We sit down with Marci Lobel-Esrig
, Founder, CEO, and General Counsel of SilverBills
, a concierge bill management company, after successfully closing their seed round of funding. During the interview, we touched on the work done by SilverBills and the impact SilverBills brings to individuals; ways by which data protection could create more inclusive solutions; her experience with the IBM HyperProtect Accelerator, and finally, SilverBills’ recent funding round.What is the problem that you’re trying to solve at SilverBills, and why is it important?
Elder financial exploitation in the U.S. is a one billion dollar annual problem, and it’s happening because individuals need help managing their bills. Older adults invite untrustworthy individuals to help with the problem and are financially exploited. So for example, if they ask someone to come into their home, there's no way to police for theft of personal items like jewelry, and there's no real-time data in check writing, so unauthorized checks can be written and the theft not discovered until it is too late to recover the funds. I decided to leave my corporate job after spending a lot of time talking to people about these issues and studying and researching the problem.
At SilverBills, we have created a proprietary software solution whereby we receive, scrutinize, store, and ensure clients’ bills are paid correctly and on time. This is combined with a personal dedicated account manager, who is empowered by the software -but client computer use is optional- and that's because there are 56 million individuals who are sixty-five and over in the US; 17 Million of whom don't use the internet at all, and tens of millions more don't use computers for any kind of complicated or even simple financial tasks. So, we're accommodating the needs of that cohort by providing our solution in a way that is age-friendly and services can be provided exclusively over the phone and through the mail. At the client’s option, he or she can use email or login at SilverBills.com.
SilverBills is allowing individuals to age in their homes for longer than they would be able to, because for example, if what we're doing is not done correctly, it can lead to some pretty catastrophic outcomes like eviction, termination of electricity, heat, hot water, etc.
The New York City Department for the Aging pays us to provide free services to qualified New York City residents, because of the value of what we're doing and how it allows individuals to age safely and securely in their homes. We're expanding on that model; for example, we just won a foundation grant to provide our services to the residents of the City of Yonkers; and last week we won an RFP to provide our services in Maui, Hawaii. So, we are extending from coast to coast, providing the services of SilverBills, so that individuals around the country can age safely without having to face these very serious consequences. Beyond these programs, individuals can pay privately for the services of SilverBills, and private clients encompass over two-thirds of our client population.How could data protection help to mitigate bias and create more inclusive solutions?
Well, this is the challenge, so for the cohort that we're dealing with, many of whom don't have an online presence at all, and that can be a problem because people co-opt their online identities. What we’re dealing with is unique because when you think of data protection and security, you think of people who are already online right, but there's a whole cohort that has a very limited online presence and they are so vulnerable to issues of data privacy and cybersecurity.
We have clients who are in the early stages of dementia, who allowed the typical scams that many people never would allow; like people calling and saying “you have a computer virus, I need to get your online information”, and just taking so much advantage; I mean things like having their passwords written on a piece of paper in their wallet. This is a population that is vulnerable to financial exploitation, and that's why data security is so important to them, and part of our process is trying to help and educate them about how important these topics are. Also, we act as their first line of defense in many cases. For example, one of our clients received a phone call from the “electric company” saying if you don't wire us four hundred dollars right now, we're going to turn off your electricity; instead of doing that, she called SilverBills, and we were able in a minute to say: absolutely not, your account is current, so she wasn’t victimized. So, we serve as a bridge between the online and the non-digital world to protect our clients and their data in that way.
Finally, I think one of the issues -when talking about end-users- is that you can't try to fit a square peg in a round hole; you have to meet them where they are on many different levels. So, if you can serve as a bridge between technology and non-technology solutions, I think that’s a way to accommodate some individuals and create more inclusive solutions. Be a bridge for those people that don't trust whatever the solution is, to create an intermediary who they can trust. Sometimes the situation is that people want to do business with a person and not with a large institution. As a trusted resource, we can help protect our client’s data and privacy.How would you describe your experience with the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator?
Both aspects of the accelerator were really tremendously helpful; from the IBM side, we're just in a much better place now from a data perspective., As we gear up to do deals, for example, with financial institutions, we’re much more prepared for that and much better situated, because of IBM’s ongoing technical expertise and support as well as the data protection.
With Village Capital’s help, we’ve found so many of the sessions incredibly educational, the training videos particularly, I just think I'll refer to them for years; and Abaca, I really love it, I think I’ll recommend Abaca to everyone. It's just an invaluable tool, and I think it should be used very broadly by startups in their fundraising process.Highlight on the seed fund round
SilverBills has announced the closing of its seed round of funding through investments led by HearstLab and Seae Ventures. The Gaingels and Eucalyptus Growth Partners also participated in the round. The funding will allow SilverBills to increase its technological capabilities and make critical hires. You can read the full press release here
Startup Ecosystem Fellow