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I’ve spent over a decade in the finance industry. In my time, I’ve seen how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can view the traditional method of getting a business loan as a lengthy, complicated process involving masses of paperwork.

There was a trend emerging in the financial industry for self-serving customers and alternative banking. We saw friends use credit cards and overdrafts because of the fear they had of applying for business loans. To us, this made little sense. It shouldn’t be easier to get a credit card than a business loan. People shouldn’t be nervous or scared about borrowing for business needs.

This is why we – co-founders Lucy Hasson, Richard Kerton, and myself – formed Esme Loans. We originated out of the NatWest Innovation Cell and are a digital lending platform that allows SMBs to simply and quickly obtain unsecured loans of between £10,000 and 150,000, which can be borrowed for up to five years.

Since Esme’s inception in February 2017, we have gone from strength to strength, helping hundreds of SMBs to successfully manage and grow their unique businesses. We have approved more than £80 million of lending to UK businesses since our launch.

However, it’s not enough to disrupt an industry and then sit back. Your competitors are always there waiting to overtake you. We’re operating in an increasingly rapidly changing environment. Consumer needs and expectations are rapidly evolving to match, especially with the changes technology has bought to the market. Therefore, you must keep finding ways to improve your business and stay ahead. Today, this means harnessing technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Helping businesses stay agile with AI

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Because Esme is a wholly digital business with no physical branches, we have lower costs, which means we can pass on these savings to customers.

“We have no early repayment charges, no set up fees, and no hidden costs. Because we’re underwritten by NatWest, we can combine our flexibility with the reassurance of a high-street bank,” says Richard Kerton, Esme’s CEO and co-founder.

We think giving businesses the cash they need quickly is important: it helps them to be agile in a fast-moving world. Therefore, we give customers rapid decisions on their loan applications. If the application is successful, businesses can have access to the money within the hour. Our fastest loan―from application through to the money being deposited―currently stands at 29 minutes. This is something that’s unheard of in traditional business lending.

We believe we can make this process even quicker using AI – we know how important fast access to funds are for SMBs. By using AI to analyse data in real-time, the loans process will become streamlined. This means SMBs will get faster and smarter decisions and they’ll be able to innovate and grow faster.

Using AI to improve our customer experience

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Our aim is to provide the best experience to customers. To deliver this, we decided to partner with Microsoft to build a cloud data warehouse. Not only does this mean we benefit from time and cost savings that we can pass on to our customers, but it means we can take advantage of AI and machine learning.

AI will not only create a faster, more seamless loan process. It will also help us augment our data to ensure a best-in-class solution for our customers.

We now have the capabilities to use machine learning and natural language processing to build a chatbot for our website. This chatbot will answer common questions or help customers at critical points during the loan process.

Using a chatbot will also free up our employee’s time – instead of answering commonly asked questions, they can concentrate on ensuring customers gets a personal experience each time they reach out to us.

Using technology to attract customers

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Like most businesses these days, we use analytics and insights to ensure we’re effectively communicating to our customers at their point of need.

By building our foundation in the cloud, we’ll be able to provide our employees with real-time access to data analytics across the business using Power BI anytime, anywhere. The more data and insights we receive, the more effective we can be in marketing to SMBs. We can tailor and personalise our communications better and respond in a more agile way.

This will empower teams at Esme to make strategic decisions supported by a strong and centrally maintained business intelligence ecosystem. This ecosystem will be a single source of the truth that teams can use to support their own departmental growth strategies.

The future is bright

This is just the start for Esme. As we continue working in the cloud, we will be able to adopt new technology as it emerges. And by using the power of AI and data, we’re focused on using that technology to drive better customer experiences and help SMBs get access to the funds they need quicker and easier than before.

About the author

Veronika Lovett

Veronika Lovett is a Co-Founder and a Chief Marketing Officer at Esme Loans. She has more than a decade of transactional experience in leveraged, acquisition and asset backed lending, predominantly in the mid-cap spectrum. She also has experience in start-ups in financial services.