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Special Report: Zest Seeks to Inject More Tech Into Banking

Zest AI, a Burbank-based financial services company, sells a technology license to financial institutions that vary in size and levels of customization. The company’s technology uses artificial intelligence to identify, predict, and remove biases and produce more consistent and equitable lending decisions. Founder and chief executive Mike de Vere has three decades of experience in the technology industry and founded the company to create an alternative to today’s credit system. Zest AI’s users encompass a number of financial institutions including Citibank, First National Bank of Omaha and Hawaii USA Federal Credit Union.

How long have you worked in the tech industry, and what did you do before Zest AI?
Over the last 30 years I’ve been transforming data into insights. Prior to Zest AI, I led the insights and innovation teams for Nielsen in North America and the EU. Prior to Nielsen, I was the chief executive of the longest-running independent polling company, The Harris Poll.

Our main goal is to help our customers navigate the year smarter and more efficiently.
Mike de Vere
Zest AI

Tell me about your role at Zest AI, and what are yaour main responsibilities?
As chief executive at Zest AI, I take responsibility for defining our vision and focusing the

of Vere

group on the most critical efforts. Though I’d much rather call myself Zest AI’s top cheerleader, the culture and morale are high on my list of what’s important. If employees don’t feel passionate about what they do or can’t see the vision of what they’re creating, it’s that much harder to create something that is world-changing. Keeping people focused on that priority of equitable credit access is the most important thing I can be doing in my role.

In what ways has having Los Angeles as your landscape affected how you run the company?
We definitely like to do a lot of hikes as a company. But really, Los Angeles has afforded us with access to incredibly smart and talented people from all walks of life. I also think having our headquarters in Los Angeles gives us all an opportunity to understand privilege and how it affects everyone. That understanding bolsters my resolve to ensure everyone has fair access to credit.

The technology industry had seen a massive wave of hiring during the peak of the pandemic, and we are now seeing massive layoffs across other industries, but especially in tech. What does that say about the state of the industry today?
It’s a little bit about the state of the industry and more about the state of the world we’re living in today. At the peak of the pandemic, hiring new talent was highly competitive. Job seekers had handfuls of options and took the best offer. Any time we see a hard road ahead for our economy, cost-cutting is often unavoidable. But people aren’t expendable, and I think the tech industry has some work to do in that area.

As more areas become digitized, are there any industries that you think have been slower to implement technology into their business practices?
One hundred percent the banking industry. There are lots of hoops to jump through in order to implement technology across a financial institution, from regulatory standards to simply standardizing use across branches and institutions.

What is next for Zest AI?
This year is going to be a big year where we can really test our mettle. The financial services industry is facing a harsh economic climate, and lending only gets more difficult when a financial institution is strapped for cash. Our main goal is to help our customers navigate the year smarter and more efficiently, while also enabling them with more inclusive credit decisions so they can be there for their consumers who need their help.

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