Q&A: AI in Banking, with Clara Durodie — Executive Chair, Cognitive Finance Group
Mon 3 Feb 2020 | Clara Durodie
What was your earliest ambition?
In life, we try to find our path, our calling. In doing so, we try our hand at many things. Sometimes it feels that we depart from our final goal. But, life always takes us back to where we want to be. It is not always a straight-line journey.
One of my earliest ambitions was to start my business and scale it globally. I was a trailblazer, a rebel of my generation, if you will. My core interest has always been mathematics because it came naturally to me. I was an A-star student. I am one of those people who see poetry in numbers.
Straight out of university I had two offers from CitiBank and PwC which I turned down. Instead, I founded together with two engineers my first business which I then sold, and also worked in early forms of barcode technology and personal credit scoring.
What is your current ambition?
My focus hasn’t really changed. Now, I’m at my second business, after building a career in financial services. I have come full circle. At Cognitive Finance Group, we are working to scale in order to service a growing number of global clients. Our mission is to build an ecosystem that reinforces ethical AI in financial services. We do this through our board advisory work and investments in AI startups which have a clear bent towards ethical AI.
We predict that AI ethics will become a prominent topic for corporate boards. It will redefine risk management, corporate governance and business strategy. My company has been at the forefront of this change since 2016. With our advisory arm, we have helped corporate boards to take advantage of AI technologies, procure the correct AI and shape their business strategy. My ambition is to become the go-to global expert in the deployment of ethical AI in financial services.
What does AI mean to you?
In business, AI is a tool for personalisation, at scale. When correctly used, AI delivers business growth and profitability.
I guess, in very simplistic terms, AI is software which displays adaptive intelligence, a software which delivers exponential and contextual automation. What the industry has used so far, has been mostly linear automation like RPA tools or other habitually-used enterprise automation software.
What is one thing that frustrates you about the way AI is discussed in the board room?
In many boardrooms, AI is not discussed because AI is not really understood. It’s not surprising. According to our research, in 2017, 94 percent of LSE-listed banks were led by people who had no prior AI experience or described themselves as having nothing to do with technology. This shows an acute lack of AI literacy. This can be corrected by educating board directors and decision makers.
The main focus of boards is governance, business strategy and fiduciary duties. As AI permeates business models and becomes the core medium to provide services, it determines how governance is understood, tackled and implemented.
Board director skills should reflect this paradigm shift, but it doesn’t. Why? because the paradigm shift is not correctly understood.
This why I authored “Decoding AI in Financial Services – Business Implications for Boards and Professionals” to empower decision makers with an impartial reference book about what AI is and how it impacts their business models, governance and strategy.
I devoted two years and talked to 180 industry executives and corporate directors. The book has been very well received. It’s available on Amazon. For those who value author signed books, they can order it here www.cognitivefinance.ai/shop
What is the biggest technology challenge facing finance professionals today?
Historically, our industry has been a product-centric, finance-first industry. The paradigm shift is that our industry is quickly becoming customer-centric, AI-first. Therefore, professionals’ biggest challenge is to recalibrate their skills to match this shift, so they remain relevant in their profession. To recalibrate means to understand what AI is and how to use it.
AI is complex. AI in financial services is 10x more complex. AI in science labs is an exciting experiment, it is done in a simulated environment. But when deploying AI to solve real-life problems, when it impacts people’s lives and their money, that’s when it becomes 10x more complex.
Our industry is being redesigned. If professionals don’t seek to educate themselves to the highest level, to understand how to take advantage of this redefinition of financial services, then they will lose a life-time opportunity. I saw the change coming as early as 2011. In 2014, I resigned from my financial services corporate life, so I could learn how to code, perform extensive academic grade research and build a solid base of technical knowledge. I was one of the pioneers who understood how AI will redefine our industry, well beyond fraud detection and algo trading.
What excites you the most about the future of the financial services industry?
The potential to redesign service offerings with AI, and to build customer-centric AI-first businesses. Our sole focus is to help boards steer their businesses into becoming AI-first businesses. That’s where the future of growth and profitability is.
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