Digital wealth manager Moneyfarm acquires tech behind fintech chatbot Ernest

By Steve O’Hear for Techcrunch

Moneyfarm, the U.K.-headquartered “digital wealth manager” has acquired the technology behind personal finance chatbot Ernest. Terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, though I understand that, along with the tech, this is an acqui-hire of sorts, seeing London-based Ernest’s CTO Lorenzo Sicilia join Moneyfarm to oversee technology integration.

Founded in 2015 by Niall Bellabarba, Cristoforo Mione and Sicilia, Ernest was developing a personal finance manager powered by artificial intelligence and designed to run on top of Facebook messenger. After connecting to your bank accounts, the chatbot used natural language processing to answer questions on your financial well-being and transactions, but also to give you proactive notifications to help you manage your money better.

In this way it played in the same space as a number of other fintech chatbots, such as LocalGlobe-backed CleoPlum, and Chip. However, in comparison to competitors, Ernest had raised a very modest amount of funding: just £165,000 in a pre-seed round, whilst a Crowdcube equity-funding campaign was unsuccessful earlier this year.

Moneyfarm says it will combine the technology behind Ernest with its existing services. In a call, Giovanni Daprà, co-founder and CEO of Moneyfarm, he described two potential examples.

Firstly, an AI-powered chatbot can be used to on-board or acquire customers in a more scalable way than is currently in operation. Namely, Moneyfarm currently uses humans via chat or phone for this puropse.

Secondly — and quite interestingly — when EU legislation in the form of PSD2 forces banks to open up their data, Moneyfarm plans to use the Ernest technology to make sense of a customer’s transactional data to offer them more informed advice to help them financially plan for the future.

“Artificial intelligence and a conversational user interface will help us to improve our algorithms and ultimately offer a better solution to our customers,” he says. “As we work to integrate the Ernest technology across our product offering we’ll be able to assist over an individual’s full wealth lifecycle, from the first pay cheque through to retirement”.

Meanwhile, Ernest’s Bellabarba, whom I’ve enjoyed many fintech focussed conversations with over the past 6 months, told me that, although the entrepreneurial journey for the startup has taken many different turns, he is pleased to see the tech find a home and that all of the team’s hard work can live on.

“Moneyfarm’s acquihire of the Ernest technology provides a fantastic opportunity to take the vision for Ernest to a new level, and create a more advanced artificial intelligence based adviser for consumers,” he adds in a statement.