Steve Jobs, legendary tech entrepreneur and founder of Apple, once said, "Get close to your customer. So close that you tell them what they need well before they even realize it themselves."
Jobs' words have been Estateably's mantra ever since the company's inception in March of 2018. Before ever writing a line of code, co-founder Alex Wulkan, now Director of Product Ryan Dankoff, and I spent months interviewing practitioners to better understand the pain points they face in their day-to-day file administration. And while those with whom we conversed hailed from different backgrounds and industry segments, all complained about an overall lack of automation in the technology tools available to them at the office.
We responded by developing an initial product offering that automated business processes whenever and wherever possible. Today, prescribed court forms, precedent letters to estate stakeholders and service providers, and complex reports required throughout an administration can all be generated in the application with a single click of a button - saving practitioners hours of time and effort during the process.
The efficiency gains that our platform made available to practitioners through automatically generated outputs was perhaps the most significant driver that led to the rapid adoption the company experienced in 2021. Indeed, it was an excellent year for Estateably: we're launching support across all provinces, growing our customer base to over 300 professional firms, and were named Software of the Year in Canadian Lawyer Magazine's Annual Readers Choice Survey.
And while it would be easy for us to rest on our laurels, our success inspired us to do even more. So again, we went back to our customers and asked them what else we could do to make their work lives more manageable.
And what we learned was that while automating outputs is great, what practitioners struggle with is the inputting of data. Nowhere was this more apparent than during the estate accounting process.
Scores of practitioners related to our customer success team how they would get a bank or brokerage statement at the end of each month and spent hours inputting each financial transaction line-by-line into our accounting tables to generate an accounting report. Was there any way we could automate that, they asked?
Fortunately, several months before, Estateably had created an internal, cross-functional innovation team that meets monthly to explore how recent advances in emerging technologies can be incorporated into the product to improve efficiency for our users. The innovation team, led by Eros Comunello, a Ph.D. who has two decades of experience in research and development using Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and computer vision. When we took the problem to Eros, he jumped at the opportunity to develop a solution.
The innovation team's first project, called DocuVision, was released into the platform last week. It involved the development of a financial statement reader that uses computer vision technology to automatically extract information found within customer bank or brokerage statements upon upload. The system can identify transaction dates, descriptions, values, whether the transaction was money-in or money-out, and automatically input this data into the accounting table, saving those responsible considerable time during the data entry process.
The system will suggest whether the transaction should be attributed to the capital (principal) or revenue (income) account based on the transaction description. However, as more and more users provide their categorization, the system uses artificial intelligence. It applies machine learning techniques to make any future transactions in the description to the correct estate account.
See DocuVision in action:
The innovation team uses the same data extraction technology that powers DocuVision to teach the platform how to read standardized documents such as tax slips and official death certificates. Information can flow from these documents into the application's appropriate fields, thereby reducing potential data entry errors. From there, we'll refine the technology and apply it to non-standard documents such as funeral home director's death certificates.
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was much-needed changes made to the regulatory regime that promoted the digitization of estate planning-related services. BC, for example, passed its very own Electronic Wills Act, changing the formality of wills requirements to allow testators to create and sign Wills electronically. This shift will allow for the proliferation of digital-first tools to allow for drafting services so that professionals or end-users can quickly and efficiently create estate planning documents. With greater digitization comes greater standardization. So the more standardized estate documents become, the easier it will be for Estateably to use DocuVision to read and interpret wills, power of attorneys, trusts and other deeds.