This is a transcript of our interview with Sjoerd Leemhuis, Founder and CEO of Owlin.

You can watch the original video interview here


Boris: Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to our interview with Sjoerd Leemhuis.


Sjoerd is a CEO and co-founder at Owlin in the Netherlands. Owlin is a text and news analytics tool that helps finance professionals monitor their professional portfolio proactively and continuously in real-time.


So Sjoerd, can you tell me a short story about Owlin and what you guys offer to the marketplace.


Sjoerd: Yes, of course, I can. So with Owlin, we look at news all over the world and we look at three million news resources which we continuously analyze by using AI and machine learning, specifically, a lot of natural learning processing. Then we can identify what is happening in the world in real-time. So we can analyze your portfolio and then we can take a look at, do we see any increase in or changes in bankruptcy news, in lay-offs or in maybe law/court cases. All these things we visualize in dashboards that are being used by asset managers, by banks, by famous companies, and very often in the risk space, to manage your risk and to manage your portfolio faster and better.


Boris: So what are some examples of your customers’ use cases?


Sjoerd: So maybe it’s nice to mention, we have a lot of payments companies as clients as well. Right now, we are facing a big pandemic, a crisis in the world that hurts a lot of companies. All these companies also have payment service providers that are processing the payments. But if a travel company, for instance, goes bust then all the consumers, so maybe you and me that booked a flight or a trip, can get their money back. You will get a chargeback if the travel company goes bust. This is guaranteed by the payments companies, by the payments server providers. So they use our technology to monitor all travel companies worldwide if there aren’t any risks or any signals that they might go bust.


That’s a very concrete use case, that’s where also the speed of information is important. Another example is within the asset management space. There you want to know often with a small team you’re monitoring a portfolio of let’s say hundreds of companies or sometimes thousands of companies. We help the team where to look. So if things are happening, If there are material events in the news, we pick it up and then we prioritize that specific company on top of your priority list to say this is where you want to look today because this is where it is actually happening.


Boris: So it’s quite useful in this time of crisis. We are currently in the midst of a major crisis and as Richard Branson, a Virgin Group founder said recently, “Over the five decades I have been in business, this is the most challenging time we have ever faced all without knowing how long this would last.” The rapidly spreading of this virus has completely changed the business operation and lives around the world. You guys recently created a COVID-19 impact monitor which will help risk managers to stay informed about developments. Would you please elaborate more on it?


Sjoerd: Yes. When the news hit the markets and when also the first countries announced the lockdown situation, we understand that the main driver of the whole lockdown is that the health of everyone in every country is the number one priority.


But what’s very hard to measure what is the impact on the economy with all these measurements taking place, right? With the travel ban and the lockdown situation. That is actually something that we can monitor quite well.


The first thing we really did was looking at different industries. If we can see an increase in certain trends such as layoffs or bankruptcies and then we decided to put it all together in one public dashboard and make it freely available for everyone to look at. We call it our COVID-19 impact monitor, it is available via I can show you a little bit how it looks like and what we do.


I’m going to share my screen right now with you. The first thing you need to see is that we’re tracking here on the left which countries are flattening the curve right now. So we know a couple of examples. South Korea did a very good job of flattening the curve when it comes down to a lockdown and also it goes down to stop the spread of the COVID.


But you want to know how other countries compare also if you’re dependent in a lot of other countries as well in your supply chain or if you have a business or a company you want to know what you can expect. So, we see here in the data with different countries, a lot of European countries in here where you can see how well they’re performing and if the trend is going down in terms of cases or if it’s still going up. It’s sad to see which is in the United States, it is also, of course, a very big country, we can see them still struggling with getting their number of cases down. If you go further down, we also track, you see here we look at news developments about companies that are actually seeking for a cure, for a vaccination.


Because we all believe that there’s a strong vaccine out there that’s going to definitely help and boost the economy again. So here you can see that as soon as COVID starts to hit the world that may be a lot of initiatives started, a lot of companies are looking into the vaccine and the news is keeping on increasing in our dashboards. In the dashboard that we create for our clients, you can deep-dive in these bar charts and you can click on it and then we can tell you which entities are mentioned so which companies are working on vaccines so you can also track it.


This is all about opportunity related but what’s interesting to know as well is are companies actually going bust? Because the government enacts a lot of support measures. We know that here in the Netherlands, the government will support a lot of SMEs also in going through these times.


But in many cases, the support also comes too late or is not big enough. But you want to be able to measure it. Here, what we do is we track bankruptcies per sector and then as soon as we pick up the companies go bust then we know it’s bankruptcy news. Here we visualize it and then we spread it per sector. So, we have also seen the tourism industry, a lot of bankruptcies are already happening at this moment. You can see stuff like this. You see news articles here, you see two days ago Envision Healthcare considered bankruptcy filing.


You see here on the right, a retail brand also to file bankruptcy. These are all signals that we pick up. These are all very important for risk managers to be aware of and because this is news that’s already in the market before you get to structured information about the actual bankruptcy numbers or the actual GDP. So, in these situations, you want to be very fast, you want to be in time with knowing what’s going on and the news can help you there because this information travels very fast and if for you timing is simply of importance, you want to be ahead of the rest in the market, then using natural language processing, all news like we showcase here, can help you big time in managing your risk better.


Boris: Can you drill down using this bar to a specific company?


Sjoerd: I can. So what I’m showing you here is where we look into bankruptcies and another big variable is also layoffs. So what we have seen is layoffs are increasing at the time and more and more companies are laying off personnel right now. We spread it out in different sectors again, we see that in technology, there are not as many layoffs as for instance in tourism. So intuitively, you can already estimate this area where it sounds logical but it’s also good to measure this and see if it’s really the case. Then, if we scroll further down we actually show, somehow, certain industries are performing while looking at some ETFs that have been created for these industries, and then you can also combine these two insights with the structured data together with the news data, to get a full grip of your portfolio.


So you can deep-dive in single companies like we do here. You can also deep-dive into very specific topics. What’s good to know is that this is a public showcase that we have given to everyone in the world to access for free. In the dashboard that our clients use there’s even more granularity available so you can go deeper into a subject matter, you can even tailor as more themes you can look at, but this gives at least an indication how news and also natural language processing can leverage your workflow and make sure you’re on top of the game.


Boris: So it’s very useful for our current situation. Thank you. So I see you’re very on the top edge of machine learning and artificial intelligence. So, what do we see in the future of this machine learning and artificial intelligence? What can we expect from you guys in the future?


Sjoerd: I think that there’s a lot of technology that can still be leveraged also for risk management. I think we see, sometimes, departments where highly educated people are still consolidating information themselves, or pulling in spreadsheets themselves or analyzing them manually.


This is all work that can be done by machines automatically. Then the work of risk management would change, but it will become, in our view, more interesting because if you let the machine do all the consolidating, do all the analysis and remodel these tests automatically, then as a risk manager you can think of what your next move is going to be, and how are you going to change the behavior or react on the stuff that you have analyzed.


So I think we are just at the beginning of the adoption of machine learning and AI also in the risk management domain, and there’s a lot to do so I think when it comes to natural learning processing, but also when it comes down to machine learning in a broader sense, there are so many use cases that can help people be better at their job. But I don’t see that people will disappear in the chain. I believe that there will definitely always be involvement of people necessary but that their job will change and becomes actually more interesting.


Boris: So from our perspective, how the Global Risk Community can contribute to the process of a better understanding of the complex world of risk from your point of view.



Sjoerd: I think what’s important is to understand what’s already possible and what’s already out there. I think we are forcing our users to look outside in the world because we are analyzing a lot of external data and making that insightful. I think that’s also, in many cases what a good risk manager should do and it’s also how the Global Risk Community can provide support is by making known to all the followers and to the whole community all the initiatives that are already working in our lives and are being adopted by the market to tell everyone how you can also do your work.


Boris: So thank you Sjoerd for coming to our interview and we will be sharing this in our community blog and also on our social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn so many people will see it. I believe they will use your tool. Thank you and we wish your company a great success.


Sjoerd: Thank you very much.

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