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Integrating Finance and AI With Sonja Kohn


Portrait of Sonja Kohn

Founder


Key Takeaways


  • Sonja Kohn is a cross-functional problem solver from Vienna with a knack for using innovation and technology to achieve the desired financial results.

  • She has a Medal of Honor from the Austrian government in recognition of her contributions toward the development of the country's financial sector.

  • She also founded the AI-powered business intelligence platform that bridges the gap between incorporating human insights into AI-driven predictive financial analysis. 



Sonja Kohn calls herself an old lady who loves innovation. She really undersells her accomplishments with that introduction. For example, she forgets to mention her nearly decade-long advisory role to the Vienna Stock Exchange. She served as an advisor to the Minister of Economic Affairs of Austria and worked in a similar role for the government of Gibraltar, too. 


She’s also the founder of BestFit, a platform that works on unifying human intelligence with Artificial Intelligence and Business Intelligence. Her company uses the latest research in neuroscience, behavioral science, and psychometrics to create algorithms that predict customers' thinking patterns, decision drivers, and preferences to increase overall sales for their clients. 

Financial Innovation in the Government Sector

Kohn was born and bred in Vienna, Austria, where she started her professional journey. Sonja was always motivated to work hard and gain more knowledge in the field of finance. She eventually made herself indispensable when it came to adding value to how things ran at the Vienna Stock Exchange. Sonja wasn’t your typical advisor. She didn’t just sit in meetings. She fearlessly shared whatever she knew, and that’s why financial bigshots and governments preferred her as an advisor. She had a different way of approaching the subject of finance and always thought of it not in terms of numbers but in terms of the humans who were using those numbers. 


“At the end of the day, people use finance. I mean, machines aren’t getting any benefits from finance. Think of finance as the blood vessels of the economy, and the economy is here for the people to use. I do feel that innovation often builds bridges, especially international bridges.”  — Sonja Kohn 

Building Bridges With Joint Ventures

That’s what Kohn was good at. Building bridges across different cultures. She orchestrated joint ventures between the Austrian Stock Exchange and the Beijing Stock Exchange and another joint venture between the Austrian and Dubai Stock Exchange. Sonja recalls that the most important aspect of making these ventures work was understanding and respecting the subtle differences in all these different cultures that were worlds apart. Building good relations has been the key to Sonja’s success as an advisor and a business owner. 


“Friendship leads to mutual respect and understanding, which leads to business development.”   — Sonja Kohn 

The Austrian Stock Exchange’s joint venture with the Dubai Stock Exchange led to the creation of the Austrian government-guaranteed fund in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). It serves as a standby guarantee for companies between the two countries that want to do business together. This fund gave rise to several financially viable businesses for both countries and earned Kohn a Medal of Honor from the government of Austria. 

“If you want something in the commercial world to work. Find a way for the government to guarantee it. It speeds up the process and makes it bigger. All of a sudden, one can do things one couldn't do before.”  — Sonja Kohn 


Difference in Culture Between the Chinese and Emirati Stock Exchange


As an Austrian professional, Sonja found working with the Chinese government to be a vastly different cultural experience compared to her collaborations in Dubai. She notes how the more government-controlled financial systems in China introduced a layer of bureaucracy in her dealings. Conversely, her experience in Dubai was marked by a more open and collaborative approach, particularly evident in their receptiveness to integration into the international business sphere.


While Sonja observed distinct cultural differences in her dealings with China and Dubai, she also recognizes several commonalities between the two, particularly in their approaches to financial and economic growth. Both countries demonstrate a strong commitment to expanding their economies, characterized by significant wealth and a reputation for innovation and rapid development.


Transitioning into the AI Space


After a successful run in the financial sector in both governmental and corporate spaces, Sonja Kohn shifted gears to get in on the AI boom in 2015. BestFit is her brainchild. It’s a product that also follows her philosophy of including human emotion as a consideration in science, finance, and tech. The predictive algorithms at BestFit merge human insights with technological advancements to predict consumer behavior. 


However, this shift to AI wasn’t a spontaneous one. It was a strategic move based on the analysis of the current financial landscape. Sonja elaborates that she made the decision to delve into AI and the Information Technology space after one of the world’s leading investment advisory and risk management solutions providers, BlackRock, acquired a digital wealth management firm called Future Advisors for a whopping $150 million. So Sonja didn’t really leave the financial space. She just evolved along with it. 


"When I'm looking at an industry, I ask my team to take a white page, look at the different players in the industry, and create three columns. Add what they’re doing in the first column. Add why they’re doing what they’re doing in the second column and leave the third column empty for me. Which is usually titled ‘Why the hell is no one doing that?’ That’s how I identify market niches.” — Sonja Kohn 

As the robo-advisor wave surged, Sonja recognized a critical gap left by the transition from offline to online investment processes. While others focused on taking interactions digitally, they inadvertently left behind the nuances of face-to-face meetings – the unspoken cues, the body language, and the emotional intelligence that seasoned financial professionals rely on. Sonja identified this as the untapped market niche: the human element lost in the rush toward digitization.


BestFit was crafted from AI algorithms and an amalgamation of behavioral science insights. Collaborating with a team of neuroscientists, Sonja leveraged the work of great minds in the field, including Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, and Nobel Prize laureates Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler. They recognized that emotions play a pivotal role in decision-making, with a staggering 95% of choices made in the unconscious brain. Sonja's platform seeks to understand how individuals make decisions based on facts or emotions. BestFit became the bridge, filling the void in the digital realm by infusing human factors into financial advisory services. More than making investments, her groundbreaking platform is about revitalizing the advisor-investor relationship with the richness of human understanding. 


The Future of AI in Business


Sonja is optimistic about the future role of AI in business and innovation. She views AI not as a threat to human jobs, but as a vital tool that contributes to the evolution of human capabilities. Her perspective on AI is practical: she sees it as an integral component that will soon become commonplace in our daily lives and business functions. While Sonja's primary focus is on leveraging AI technology to solve specific business challenges, she is also mindful of the ethical and moral dimensions associated with its deployment. She believes that a balanced approach, considering both practical utility and ethical considerations, is essential.


Sonja envisions AI as a means to enhance customer interactions, discover new growth opportunities, and streamline operations. In her view, AI is not an abstract concept, but a tangible resource that can augment, rather than replace, human decision-making. In essence, it is a tool that works alongside humans, complementing and enriching our capabilities.


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