OCBC Bank’s foray into artificial intelligence, spearheaded by Donald MacDonald, OCBC’s Head of Group Data Office, signifies a pivotal moment in the bank’s technological evolution. The recent introduction of OCBC GPT, its AI chatbot powered by Microsoft’s OpenAI, showcased the bank’s commitment to harnessing generative AI productivity tools for operational efficiency and employee productivity.
Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence that has been trained on vast amounts of text data to generate human-like text based on the input it receives. Part of the broader field of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, generative AI models are capable of understanding and producing human-like text, making them versatile tools with numerous potential applications, including in the banking sector.
How did OCBC GPT materialise?
The genesis of OCBC GPT can be traced back to the unveiling of ChatGPT in late 2022. Donald recollected,
“ChatGPT came out in November, December last year, and that really was almost like an AHA moment for AI.”
This breakthrough dramatically shifted the bank’s AI perspective, particularly as employees began experimenting with AI on personal devices.
Prompted by this enthusiasm, Donald says OCBC embarked on a pilot programme with 50 employees, which eventually expanded to 1000. This pilot demonstrated the AI’s versatility in handling tasks such as “writing job descriptions, doing investment research reports, drafting responses to customer complaints, doing translation of documents”, according to Donald.
Donald MacDonald, Head of Group Data Office, OCBC
Establishing a Robust AI Foundation in Banking
The banking sector, traditionally cautious about technological adoption, witnessed OCBC breaking new ground with its agile approach to AI. Highlighting the industry’s typically slow response to technological advances, Donald acknowledged,
“Banks mostly are not known for being too agile.”
In contrast, OCBC modernised its data platforms to enable swift integration of new technologies, including generative AI. Donald pointed out that OCBC’s journey in data science began in the late 1990s, with significant investment in AI since 2018.
“We were the first bank in Asia to have a dedicated AI lab,”
Donald said, indicating OCBC’s pioneering stance on the transformative technology within the region.
The focus on open-source technology formed the cornerstone for OCBC’s AI infrastructure, enabling quick integration and deployment of AI solutions like OCBC GPT.
“It’s very nice to tell the employees that this is the same as the ChatGPT you’re using on your phone, but it’s just made available to you in your OCC device through Microsoft Teams.”
This integration leveraged the familiar platform of Microsoft Teams, combined with Microsoft’s engineering expertise, to provide a secure and reliable AI experience.
OCBC has deployed around 250 AI models focusing on revenue generation, cost reduction, and risk management. Donald elaborated,
“We use AI for generating revenues, which would be things like hyper personalisation or helping customers make better financial decisions.”
An employee using OCBC GPT
Ethical AI Deployment
Generative AI builds up OCBC’s previous AI investments. Donald further noted the role of AI in personalising customer experiences, noting its ability to interpret real-time customer interactions.
Presently, AI makes over four million daily decisions for the bank across risk management, customer service, and sales, with OCBC projecting this number to reach 10 million by 2025. AI delivers personalised recommendations and insights through the mobile banking app, sending 250 million recommendations per year towards assisting customers in saving time, effort, and improving financial management.
Furthermore, AI bolsters OCBC’s anti-money laundering initiatives, with the OCBC Group Data Head remarking customer profiles and transactions are swiftly analysed for suspicious activity using an AI-powered platform.
A fundamental aspect of OCBC’s AI strategy is ethical practice.
“OCBC takes the risks of AI seriously and we do practice responsibly,”
Eager to demonstrate a commitment to responsible AI deployment, OCBC collaborated with Singapore’s regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), in drafting AI ethics and governance guidelines, added the bank’s Head of Group Data Office.
The Future of AI in Banking
Donald envisages AI transforming the banking sector by augmenting staff capabilities. He stated,
“It’s about freeing up time so people could focus on the stuff that matters.”
The development of job-specific AI copilots is seen by many as the next major step in practical AI application, altering the way job functions operate and integrating AI into core processes.
As an early adopter in the regional banking sector, OCBC looks to continues seting the standard going forward. Donald spoke of the bank’s initiatives in open-sourcing some of its AI work for the industry’s use, and galvanise the sector towards advanced, ethical AI applications.
“We do try and be leaders in the space, but we also do try and uplift others as well,”
OCBC Bank’s journey with OCBC GPT marks a milestone in the integration of AI in the Asian financial industry. By focusing on ethical usage, enhancing both employee and customer experiences, and continuous innovation, OCBC sets a precedent for AI integration in regional finance.
Donald added that the vision of AI augmenting staff capabilities and moving towards a more efficient workweek highlights the potential of AI to reshape not just banking, but the broader spectrum of work and productivity.
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