SINGAPORE (Mar 14): OCBC Bank on Tuesday announced the launch of its own artificial intelligence (AI) unit named AI [email protected] within its Fintech and Innovation Group, The Open Vault at OCBC (TOV), in a move to position itself as an “AI-first” bank.

The aim is to deliver greater value to customers by giving them access to banking services through natural user interfaces that are seamless and convenient, as well as targeted and tailored products and services that are contextually relevant, driven by machine learning, says OCBC in a media statement.

According to OCBC, an initial investment of $10 million over three years has been committed with a pioneering team of three data scientists, led by Ken Wong, to drive the adoption of AI across banking services such as wealth advisory and loans financing. 

The move will also make OCBC the first bank in Singapore to establish a dedicated AI unit to strategically develop in-house AI capabilities.

The bank says AI [email protected] aims to double its headcount within a year’s time to manage the surge in AI technologies which OCBC plans to implement.

OCBC's new AI unit is led by Pranav Seth, Head of E-Business, Business Transformation and Fintech and Innovation Group (front), Ken Wong, Head of AI [email protected] (centre), Wu Qiong (left) and Vikash Ranjan (right)

OCBC intends for the AI unit to serve as a “test bed” for all new AI technologies, and will demonstrate the feasibility of new technology before it is integrated into the bank’s existing systems.

This will be accomplished through the rapid testing of proofs-of-concept generated by leveraging OCBC’s data sandbox and application programme interfaces (API) to experiment with real-life anonymous customer data in a secure environment, explains the bank.

For one, the AI [email protected] is to work with Amazon Web Services (AWS) DeepLens to provide a more personalised experience to customers through the application of facial recognition technology, which OCBC suggests could be deployed at its bank branches or ATMs.

Based on research and technology from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), it is also developing AI technology that can recognise and local accents which OCBC hopes to use in the possible creation of chatbot services that can respond to customers using voice messaging.

Additionally, the bank sees AI [email protected] serving as a “specialised training centre” to further develop the data science skills of OCBC’s in-house data analysts and technologists –  as it plans to conduct specialised workshops for these professionals to learn AI modelling and predictive machine learning, the core skills in employing AI.  

“With the set-up of our very own AI lab, we are able to experiment for the first time with deep learning neural networks and graphics processing units, which are heavily used in the gaming industry and hardly used in banking. This is an exciting new space to be in, especially for banking, and we welcome talent who have the passion to develop something new and fresh for the industry,” says Ken Wong, Head of AI [email protected].