Financial advice firm which uses AI-generated jokes will launch in the UK and ‘roast and banter’ customers about their spending and saving habits
- Cleo launched in the UK in 2017, but was more popular in US on launch in 2018
- Now it’s preparing a UK comeback, says Barney Hussey-Yeo, founder and CEO
A financial advice firm which combines the scripts of stand-up comedians and artificial intelligence to banter with customers about their spending habits is planning to relaunch in the UK.
Cleo first launched a UK service in 2017, but gained more traction from US customers when it launched there in 2018. They were subsequently forced to abandon the UK branch when the pandemic hit.
But the business, based in London, is now preparing to market itself to UK consumers again, says Barney Hussey-Yeo, its founder and chief executive, who holds 20 per cent of its shares.
The AI service works when users – who are typically in their 20s – provide access to their bank accounts.
The app then provides banter-filled advice based on their spending, income and saving habits. They are also offered subscriptions for services such as debit cards and salary advances.
One particularly popular function, aptly named a ‘roast me’ service, sees users request criticism over their spending before being given recommendations on how to practically improve their habits.
Ten female stand-up comedians and comic writers come up with funny ways of giving advice, the company said. This is then used as a ‘chat bot’ feature with AI-generated text conversations with users.
A financial advice company which combines the scripts of stand-up comedians and artificial intelligence to banter with customers about spending habits is planning to relaunch in the UK (Pictured, Barney Hussey-Yeo founder of Cleo)
Cleo first launched a UK service in 2017, but got gained more traction from US customers when it launched there in 2018
Cleo uses AI services including ChatGPT, Claude and Llama, which is owned by Meta, to create its messaging, based on ‘thousands and thousands’ of lines of scripts written by its comedians.
‘Instead of talking to you in a really dry way like ChatGPT would talk to you, it will talk to you in a ‘Cleo’ tone of voice,’ Hussey-Yeo told The Times.
The business was valued at $500 million last year when it secured $80 million from Sofina, a Belgian venture capital company.
Other shareholders include EQT, Balderton and Taavet Hinrikus, the co-founder of Wise.
Cleo’s recently reached 7 million customers in the US — almost equal to Monzo Bank’s entire UK customer base.
Hussey-Yeo, 34, a machine-learning expert, founded the company in 2016. It employs 225 people, 60 per cent of them in the UK.
The UK service, which achieved 200,000 active monthly users at one point, was forced to shut down at the start of lockdown in 2020 as part of a cost-cutting drive.
‘Covid happened,’ Hussey-Yeo told The Times, saying the crisis damaged prospects for raising extra funds.
‘Venture capital just went away. We basically made massive cuts. We cut the cash burn rate and just focused on the US market.’
Now, Cleo is preparing to give the UK another go, he said, alongside plans to push into western Europe, with Britain the biggest priority. The launch would be at the end of next year or in 2025, he said.
‘From day one, we have had global ambitions. We want to serve a billion people. We obviously can’t do that in the US alone, so we will look to come back to the UK and western Europe.’
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