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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Michelle He

Michelle He has PhD in AI and machine learning and has worked for some of the largest financial firms in the world including EY, as a director, as well as Oliver Wyman and OCBC Bank. This gave her experience in credit analytics, driving complex banking transformation processes, and advising fast-growing global Fintech firms. She brought this experience to bear when co-founded Abound, a London-based personal lending fintech. 

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company? 

Abound is an AI-powered lending technology company. Our software scans customers’ Open Banking Data to accurately calculate their ability to borrow as an individual. This contrasts with traditional Credit Checks, which are often right on average but almost always wrong on an individual level.   

The AI-powered technology means customers miss repayments 75% less than the industry standard and Abound can offer lower interest rates and costs for consumers. 

There are two parts to our business. On the consumer side, we have Abound, which lends directly to consumers. On the business-to-business side, we have Render. Render is the technology platform that allows Abound to make better lending decisions using Open Banking and AI, that we sell to other companies. 

How did the idea come to you for the company? 

When I arrived in the UK from Singapore, thirteen years ago, I secured a stable job in a large company. However, I faced difficulty obtaining a modest £5000 loan to help me get on my feet because the banks had no way of running affordability checks on me.  

Having never lived in the UK, I of course had no credit history here. But I knew I was a good potential customer with a strong employment history and healthy spending habits akin to any super prime customer. It was just that traditional Credit Rating technology had no way of knowing this. I was “credit invisible” in the UK. The system had failed me.  

This planted a seed, an idea in my mind. Surely there was a better way of doing an affordability check in 2024? Not only did the failings of the current Credit Rating system hinder my financial prospects, but it also meant the banks were missing out on good business.  

My experience in AI and working in finance came to bear when, in 2020, I co-founded Abound and the idea planted years before would begin to become a reality.  

London was the first place in the world to roll out Open Banking, allowing customers to take charge of their banking data. And so, at Abound, we developed AI technology to help people make the best use of this data for affordability checks.  

Better affordability checks mean fewer defaults, less bad debt, and more affordable loans. We examine our customers’ complete financial picture. 

How did you achieve awareness? 

By growing quickly and steadily (we have seen 30% month-on-month increases in growth) we have made Abound hard to ignore. To date, millions have checked their affordability with our AI scans. 

We have used this anonymised data to assemble the “How We Spent It” report. Open Banking not only opens opportunities for companies like Abound to offer smarter financial products but also offers a unique window into a nation’s financial health and trends. In pursuit of openness as a value, we sought to use the public’s data to inform public debate as well as generate media coverage.  

Over a year, we looked at changing habits, from shopping and the transformation of nightlife. We sought to understand how people were reacting to the cost-of-living crisis. And we tried to answer questions about the changing role of cash in today’s economy and how housing costs are being impacted by inflation.  

We published press releases containing some of these insights, which have been covered in the national press. And we will publish the full results in the “How We Spend It” report later this year.  

How have you been able to gain funding and grow? 

We have successfully secured over £570 million in funding to date. The significant amount of investment we have secured is a testament to the sheer demand for, and success of, our product. Our investors range from tech multinationals to global banks, including Citi Bank, Waterfall Asset Management, GSR Ventures, all of whom have displayed confidence in our business to keep growing.   

What are the key successes? 

There is a clear demand for our product among both borrowers and businesses. Borrowers who are “credit invisible” can borrow thanks to it and lenders can reach new consumers. The benefits flow both ways. The key to success, therefore, is identifying where there is a genuine need for a product.  

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these? 

Launching a fintech startup came with expected hardships—garnering investor confidence in an untested concept, competing with established players, handling regulatory complexities, and building advanced risk infrastructure. 

We used creative approaches to surmount these obstacles. We assembled a talented team to construct comprehensive risk algorithms and by publishing our methodologies and being transparent with regulators, we earned important approvals quickly.  

As a CEO now actively scaling operations, new challenges have surfaced. These include recruitment, compliance, fundraising, and minimising loan defaults as lending volumes grow rapidly. Thankfully we now have a diverse and growing team to tackle issues collaboratively. 

What are your plans now/for the future? 

We plan to double our workforce in the next twelve months and are hoping to take the business into new countries in the near future. Ultimately, we aim to transform the lending sector and make borrowing more accessible and less risky all over the world.  

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey? 

Embarking on an entrepreneurial journey is challenging yet immensely rewarding. I have worked many long days and late nights but I’m proud of how we’ve helped people. 

Borrowing often makes key milestones in our lives happen—like getting married, moving house and starting a business. The thought that we have helped people through these exciting times (or that we may have helped another credit-invisible migrant like myself) gives me motivation to keep working hard.  

So, my advice is to start a business that you believe in and find rewarding. Also, never forget that the community of those working alongside you makes the journey enjoyable.  

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success? 

  • Identify real customer pain points. My being credit invisible in the helped me spot a gap in the lending market. Ensure your business solves real problems for customers. 
  • Leverage emerging technologies thoughtfully. Abound applies AI and Open Banking in novel and innovative ways. New tech can be a competitive advantage if applied judiciously. 
  • Assemble a strong, complementary founding team. Having the right mix of skills and mindsets was crucial in launching Abound.  
  • Start with the minimum viable product. We built a basic but functional lending platform first and iterated based on customer feedback rather than over-engineering upfront.  
  • Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Learn quickly and move on.  

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?  

Over the years, I’ve met several serial entrepreneurs, and am lucky to call some my close friends, who inspired me to start my entrepreneur journey.  

It’s amazing to see how they convert ideas into products which customers love. By observing their experiences, I’ve also learnt that it’s ok to make mistakes and what is important is to learn from them quickly and move on.  

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes? 

Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”  

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?