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SoftBank-backed unicorn OakNorth wants to be the Intel for banking

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Fintech has revolutionised traditional banking. Photo: Arne Dedert/DPA/AFP/Getty Images

OakNorth, the startup bank valued at $2.3bn (£1.7bn), plans to fuel its growth by licensing its loan underwriting technology to other banks around the world, its chief financial officer has said.

In the next 10 years we expect we’re going to be enabling other banks and lenders to lend across the world,” Cristina Alba Ochoa told the audience at the AltFi Summit in London on Monday. “That’s the way we expect we’re going to be growing.”

Alba Ochoa compared OakNorth’s white label technology platform, dubbed OakNorth Artificial Intelligence, to Intel’s microchips and processors, which are used by computer manufacturers like Dell or HP.

“It will be like when you’ve got a computer, you’ve got Intel inside, we expect you’ll have OakNorth inside. It will be white label for them but it will be our technology and our product,” she said.

“In the UK, in the next 10 years, we expect to have a balance sheet for £10bn but globally it’s going to be in the hundreds of billions because we’ll go through other partners.”

OakNorth was founded in 2015 as an entrepreneur focused-bank. It makes loans of at least £500,000 to growing businesses, such as healthy fast-food chain Leon.

It developed its loan underwriting technology to help it quickly and accurately price bespoke loans for companies in various sectors. Alba Ochoa the technology used algorithms to discover relevant data measures for companies and then pull that data from the market to help build credit models.

“What we do is we’re having algorithms to find those comparables: through databases, through companies house, through anything that’s relevant for that sector,” she said. “So rather than a couple of weeks, it takes minutes.”

Intel comparison: OakNorth CFO Cristina Alba Ochoa. Photo: OakNorth

OakNorth raised $440m from SoftBank’s huge Vision Fund earlier this year in a deal that valued the business at $2.3bn. The investment announcement said the money would be used in part to expand OakNorth Artificial Intelligence.

What we’re really good at is lending to SMEs,” Alba Ochoa said. “Let’s take that, supercharge that, invest in there, and create another a really good product for other banks globally to utilise our underwriting capabilities and portfolio management capabilities.”

OakNorth is already working with seven banks across Europe from countries like Croatia, Hungary, Italy, and the Netherlands. It is also working with six lenders across North America and Asia but has yet to name its partners.

Alba Ochoa said the company sees major growth potential in Asia and North America. OakNorth Artificial Intelligence has offices in Singapore, Shenzhen, Bangalore, Gurgaon, London, New York City, and Istanbul. 

She added that the platform is improved as more deals are signed.

We’ve got a data lake that we keep feeding every day with every new borrower, with every new case,” she said.

Asked about M&A, Alba Ochoa said it was “debated a lot” internally and OakNorth had passed on two deals in the last year as “they would have distracted us.”

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Oscar Williams-Grut covers banking, fintech, and finance for Yahoo Finance UK. Follow him on Twitter at @OscarWGrut.

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