Heard at Ops: IBM’s Ritika Gunnar on AI in financial services

Start small with AI and focus on outcomes. As part of the Heard at Ops series with top operations and technology leaders, Ritika Gunnar, Vice President of IBM Expert Labs, explains why the time for firms to use artificial intelligence (AI) is now and how to get started.

Q. What do firms in the financial services industry need to do to drive AI throughout their organization?

A. When talking to a CIO from a major financial institution, he said, “We have thousands of flowers blooming yet, when you look at it, we only have a handful of models in place.” So, looking at the barriers and inhibitors to AI:

One – It’s really the cultural change that is needed to drive AI across an organization. It requires breaking down silos between the IT areas of the business, the line of business and having these different areas being able to functionally work together to achieve an outcome.

Two – The regulatory and compliance side of it – providing transparency and trust in and around the way that AI is used. I believe we’ve learned enough on the cultural aspects to help accelerate that for financial firms in terms of how to start small, how to find the projects to start with and that will make a difference. And, on the regulatory aspect, there have been advancements in technologies and AI ethics best practices to be able to alleviate those concerns as well.

The time is now for firms to use AI-powered automation and see the exponential growth to push them forward.

Q. How can a firm get started with AI?

A. Start small and create an AI Center of Excellence within your firm. That AI Center of Excellence is the team of people who understand the technological aspects of what’s necessary and understand the cultural and process aspects. And you don’t have to do it alone. Given the experience of companies like IBM – or any other partners that are experienced in AI – they can help you accelerate that and identify which projects are good candidates to be able to start with, so you can see those outcomes quickly.

Q. You have discussed AI as augmenting and not eliminating functions. Can you expand on that?

A. There is often a misconception that AI is going to take over people’s jobs. The reality is for AI to work well, you need to be able to train the model. Humans are needed to train the AI for it to help humans make better decisions – it’s a cyclical loop and it allows a firm’s talent to put their time into more productive efforts. That is a critical point: you’re not eliminating, you’re augmenting.

Q. What impact do you see AI having on the industry today and five years from now?

A. We are seeing financial services firms first focus internally, being able to help their people and augment their people’s efforts to make better decisions. As we move forward, you will see AI be in essential processes that are in applications which are client-facing or automated, on demand. Start on the internal side, where you can curate how you’re going to change your internal processes and cultural aspects, and then move to mission-critical systems.

Ritika Gunnar is Vice President of IBM Expert Labs.