With over twenty years of expertise in finance, digital technology, and innovations, Georgy Babilashvili wears the hats of a digital entrepreneur and startup co-founder. His recent ventures include the founding of Silverbird, a cutting-edge UK fintech company situated in London. In this Interview with TechBullion, Georgy Babilashvili shares how Silverbird is trailblazing the field with data-driven KYC/AML profiling, empowering cross-border SMEs and transforming them into financially viable entities. In a mere three years, the company has achieved nearly 1 billion USD in payment flows, propelling their valuation to 61 million USD.
What is Silverbird, could you give us a walkthrough of the platform and the unique features and solutions you provide?
Silverbird is a global digital payment platform, working exclusively with SMEs doing cross-border trade. Our online banking solutions are crafted specifically for their needs, offering a powerhouse of features — think seamless support for hefty international transfers, unbeatable FX rates, access to global business accounts, and the convenience of local EU/UK bank details. We’re not just facilitating transactions, we’re empowering businesses to thrive on a global scale.
We are at the forefront of incorporating global customs and supply chain datasets into our operations. Also, by harnessing the power of social media profiling, we’ve taken a substantial leap in enhancing our Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) technologies. Our strategy involves deploying resources on a global scale for data scraping and implementing advanced Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence tools. This concerted effort is aimed at achieving scalable, real-time multi-factor adaptive customer risk profiling.
This innovative approach is pivotal in making financial services easily accessible to international SMEs. In the past, traditional banks hesitated to cater to this crucial segment, rejecting a staggering 80-90% of applications from SMEs engaged in cross-border trade. In stark contrast, Silverbird stands as a beacon of empowerment for these businesses, actively nurturing their growth and playing a pivotal role in spurring economic development.
Could you give us an overview of the business banking market, trends shaping this industry and why a platform like Silverbird is in demand?
The business banking market is undergoing dynamic shifts with digitalisation at its core. Trends like increased reliance on online transactions, demand for flexible and efficient international payment solutions, and the growing importance of data-driven insights are shaping the industry.
In this landscape, SMEs face hurdles when it comes to cross-border payments and banking. Traditional banks often shy away from opening accounts for them. Silverbird is the lifeline for SMEs in over 100 countries, stretching from the UK and EU to vibrant hubs like Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, India, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and beyond.
What sets us apart? Our global empathy, embedded in every practice. At Silverbird, championing global empathy is more than a mission — it’s our essence, transforming the banking sphere into a place where understanding knows no borders.
What does Silverbird’s compliance team look like? (key roles and structure) How have you achieved this?
We have more than 20 people in the compliance team which we built systematically over the last 3 years. The structure is very standard for financial organisations, as we follow regulator guidelines. At the same time, we invested a lot into training the team to learn our tools and approaches, designed to work with SMEs doing cross-border business. They are not generalists (like at some other banks) but real specialists who understand how to work with export and import specifics.
The main pain point for many clients is that banks ask for too many documents and often ask questions which are not relevant to this client. This distracts clients from doing business. Our team knows how to verify client activity through independent sources without overloading clients with too many document requests. This significantly streamlines the payment process for clients, and they appreciate it.
Also, I believe that remote working gives us an opportunity to benefit from high-calibre talent at lower-cost locations. Following the pandemic, as companies embraced remote work on a massive scale, the trend of seeking senior professionals in various geographies has gained momentum.⠀I think that employees start to assume a lot more responsibility and show self-drive when working remotely. It does not apply to all, but if people have such a predisposition to work independently, have sufficient experience, and start showing it sooner rather than later, a company clearly benefits from it.
At the same time, there are still team members who need more guidance, and remote work can be a challenge for them, especially for more junior roles. To overcome this challenge, we set clear expectations and communicate more regularly, checking progress and giving guidance.
How does the compliance process improvement influence Silverbird’s growth?
Our data-driven approach, supported by ML and AI, allows our business to verify and make clients bankable from almost any country in the world. This propels our growth. At the same time, it gives access to financial services to clients who were previously underbanked.
What do you see as the most dangerous compliance risks when it comes to a fintech product?
Many traditional banks still use legacy approaches to check businesses. Specifically, they request clients to provide invoices and contracts to understand the nature of their business and rely mainly on these documents. If they face an applicant who is trying to commit financial crime, chances are very high that this applicant will send fake invoices and contracts. We, instead, rely on data from independent sources: we have access to datasets which show client activity verified by third parties. It improves the fight against fincrime, and at the same time we don’t disturb clients with too many requests.
Does Silverbird use AI in compliance decisions, and if so, how?
Yes. We deploy ML and AI to help build risk profiles of potential clients and equally to monitor transactions.
Silverbird has recently partnered with Resistant AI. What do you expect from this partnership?
We use a number of tools to verify different aspects of our clients. Resistant AI is a great instrument which helps to identify forged documents and enhance our risk profiling a lot. With the help of Resistant AI we have created a serious barrier for bad actors to pass compliance checks.
What are your predictions on the future of product compliance in fintech?
With so much information available in open sources and commercial databases, compliance will be growing more and more data-driven, improving the speed and quality of checks.
What are you currently working on at Silverbird, do you have any available opportunities for investors and partnerships?
We systematically follow the plans set three years ago. We’ve identified and consolidated multiple datasets that enable us to independently verify companies in 230 countries. ML and AI tools have been deployed to enhance our KYC/AML technologies. Simultaneously, we’ve established a payment infrastructure that facilitates onboarding clients from over 100 countries, enabling payments to 200+ countries, and supporting 35+ currencies.
Looking forward, we maintain ambitious plans. We’ll continue expanding the use of ML and AI to risk-profile prospective clients and monitor payments. While AI won’t entirely replace human decision-making, it should significantly improve the speed and quality of KYC/AML verification, allowing us to onboard 30-40 times more clients without a significant increase in AML teams. We’ll persist in seeking new data sources to enrich profiling with additional analytical dimensions.
Concerning the payment infrastructure, our goal is to find new partners to offer more product features, including FX forwards to hedge currency exposure for our clients, trade finance essential for export and import businesses, and more. Ultimately, we aim to be a one-stop-shop for any financial service international trade requires.
Our existing client base has made us self-sustaining, but we will actively attract investments to dynamically expand our product offerings and the markets we serve.