Top Women Leaders in Wealth Management Winner Dr. Sindhu Joseph Tells Her Story of Bringing AI to Fintech and Explains the Strength of Academic Leadership in Wealth Management
If you plan to start a business, would you hire a Ph.D. or an MBA? If you respond that the MBA is the better choice, you could miss some very qualified candidates.
Though the ivory towers of academia often stand in a different world from the glass canyons of downtown business centers, finding a Ph.D. with a background related to a firm’s product or service can work well – If you find the right person.
WSR Pathfinder Awards – Top Women Leaders in Wealth Management winner Dr. Sindhu Joseph, with a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence (AI), demonstrates what academic leadership looks like in the fintech world as she helms the company she co-founded using her own patents: fintech services provider CogniCor.
As CogniCor’s Co-Founder and CEO, Joseph drove growth of the company to serve over 40,000 advisors logging over 5 million client interactions with the firm’s digital assistant. She counts Fortune 500 companies such as Allianz Life and LPL Financial among her clients.
We caught up with Joseph to learn how she moved from academia to wealth management, the strengths of a Ph.D. in the business world and advice for women in academia who are considering a move into fintech generally, and wealthtech specifically.
WSR: At what point in your artificial intelligence studies did you know you wanted to apply it to wealth management? Can you tell us the thought process that led you there?
Joseph: While completing my Ph.D., we started to see significant disruption within the financial services industry by fintech startups as well as giant technology firms like Amazon and Google. When disruption happens, there’s typically a breeding ground for innovation.
Based on my research, I knew that this technology could streamline and automate operations within this space and felt confident that our approach would provide value.
I saw this firsthand when I came to the United States and started the inefficient and redundant process of establishing my financial profile. I spent hours providing my personal information only to repeat it when completing paperwork.
All of this validated my belief that a seamless and universal AI-enabled solution for this industry could drive significant efficacies and enhance the client and advisor user-experience.
WSR: What was it like moving from academia to business? What are the advantages to having a Ph.D. that you believe make you a more effective CEO, and what skills did you have to bolster when you entered the world of tech start-ups?
Joseph: My Ph.D. in AI is one of my best currencies when marketing CogniCor as a solution for the financial services industry. AI is still relatively new to the sector but rightly considered the path forward. While everyone seems to be chasing the next great trend, I possess the technical background and experience to quickly identify how AI can be a viable solution.
Over time, my approach has proven to be one of the best to add value to the industry, and that is because of the rigorous research and development I completed during my Ph.D. program.
The passion, perseverance and resilience necessary to identify and defend a Ph.D. thesis lend themselves well to the startup world. And while there are many things I needed to learn quickly when I started this company, the mindset of an academic helped me approach these gaps as a problem that could be solved.
WSR: If you were speaking to a female scientist interested in fintech, what advice would you give?
Joseph: Academic and business worlds tend to be siloed, but there is significant value for both worlds to co-exist and work together. There is a lack of representation of highly trained academics in the business world, which should change.
Applying the knowledge of academia to the development of business solutions could lead to meaningful advances for all industries, especially in highly technical areas like AI. This kind of collaboration will yield better results for all sides.
But this is much easier said than done, particularly when considering technologies that have yet to prove their applied value within a sector. Funders want to see a quick path toward unicorns, while academics need time and funding to bring deep tech to market. After all, there are only so many Elon Musks to fund life-changing vision.
Finally, the industry and the academic world need more women, people of color and other underrepresented groups within their ranks. Bringing in people with different experiences enhances the innovation process and should be encouraged at all levels.
Julius Buchanan, Senior Contributing Editor at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org