Exclusive Interview with Nikhil Kurhe, CEO, Finarkein Analytics


by Analytics Insight

October 11, 2021

Nikhil Kurhe

Finarkein Analytics is a company that started in 2019 with an overarching goal of making dealing with data fun. Nikhil Kurbe is the CEO of Finarkein Analytics and Analytics Insight has engaged in an exclusive interview with him to discuss the complexities of data science. The company has optimized its platform for India’s upcoming open data standards like the Account Aggregator, DigiLocker, and more.

 

1. Kindly brief us about the company, its specialization, and the services that your company offers.

There are plenty of tools and options for data engineering and data science in the experimentation phase. But when it comes to data in production, the existing offerings are clunky, cumbersome, and notoriously difficult to use, not to mention repetitive. We wanted to reimagine this experience from the ground up and create a platform that embraces the chaos and complexities of data science and build the best version possible. Unlike most low/no-code platforms or AI/data science platforms which tend to be opinionated and/or trying to make things very abstracted and simplified, we’ve gone the opposite way. Secondly, unlike the 100s of analytics companies we see out there, we wanted to make sure that the work we do was really impactful. As a result, we’ve really optimized our platform for India’s upcoming open data standards like the Account Aggregator, DigiLocker, and more. I would say that is our specialization as well. Rather than going the way of dumbing things down for developers, we’re providing a sleek highly customizable platform for developers. And for those who want to get their hands really dirty, we have a robust Java SDK as well.  Also, the real value we deliver comes from our offerings that kick in after raw data is available to be processed further on our low/no-code workflow orchestrator.

 

2. With what mission and objectives, the company was set up? In short, tell us about your journey since the inception of the company?

Finarkein was set up in September 2019. Finarkein comes from the Greek root word arkein/autarky which stands for self-reliance/independence.
Financial services were the first sector we set our sights on because the open data standards were coming first to this sector and the fact that financial data is already fairly structured and digitized. The mission remains to make data fun across open data standards. I know this sounds like a cliche, but the thought process we had was that most of the massive problems we see in our times, ranging from financial inclusion to food security to climate change to access to better healthcare are all problems of inefficiency and resource allocation. We believe data analytics plays a critical role to solve these inefficiencies and can make solving some of these challenges at scale economically viable.
The various open digital ecosystems that we’re seeing come up in India are a testament to that, with UPI remaining the quintessential example.

 

Our objectives remain two-fold:

a) Make sure India’s Open Digital Ecosystems are truly accessible for every entrepreneur and builder wishing to build on top of them

b) Provide a robust flywheel around these ODEs with all relevant tools and offerings so that builders don’t have to reinvent the wheel

The progress we’ve made on these fronts has been pretty awesome, but definitely, a lot more still remains to be done. To solve for access, we’ve open-sourced some of our fibers, and more are on the way. This way, if builders are looking for a cheap and efficient way to start experimenting, they can do so with one of our open-source fibers freely such as FIUL.
Secondly, the collection of workflows we have in place over at the factory is already serving some of the largest insurers in India.

 

3. Mention some of the awards, achievements, recognitions, and clients’ feedback that you feel are notable and valuable for the company.

We were a part of ciie.co‘s Financial Inclusion Lab cohort 4, which is backed by the Bharat Inclusion Initiative As a part of the FI Lab, we undertook a series of sessions and learning that helped us understand the pains and challenges the LMI sector in India faces and more importantly, what entrepreneurs are building and solving for in this sector.
Along with that, we are a part of Max Life’s second cohort of their Innovation Labs initiative, enabling them with cutting-edge data capabilities via the Finarkein ecosystem. Our customers are consistently blown away with the capabilities and flexibilities flux is able to provide, cutting across sectors. We are working with a few more insurers, challenger banks, and NBFCs and expect to take them online on various ODEs over the next six months.

 

4. Brief us about the proactive Founder/CEO of the company and his/her contributions towards the company and the industry.

I am the co-founder and CEO of Finarkein Analytics. I have been able to instill a unique culture of building and pushing beyond what is conventional. This reflects in the unique perks I have brought around to how each co-founder plays their role. I also have a knack for public speaking and have a fairly robust network in the BFSI and VC space. Apart from getting Finarkein’s flywheel going, I am a Volunteer Architect in a few of India’s open digital ecosystems such as the Account Aggregator and NDHM. In my capacity as a Volunteer Architect, I actively liaison with the broader industry and various stakeholders, working on community initiatives and outreach along with work on technical specifications and protocols that will shape and change the playing field for most sectors starting with Finance and Health. Like BHIM was to UPI, various reference implementations are in the works for these newer open digital ecosystems and I am one of the volunteers in a few of these projects. I also provide a few community discord servers such as ode.dev for all things open digital ecosystems and the official Sahamati server for the AA space. For every 10 people out there to talk about the big picture and what the future looks like, we need people building and providing practical knowledge to build that future. I am consistently at work trying to build that culture of building in India.

 

5. Tell us how your company is contributing to the IoT/AI/big data analytics/robotics/self-driving vehicles/cloud computing industry of the nation and how the company is benefiting the clients.

We are strong believers in the open core/open-source approach. Especially when dealing with data for sensitive sectors like health and finance, trust is absolutely critical. By having the open core approach, not only can you drive adoption, but also instill trust in your tech.

Existing Indian companies dealing with big data have either just concluded or are in the middle of their pandemic-induced digital revamp. With it, a substantial amount of data is moving to the cloud even if it’s in plain S3 buckets, it is miles better compared to the legacy tech stack they are replacing. As a result, we feel we’re at an inflection point, where the playing field is fairly even for analytics vendors big and small to step in to provide their solutions where applicable.

Where Finarkein has been able to differentiate is that unlike other vendors offering black box deliverables with a hard build or buy choice, we’re offering a unique middle path. We’re also actively building a robust developer community and bringing them along. There’s a massive talent crunch but we feel the gap is actually in skilling. Creating an active developer community and empowering them to build is something we feel benefits the industry at large.

 

6. Kindly share your point of view on the current scenario of big data analytics and its future.

When it comes to big data analytics, if you look at the data value chain, it is fairly fragmented. From data collection, ingestion, and storage to transformation/querying and processing to modeling/analysis and finally output, you have a few hundred choices.
Not all of this gel together well and you still need significant efforts to glue a lot of frameworks together. Add to the fact that you have this new wave of open data standards, and you are facing a new deluge yet again.
We’re already seeing a massive explosion of developer and data ops tools that narrow down on a very specific problem such as data lifecycle management, feature stores, and even domain-specific projects similar to hugging face going quite mainstream.

The future I would say belongs to data ops. We’re seeing some amazing tools that focus on making data science collaborative for instance, which makes so much sense!
Other tools and platforms are already rebounding some of the new data ops niche tools. And more importantly, big tech hasn’t been able to keep up, which makes me optimistic. We are moving towards a largely decentralized future, and India’s approach in fact really will enable a frog leap for us to skip directly to use cases, which is why the Finarkein team is extremely bullish on Indian tech companies being global trendsetters in a post ODEs world.

 

7. What is your biggest USP that differentiates the company from competitors?

We believe that in India, Finarkein’s competitors are the companies who are either in stealth/building now or are yet to come around. From the incumbents, we just don’t see how they can compete with the breadth of offerings we have without significantly reworking their core DNA. Most incumbents building around open data standards have picked a vertical. That is to say that while access to data is being democratized, our competition claims to provide the best insights/analytics/offerings on top of this open data. Thanks to systems like Account Aggregator, the data silo advantage largely doesn’t exist.

However, with Finarkein’s extremely horizontal play, incumbents would either have to move to non-core sectors like health, drone data, documents, etc., or build out a completely different piece that is non-core to what they’ve been doing. Most competitors currently are funded startups who have to choose between growth on their current tracks’ vs a significant Capex and time cycle to catch up with what Finarkein has been building over the years.
For us, the premise had been everything data. That is our strength and that is what we’re sticking to. As a result, not only is our offering top-notch in the data space, for our competition, we’ve shifted the goalposts.

 

8. Please brief us about the products/services/solutions you provide to your customers and how do they get value out of it

Within the Finarkein ecosystem, we have three active offerings today:

a)Fibers: These are connectors to various data sources including traditional file systems and DBs and also current and upcoming open digital ecosystems like the National Digital Health Mission, Account Aggregator, DigiLocker, and more. We’ll be open-sourcing a fair bit of our fibers and already have done so with FIUL. You can search for it on Github. It is an Account Aggregator agnostic fiber that can fetch data from all AAs.

b)Flux: Flux is our low/no-code workflow orchestrator platform that leverages data from various fibers, allows builders to build extensive and highly detailed workflows, and calls these workflows APIs. The backbone on which flux is built is enterprise and production-ready and as such provides a scalable and production-ready solution from day zero. We also satisfy all relevant audit and compliance guidelines when it comes to dealing with data for regulated entities.

c) Factory: The factory is a collection of workflows that we have built using Fibers and Flux. This includes something fairly simple such as income verification to some quite extensive like an early warning system for collections, health data predictors and modelers, etc.

 

9. What are your growth plans for the next 12 months?

We’re expecting to double the team size within the next six months to deal with the incoming deluge of customers. More importantly, though, a lot of our long shots that we had in the works are poised to pay off in the coming months.

Finarkein is committed to bringing critical mass to India’s open digital ecosystems. Our dual approach of pushing the envelope beyond banking and lending is paying dividends with Finarkein bringing in the industry’s first set of insurers on the AA ecosystem, thus also bringing forth true cross vertical use cases and open finance in spirit.

While it seems for the moment, COVID is giving us some breathing space, enterprises have indeed adapted to the new normal and understand the role technology plays. Larger multi-year Capex plays are here again on the back of bounce-back quarters. As such, Finarkein has the right tech at the right time with the right team to capture a significant market share as an early mover and we intend to do just that in the coming months.

 

10. How is your company helping customers deliver relevant business outcomes through the adoption of the company’s technology innovations?

Proven business use cases, set benchmarks, even uniform pricing for that matter, just doesn’t exist in ODEs like Account Aggregator ecosystem yet. While we’ve had the public launch on the 2nd of September, it’s still very much a grey area. Businesses, especially Indian BFSI, don’t like this uncertainty. There are a few strong voices from some of the more innovative companies who want to be leaders and early adopters, but at the end of the day, you have a business to run with a P&L statement to manage.

As such, our approach with fibers, flux and factory provides the perfect combination in these uncertain times. The ability to rapidly experiment, iterate and prototype via Flux enables our customers to go from idea to production in unmatched times. Every workflow that is built is usually tied to a business use case or two. We’ve seen flux workflow being used not only to deliver on these use cases but also to track KPIs around these use cases.

Our customers are also realizing that our fibers cut across data sources beyond ODEs like AA. With the advent of digital transformation strategies being executed and data lakes being built, the early taste of flux combined with our highly competitive pricing is enabling us to branch out within organizations as internal teams are realizing the Finarkein advantage.

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