Friday, April 25, 2008

VaultStreet streamlines financial document management

Matt and I originally planned on attending FinovateStartup in San Francisco on Tuesday. Unfortunately due to work commitments, we had to cancel our plane tickets and reservations at the last minute. Several of the CEO’s and founders who will present at Finovate have agreed to participate in email interviews and we will post these over the next few days. First up is Carter Kirkwood, CEO of VaultStreet.

At the first glance of his bio, it seems like lawyer Carter Kirkwood is the unlikely founder of a technology company. He was an intellectual property transaction attorney, where he specialized in representing e-commerce and software businesses that developed, licensed, or acquired technology. On the VaultStreet blog he confesses, “I am not a technologist.” He is, however, the target consumer. Like most of us, he has several checking accounts and spends way too much time with snail mail, paper statements, printing and filing. Or at least he used to. His solution to the filing problem is VaultStreet, an online document management system. These are Kirkwood's responses to our questions about VaultStreet:

Can you tell us a little about your background, the company and what inspired you to create VaultStreet?

My inspiration for founding VaultStreet is fairly simple – I HATE FILING. Yet I have to keep various records in case I ever get audited by the IRS, need proof of ownership for an insurance claim, or apply for a loan (like a mortgage). My observation was that my online broker, bank, employer, insurance provider and utilities all had my information stored on their computers, yet I always received everything on paper. Now I had been using Quicken for over 10 years (and used the data download feature) but that did not solve my problem (which was that I wanted to stop wasting weekends filing away paper or searching for it when I needed it).

My background is as an intellectual property lawyer and most of my clients were in the IT space. So I probably have a heightened sensitivity to the interaction between legal concepts (like privacy, ownership, and evidence) and technology. Over time it became clear to me that what was needed was a virtual “record keeping” system that could protect the user’s privacy from end-to-end (i.e. from the bank to the consumer to the tax preparer or financial planner) while at the same time providing chain of custody evidence which would show that the e-document had not been altered since it was originally created by the bank (or other institution). Finding a way to solve this problem turned out to be more difficult than I originally imagined and eventually required solving a series of sub problems in a manner that was backwards as compared to existing solutions (this is what we have filed the patents on).

Since those early days, we have learned a lot from our customers and have discovered that what they initially value most about our system is its ability to automatically collect and organize their financial documents for them in a single location while protecting their privacy. Fortunately, we built that functionality in to the system from the very beginning.




What are the major advantages of storing all financial documents in one location?

Consumers have a hard time remembering all of their different user names and passwords. Plus it takes a lot of time to navigate across 4-6 institutions to collect documents from multiple locations. Then you must save each individual document on your computer with a unique name and organize the document set. It takes up valuable time that could be better spent with family and friends. VaultStreet offer consumers the convenience and time savings of having all documents automatically collected and organized into a single location, which also prepares them to respond quickly to financial events such as loan applications. Collecting documents into VaultStreet’s online repository also offers protection in the event of disaster, such as a fire or flood.

For institutions, VaultStreet offers a real way to reduce the operational and administrative costs of mailing documents to account holders while increasing customer service to these same account holders at banks, brokerages and utility companies. Institutions can use VaultStreet to collect, organize and authenticate the source of financial documents for their customers. It’s a great value-added service with the potential to build customer loyalty.

Who are the primary users of VaultStreet?

Consumers/taxpayers are the initial primary users, but we have had strong interest from accountants, financial planners, tax preparers, and mortgage brokers.

You currently provide secure document storage for five brokerages and about ten banks and utilities companies. Will you continue to increase the number of institutions you cover?

Absolutely. This is a top priority.

Many of our readers hold peer to peer lending accounts. Do you plan on adding the ability to store documents from Prosper, Zopa and Lending Club?

We would be very interested in talking with those companies about how to work together to not only store documents from them but also to facilitate the process of asset and income verification that often occurs when consumers apply for loans.

Security is obviously a major concern. How will you ensure that sensitive documents will remain secure?

We have designed the system from the very beginning to be very secure. We not only work at VaultStreet but we are also users of VaultStreet, so we take the issue of security very seriously. To learn more about our security, we have posted information at http://www.vaultstreet.com/content/how-it-works/security_overview.php. Our CTO is available to address specific questions related to security.

What have been your biggest challenges as you launch a new company?

Early on, when the company was more of an idea and less of a product, it was a challenge to get people to understand what we did (but I think that is probably true for most transformational technologies). Now the biggest challenge is keeping up with all of the business development opportunities. We have been pleasantly surprised at how many banks, brokerages, and insurance companies have contacted us saying that they have been waiting for this kind of service.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to extend a personal invitation to you and others to register with the service. Registration is available on the home page. To learn more, go to www.VaultStreet.com.