AWS Startups Blog

Camino Financial Is Using AI Technology to Loan with Empathy

In 2014, Sean Salas and his twin brother, Kenneth, co-founded Camino Financial, a financial technology platform that aims to bring affordable credit to under-banked Latinx microbusinesses. “The US Latinx microbusiness economy has an unmet credit demand of $20 billion,” says Sean Salas. “We use the power of AI technology to make sure that capital is more accessible and affordable than anywhere else where they could find that credit.”

The business was inspired by the Salas twins’ mother, who immigrated from Mexico to the United States and opened over 30 restaurants in southern California called El Mexicano.

Unfortunately their mother lost her businesses when the Sean and Kenneth were 12 years old. “As you can imagine, that was a character building moment for all of us, to say the least,” Salas shared.

After receiving MBAs from Harvard Business School, the Salas brothers founded Camino Financial, determined to create a company that used technology to do good in the world and invest in minority-owned businesses. “Financial inclusion was always our north star as a solution to addressing some of the struggles that we saw our mom experience,” says Salas. “That really was the seed that planted Camino Financial.”

Camino Financial focuses on using technology to create an inclusive lending process. This means reaching people who might not be eligible to receive loans from banks. “We’ve created our alternative score to FICO, which we call the ‘Camino Score,’” explains Salas. “Not only are we able to lend to that 25% of our borrower base that don’t have a FICO [score] and otherwise would be credit invisible, but we also help them develop a FICO score.”

In order to build the technology that would power Camino Financial, the Salas brothers focused on creating a strong foundation. They named their backend platform “Luna.AI” after the Luna pyramid in Mexico. “It’s a beautiful pyramid, and as you get closer to the top, you start getting a different feel for the world that you would not otherwise get at the bottom,” explains Salas. “We think about our tech stack as a pyramid. As you get closer to the top, it becomes more proprietary and insightful. But like any good pyramid, you need to have a very strong foundation.”

“When we think about our tech stack and the foundation, it really does start with AWS,” says Salas. He’s especially excited about the ways in which AWS is using its underlying technology to facilitate the development of AI. “Being able to add more bells and whistles enables us to focus on our core and not necessarily over-focus on the foundation and that infrastructure.” The result is money saved, lower-cost loans for members, and the freedom to innovate.

Using the human element to drive AI is a large factor in terms of what makes Camino Financial unique. “When I think about the human factor, I think of empathy,” says Salas. “Without that empathy and understanding of the market, AI can actually work against making capital more accessible and affordable to underserved communities. I don’t think we talk about empathy and its impact on AI enough in the fintech industry,” Salas notes. “I really hope that Camino Financial can lead by example.”

So far, Camino Financial has deployed over 5,000 loans to communities of over $120 million into under-banked microbusinesses. And they’re just getting started. “The US Latino GDP on a standalone basis aggregates to $2.6 trillion,” Salas explains. “That’s the eighth largest economy in the world, and it’s actually growing faster than India and China.” Put simply, the Salas brothers believe that the US economy can’t afford not to invest in these businesses.

Looking forward, Camino Financial plans to keep expanding and offer more credit products to members so that they can build wealth over time. “The engine of economic growth and innovation in the United States has always been our small business economy,” says Salas. “And we fundamentally believe that affordable credit is one critical component of that Camino path—to build that generational wealth.”