Shang­hai startup Tiger­obo sees ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence as the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy of the fu­ture. CEO Alex Chen Ye tells Edith Lu he’s confident Hong Kong is the right plat­form to take the group for­ward in the fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy world.

China Daily (USA) - - HONG KONG - Contact the writer at edithlu@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Alex Chen Ye stands out, as usual, in a sea of sober-suited pro­fes­sion­als and en­trepreneurs at an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) fo­rum in his un­pre­ten­tious T-shirt and sweat­pants com­bi­na­tion.

It’s his per­sonal style when­ever he ap­pears in pub­lic, ex­plains a col­league of his.

Like­wise, Chen also keeps a low pro­file but be­ing strong­minded in the work­place. The for­mer se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of ad­ver­tise­ment at Bei­jing-based Meituan-Dian­ping last year left the on-de­mand on­line ser­vice giant, which just listed in Hong Kong, and jumped onto the fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy band­wagon. In mid-2017, just months af­ter he quit, Chen founded Tiger­obo, an AI-based fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion search engine head­quar­tered in Shang­hai.

AI tech­nol­ogy has made big strides like never be­fore and boomed last year, with Chi­nese main­land in­ter­net giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent launch­ing their re­spec­tive strate­gies in the field.

Chen and his part­ner John Canny — a com­puter sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley — were ex­cited to see the ad­vance of AI in China, partly driven by the devel­op­ment of deep learn­ing — a set of tech­niques that are able to pre­dict ac­cu­rately af­ter be­ing mar­ried with large amounts of data.

“Deep learn­ing en­ables many AI tasks to reach their in­flec­tion point and be us­able,” says Chen.

Hav­ing been com­mit­ted to the AI field for years, Chen and Canny pic­tured quite a few AI ap­pli­ca­tions and fi­nally de­cided to move for­ward in the fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion sec­tor.

The mar­riage of AI and fi­nance usu­ally leads to three di­rec­tions — robo-ad­viser, smart cus­tomer ser­vice, and in­tel­li­gent search. Among them, robo-ad­viser has gained most fa­vor, known as the Al­phaGo in the in­vest­ment world. And smart cus­tomer ser­vice is de­vel­oped vig­or­ously by ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions such as Ping An In­sur­ance Group.

How­ever, Chen’s eyes were on in­tel­li­gent search, see­ing it as an un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy.

In­tel­li­gent search is com­monly based on one el­e­ment — text lan­guage. With AI, it has al­ready been demon­strated that im­ages can help on se­cu­rity, while lan­guage can be ap­plied to user in­ter­ac­tion. Af­ter­wards, Chen deemed it’s the right time for text lan­guage boost, such as text pro­cess­ing and nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing (NLP).

NLP is a field that AI teaches com­put­ers to un­der­stand hu­man writ­ten lan­guage. It’s be­ing widely de­vel­oped and used by search engine com­pa­nies like Google and Mi­crosoft to com­pre­hend their users.

“The mar­ket for text pro­cess­ing and NLP will be many times big­ger once they find a busi­ness model be­cause the ma­jor­ity of hu­man knowl­edge ex­ists in terms of text,” Chen reck­ons.

Tiger­obo aims to be the “Google” in the fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion search field. Com­pared to tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion provider Bloomberg and Reuters, Tiger­obo strives to of­fer sim­pler and more direct ex­pe­ri­ence.

With the com­pany’s prod­ucts, users only need to ask with a sin­gle com­plete sen­tence in­stead of in­putting com­mands or key words.

Chen cites one of the func­tions — stock se­lec­tion, which is part of robo-ad­vi­sor’s job. If you ask: “Which stock per­formed well in the past three years with a low P/E ra­tio and ro­bust earn­ings?,” the search engine will help you pick some el­i­gi­ble stocks in one sec­ond.

“We chose to start with some­thing re­lated to text pro­cess­ing and lan­guage com­pre­hen­sion, as they are so fun­da­men­tal that can be ap­plied to other ar­eas eas­ily,” says Chen. “If we would like to try some­thing else in fu­ture, it’ll make the trans­for­ma­tion smoother.”

Tiger­obo has so far re­leased four prod­ucts for its clients, cov­er­ing banks, funds and se­cu­ri­ties traders, to meet cus­tomers’ dif­fer­ent needs.

The ser­vices pro­vided in­clude cor­po­rate in­for­ma­tion, in­dus­trial re­search, mar­ket anal­y­sis, pub­lic opin­ion mon­i­tor­ing and some pre­dic­tions. In­ter­nal en­ter­prise search is also ac­ces­si­ble for those databased com­pa­nies by or­ga­niz­ing and struc­tur­ing huge amounts of data that the clients bought, but found no way to in­te­grate.

Mean­while, the only prod­uct cur­rently avail­able for re­tail clients is a WeChat ap­pli­ca­tion named “prospec­tus”, which mon­i­tors Chi­nese com­pa­nies that are about to go pub­lic in all mar­kets.

“The sys­tem can de­tect a com­pany’s prospec­tus just one minute af­ter it’s sub­mit­ted on­line, fetch fig­ures and key points from hun­dreds of pages, and then gen­er­ate a piece of short news au­to­mat­i­cally,” Chen ex­plains.

He says they’re also work­ing on a prod­uct trans­lat­ing long­form fi­nan­cial sto­ries by for­eign me­dia into short pieces in Chi­nese. Sources and orig­i­nal links will be pro­vided.

The startup com­pleted its Pre-A round fi­nanc­ing of more than 100 mil­lion yuan ($16 mil­lion), led by NWS Hold­ings and Gaorong Cap­i­tal, in June this year. Sun Hun Kai & Com­pany also took part in the fundrais­ing.

Chen says the new funds will be used in three fronts — man­power, data­base pur­chase, as well as mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion.

Be­sides an ex­ist­ing re­search and devel­op­ment cen­ter in Shang­hai, Tiger­obo is sched­uled to set up an­other two R&D cen­ters — in Bei­jing and Sil­i­con Val­ley in the United States.

At the same time, con­sid­er­ing al­most half of Tiger­obo’s busi­ness clients are based in Hong Kong, the com­pany aims to build up a team in the city to take charge of ser­vices be­fore and af­ter sales.

“Busi­ness clients in Hong Kong are more will­ing to pay for the ser­vices as the de­mand in the city is stronger. We help them on as­set dig­i­tal­iza­tion and con­sumer en­gage­ment, so it’s easy to gain from this part,” says Chen.

Just the same as a tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion ter­mi­nal, users need to pay a yearly sub­scrip­tion fee to en­joy the ser­vice, but at a much lower price, plus a de­ploy­ment fee in the be­gin­ning.

Af­ter at­tract­ing a school of loyal clients, Tiger­obo could also co­op­er­ate with cer­tain re­lated plat­forms, con­vert on­line traf­fic to those plat­forms and mon­e­tize from it, Chen adds.

The en­tre­pre­neur is eye­ing a Series A fund­ing round as soon as within half a year. As for a list­ing, he ad­mits it has to wait to see the progress of its prod­ucts, as well as mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties, but he prefers for­eign cap­i­tal mar­kets.

“The mar­ket is so fresh that our fo­cus will be on how to at­tract more users at present.”

Ed­i­tor’s note: This is an ex­tract from The Gov­ern­ing Prin­ci­ples of An­cient China, based on 360 pas­sages ex­cerpted from the orig­i­nal com­pi­la­tion ti­tled Qun­shu Zhiyao, or The Com­pi­la­tion of Books and Writ­ings on Im­por­tant Gov­ern­ing Prin­ci­ples. Com­mis­sioned by Em­peror Tang Taizong of the Tang Dy­nasty in the sev­enth cen­tury, the book con­tains ad­vice, meth­ods and his­tor­i­cal notes on the suc­cesses and fail­ures of the im­pe­rial gov­ern­ments of China. To­day it con­tin­ues to be rel­e­vant as a source of in­spi­ra­tion for self-im­prove­ment, fam­ily man­age­ment and in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tions.

PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY

Alex Chen Ye, founder of Tiger­obo, says he’ll ded­i­cate ef­forts to im­prov­ing the AI-based startup to be the “Google” in the fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion search field.

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