NatWest Data COO: ’Overhyped’ AI must work for customers

NatWest Data COO: ’Overhyped’ AI must work for customers

In an interview with Finextra, NatWest chief operating officer for data and analytics, Paul Hollands, reveals that although he considers artificial intelligence to often be no more than a buzzword, the UK bank’s new data academy will let staff leverage practical technologies such as machine learning to build better services for customers.

Despite innovation being proven to effectively transform financial services, Hollands has “often found that AI is a massively overhyped term. It is a collection of capabilities, so if you think about it in its simplest form, it’s machine learning, its robotics and to some extent, it is chatbots.”

NatWest plans to invest over £1m in the data academy and in 2019 train 1000 employees on how to harness data and equip those in the organisation with the knowledge of how data applies to their roles.

“We’re not focusing on ‘teaching AI’," Hollands emphasises. "Saying that you are teaching someone AI is like saying you are teaching someone sport. It is a broad term, within which there are many disciplines.”

Hollands highlights that “whether you are junior or senior, whether you are technical or non-technical, data forms part of your role - be it how executives run their business right the way down to the most junior data scientist that is looking to start a career.”

The application of machine learning tools to analyse customer spending patterns will feature as part of the programme, he says, teaching people how to apply techniques that would be banded under AI to their day to day roles.

There will also be an ethical diminsion to the training. “It isn’t just about data, it’s about how to use it in a safe and ethical manner," Hollands stresses. "Applying AI to data 'willy nilly' is a really bad thing - it should be applied within a set of guardrails or guidelines. Customers are increasingly becoming interested in privacy and need to know what we’re doing with their data.”

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