Overlooking the European Parliament buildings in Strasbourg, France, lies a very unique factory. But don’t waste time searching the city proper for evidence of its operation. Strolling through Strasbourg streets, you wouldn’t hear the hum of machinery or sense any vibrations under your feet. This is a very unique factory indeed. This is the Cognitive Factory, the largest in the world.
Five years ago, Crédit Mutuel began a “sweeping digital reinvention” partnering with IBM to formulate new ways of working to better serve the bank’s 12 million customers. With a team of engineers, data scientists and line-of-business experts, IBM services and Crédit Mutuel inaugurated the Cognitive Factory, an innovation hub dedicated to infusing AI across all lines of business in Crédit Mutuel. This welding of people and technology leveraged IBM Cloud and Watson to propel the bank to the forefront of AI technology.
Laurent Prud’hon is the Cognitive Factory Leader. From Euro Information, the FinTech IT group of Crédit Mutuel and where the Cognitive Factory deploys, Prud’hon heads a team of 150+ people dedicated to the development of innovative AI solutions. From combatting financial crimes, to augmenting customer experience with virtual assistants, he is innovating creative AI solutions for Crédit Mutuel employees and customers.
Watch a 0:42 summary above of a leadership conversation with Jean-Philippe Desbiolles and watch a video of the full conversation (21:01) here.
Behind the curtain of the Cognitive Factory
Right from the start, Crédit Mutuel bet big on AI with the Cognitive Factory.
“We decided not to do small proof of concepts in labs to experiment or to see how things will work,” said Prud’hon. “We said it will work, it has to work, and we invested right from the beginning and joined in partnership with IBM.”
The focus wasn’t only on the algorithms or the technical deployments of AI in business. The Cognitive Factory under Prud’hon’s leadership sought to scale AI across the entire organization: within applications, in processes, and deployed to all 30,000 of Crédit Mutuel’s advisors through a variety of use cases.
To achieve these goals, Crédit Mutuel’s Cognitive Factory was a coalition of diverse people and skillsets from project managers to classical developers; cognitive analysts to information architects. This assortment of talent proved vital to execute on the Cognitive Factory’s core missions:
1) Build novel cognitive solutions
2) Expand capabilities, skills, tooling and talent
3) Establish a cognitive platform on which to build AI products
4) Manage forces of change management with effective communication
How AI helps financial services emerge stronger
COVID-19 is accelerating AI initiatives as companies work to address isolation brought on by the pandemic. A pertinent use case to today’s challenges with disconnection is email analysis, which had been deployed by the Cognitive Factory in Crédit Mutuel since 2017. The challenge was to help the advisors answer 7 million client emails per month quickly and efficiently. From a computer point of view, email has the qualities of a blackbox: IT systems cannot automate the unstructured data (text, images, etc.) commonly found in email communications.
By analyzing customer emails with AI, Crédit Mutuel advisors could discern intent of customers, their needs, and what exactly they were asking for. Knowing these insights helped automatically route correspondence to the best people. It provided shortcuts. Improved efficiencies and quality of responses. With the right combination of AI automation and human empathy, the email analyzer saved Crédit Mutuel over 2 minutes per email. Multiplied by 7 million emails per month, the solution resulted in a significant time savings.
As Prud’hon explains his team wished to maintain the “rich relationship” between humans, but use AI to assist conversations, make them more efficient, and bring people closer together.
“The cognitive solution will not replace the human. It augments the relationship,” Prud’hon says. “With AI assisting to augment conversations between humans, you are close even when remote—more important now than ever.”