OCBC sets up its own AI unit with S$10m initial investment

OCBC’s new AI unit comprises Ken Wong (centre), head of AI Lab@TOV, Wu Qiong (left), and Vikash Ranjan (far right). Pranav Seth (second from right) is head of the e-business, business transformation and fintech and innovation group at OCBC.

Singapore’s OCBC Bank is going big on artificial intelligence (AI), with a S$10 million (US$7.6 million) initial investment committed to the development of its own internal AI capabilities.

The first bank in Singapore to start its own in-house AI unit, OCBC has kicked off the process with a pioneering team of three data scientists led by Singaporean Ken Wong.

Called AI Lab@TOV (or The Open Vault), the unit has been tasked with driving the adoption of AI across OCBC’s banking services.

It also aims to double its headcount within a year, and plans to train the bank’s data analysts and technologists in AI modelling and predictive machine learning.

“The goal 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,” the bank said in a statement on Wednesday (Mar 14).

This is not OCBC’s first foray into AI. In 2016, the bank introduced AI-powered chatbot, ‘Emma’, which has since raked in more than S$100 million in home loans.

A venture with cybersecurity firm Thetaray also saw the bank using AI to identify potential suspicious transactions.

“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,” Wong said.

OCBC’s head of e-business, business transformation and fintech and innovation group Pranav Seth said the bank was investing in AI at the right time because “AI is going to redefine all aspects of banking”.

“AI is going to break the Internet and be bigger than the mobile revolution,” he added.

At the moment, AI Lab@TOV is already working with research from A*STAR to develop natural language and speech processing technologies that can recognise and understand local accents accurately

If successful, the technology could be used to create chatbot services that can respond to customers using voice messaging, the bank said.

The new unit is also working with Amazon Web Services DeepLens, which is the world’s first deep learning video camera for developers.

Deep learning AI technology which leverages facial recognition technology could be deployed at OCBC branches or ATMs in future.

Note: An earlier version of this article said that the new unit would be developing a deep learning video camera for developers with Amazon Web Services. OCBC has clarified that it is working with Amazon Web Services to pilot AWS DeepLens.