 years?

We plan to be at the forefront of bundling financial products and services, as a true all in one platform that can serve any business size. Our target is to be the leader in providing transparent financial products while still staying digitally native. We are also planning to make available open source projects, especially in compliance, fraud, banking, and lending, and to lift the standard for user experience in the B2B fintech space.

Where do you see emerging technology in fintech over the next 10 years? 

One of the technologies that comes to mind for me is web 3.0. Driving decentralized financial solutions, having real-time settlements by blockchain. AI and ML and deep learning will continue to play a big role in tackling fraud and automation. Ultimately, having digitally native banks, crypto-based lending, no-code or low-code financial applications. All these technologies are already here – but the biggest challenge will be the regulators and the process of supporting/replacing the existing systems.
 

Interview by Tim Lea

Contacting Aion 

If you would like to know more about Aion, reach out to the team.  

Website address : https://www.aionfi.com/about

LinkedIn page : https://www.linkedin.com/company/aionfi/

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