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Alex Chriss, Senior Vice President & Chief Product Officer of Small Business at Intuit is innovating how small businesses do business. (Credit: Courtesy of Intuit QuickBooks)

When Intuit's Alex Chriss thinks of small businesses and the self-employed, the company's senior vice president and chief product officer of small business thinks of underdogs, scrapping for cash flow and new jobs, chasing payments, and often missing payroll. In a world that's swiftly moving toward machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), small businesses can only expect to fall further behind as bigger companies gain access to the necessary data to succeed.

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"But we're going to flip that script," he told Download.com at the QuickBooks Connect (Android, iOS) conference, this week in San Jose. "We think that when they join QuickBooks and become part of QuickBooks' ecosystem, our tools and our platform are actually going to enable them in ways they've never been enabled before. We're going to usher in a golden age of small business, where they can truly go from the underdog to the advantaged."

Here's how QuickBooks can realize its new mission with apps like QuickBooks Accounting (Android, iOS) and QuickBooks Self-Employed (Android, iOS), according to Chriss. QuickBooks currently works with 3.4 million self-employed and small businesses worldwide. With hundreds of billions of transactions, including hundreds of millions of invoices moving across that ecosystem, and tens of millions of employees being paid, QuickBooks has amassed a lot of aggregate data. The company is now applying machine learning across all of that data and applying different innovations that are advantageous to their small business customers.

The extra mile that the company is going behind the scenes shows up in products like QuickBooks Capital, an AI-powered small business lending service. With QuickBooks Capital, instead of having to walk into a bank and being denied a loan because a company hasn't been operating for more than two years and doesn't have tons of paperwork available, QuickBooks can see a 360-degree view of the business's ecosystem and what invoices it's sent to whom and who's likely to pay the company soon. With this info, it can provide a better assessment of the business, and therefore grant the small business access to more capital if it's truly deserving. That alone, according to Chriss, has put $140 million of capital into small business's hands last year -- 60 percent of which would have been denied by competing lending institutions.

QuickBooks is also leveraging the company's own ecosystem and using machine learning to automate processes like calculating sales tax or figuring out how to handle different business expenses. This is putting invaluable hours back into the hands of its clients, so that they can spend more time serving their own customers. QuickBooks is also starting to connect small businesses to the right accountant, third-party application, or even new employees to hire.

Other innovations that promise to help small businesses include the ability to receive invoiced and paid payments within 24 hours, the capacity to pay contractors on the same day, and an expanded QuickBooks Capital, which enables QuickBooks to loan small businesses from $1,500 to $100,000.

QuickBooks also has a plan to retain the small businesses that have grown into middle-market companies, too, with QuickBooks Online Advanced, suitable for up to 25 users.

For the past 25 years QuickBooks has focused on helping small businesses get their taxes and accounting done by walking through workflows.

But Chriss -- who's been with the company for 14 years and has helped launch and lead Intuit's self-employed business unit, platform-as-a-service strategy, QuickBooks App Store, and Financing business -- is excited about the company's latest innovations, which take it from a mere workflow and data entry tool to one that is far more proactive and predictive, giving customers insights to help them be more successful.

As a former small business owner, his main focus has been and always will be to help small companies survive and thrive.

"I get super passionate about helping small businesses and the self-employed," Chriss said. "You see how hard these guys are fighting, and the bravery and courage that they had to have to go off and try and do it on their own. I want them to truly understand, that when they become a part of QuickBooks, they are a part of something bigger than themselves, an entire ecosystem behind them that's fighting for them that's actually going to give them an advantage. I get excited that we are leveraging the advances in technology, in ML and AI, to start helping them be more advantaged."

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