The Art of Automation: Chapter 15 — Automation in Financial Services

12 min read

A conversation between Jerry Cuomo and Oscar Roque from Interac Corporation on automation in the financial services industry.

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Covered in this chapter

  • Automation in the financial services world 
  • Ingesting a world of data
  • Giving back the gift of time
  • Financial Services as a crossroads

The Art of Automation: Table of Contents

An industry lens

This chapter of the Art of Automation is a reduced transcript of a conversation between Jerry Cuomo and Oscar Roque, Vice President of Strategy & Emerging Solutions at Interac Corporation. In our final chapter of AI-powered Automation viewed through the lens of a specific industry, Oscar and Jerry discuss automation in financial services — from the ATM to AI.

Jerry and Oscar 

JERRY CUOMO: Welcome to the Art of Automation, where we explore the application of automation in the enterprise. Today, we're set to explore automation in the financial services industry, and folks, AI-powered Automation is already well at work there. It's transforming how these organizations operate internally and enhance interactions with their customers like me.

I don't know about you, but I often use my bank's chatbot to check my balance, make payments — all sorts of things. I just love it. And think about it — there are iconic automation systems that have come from this sector; most notably, the ATM, as in "Automated Teller Machine." There it is, right there in the name; and ATMs came in existence in the 1960s.

So, fast forward to today. Artificial intelligence is now in the mix and it's attracting huge interest as the financial sector explores its potential to unlock value to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, more responsive and effective operations and tighter compliance and fraud detection.

So, for this chapter, I'd like to invite an industry colleague of mine that I've had the pleasure of sharing a stage with before: Oscar Roque. Oscar is the Vice President of Strategy and Emerging Solutions at Interac Corporation in Canada, with a top-line mission to shape the future of finance. Oscar has led projects in open banking, digital payments, blockchain and fintech. Welcome, Oscar, to the Art of Automation.

OSCAR ROQUE: Thank you very much, Jerry. It's very good to be here and to speak to you once again despite all the circumstances before us.

Automation in the financial services world 

CUOMO: So, let's get right to our first question, if you don't mind.

Oscar, why are you so excited about the opportunity to shape the future of finance; and, why now? How does what's happening in the world affect the shape, so to speak?

ROQUE: It's a great question. When I think about finance, I think finance in its current definition, especially just given the pandemic, it's no longer about just finance, right? And so we've already seen quite a significant shift to digital in everything that we do, whether it's finance, the day to day interactions. It's just, it's all around us.

When I think about digital, you would normally classify it as a certain group or certain segments of folks transacting digitally, but just because of the pandemic — and you know, there's shortcomings, obviously, of the pandemic — but some of the results of the pandemic have been that it’s able to really transform what finance is, what other sectors are, and really start to really intertwine them together.

What this really means across the consumer and the end user into small businesses is the ability to start blending those experiences into what's right for that consumer. We're a payments company, naturally, and we're foraying into digital ID. And when we think about the end consumer and their experience and their journey, we make sure they're at the very center.

So what a digital shift means — it's more than just payments; it's how they transact digitally, how they log in and how they show themselves, how they verify themselves and all those important pieces.

It's really exciting just to be in finance, because it doesn't mean to be limited within financial services anymore. And that's just awesome, I think, for the consumer at the end of the day.

CUOMO: Yes, I agree. When you say "digital," I assume you mean, multimodal customers coming in through mobile apps and everything in between? Could you maybe share a little bit about that?

ROQUE: Absolutely. It's the blend. There's no more physical, there's no more different types of digital; it just has to rotate around the consumer and whenever and however they decide to transact with whatever they're trying to do — whether it's a person or even a device.

And we're seeing this, sure, in the financial services world, but we're also seeing this relevant to how we're conducting even just meetings, right? We are so used to face to face, but just given the circumstances, we had to quickly adapt and shift, obviously, to virtual meetings.

But then you transpose that, and you think about, wait a minute, conferences have fundamentally changed as well, right? Whether they're hybrid or fully virtual, the way you conduct panels, the way you host yourself, the way you have to change your behaviors and your body language that it really translates digitally and in one zeros versus what you didn't have to do before the pandemic.

And even weddings, if you actually think about how weddings are being hosted. This is a paradigm shift right across the board. And that's pretty exciting just in terms of like what it means for digital.

CUOMO: I agree with you, Oscar. And at this point, there's no going back. I'd like to also say that being digital is the precursor to automation.

ROQUE: Hundred percent.

CUOMO: It opens the door. Once you're programmable, now you invite programs. And one of the more interesting types of programs are automation programs. Can you tell us a little bit about automation and financial services?

ROQUE: I love this piece that you mentioned around being digital, you know, is kind of the entry point to automation, is because that digital transaction — no matter what you're doing, whether it's a meeting online or whether you're transacting with something or someone —there is data now that's being generated out of it. And from that data, yes, it absolutely leads to the ability to automate and just make things more seamless and drive a better consumer experience.

So when we start to think about that — and you know, I've got the fortune to be able to lead corporate strategy for my organization — when I start to think about that, we start to think about, wow, there's a lot of data out there, and how as Canada's trusted company, how can we make sure that we help Canadians, at the end of the day, have full transparency in how data's flowing and also help them to think about control and consent of that data? Because ultimately what could happen is with the proper setup of that data flow, the proper benefits can be driven through automation.

Ingesting a world of data

CUOMO: Makes a lot of sense. Earlier, I mentioned how I was excited about using my bank's new chatbot as a way to make payments and things like that, but I think being digital is more than just about chatbots. Can you talk a little bit about capitalizing on the digital investment — perhaps using technology like AI — and how do you really take your customers' experience to the next level.

ROQUE: Yes, it's a very interesting piece. I tend to think of it a little bit with a two-pronged approach. There's definitely the normal, the everyday conversation that most of us corporate folks have around the table around, how do you actually help the customer with this increased data flow, obviously, with their consent, and how do you derive just values just being able to preempt and make those experiences seamless, right, whether it's dealing with how you manage your money, whether it's making sure that the fraud, for example, is all preempted and you're catching that ahead of time and you're not disrupting the experience wherever they are. And the list goes on.

But I also think about the second angle in this vector around data flow and automation. And so, since my team is leading strategy in my organization, what's fundamentally important is a lot of research and a lot of inputs are key to being to drive strategy — that competitive intelligence, if you will — and that requires a significant amount of ingestion of data or articles, digestion of it; and then, synthesis of that data back in a very succinct way, right, and that's relevant to the business.

What I think about automation is that the more complex the world gets, and the more these sectors are all convening or becoming one, and it's no longer about just financial services —what that just means for a strategy team or a data team or a research team is that there's a lot more to ingest because something in the healthcare or the telco world could definitely now significantly and directly impact in the financial services world.

That's probably stating the obvious, but that just means we have to be able to get ahead of it as a strategy team and to figure out. We can't just add bodies to this, we need to be able to automate it, to your point.

CUOMO: That's right, and you've made a big impression here with a different variety of data sources. I would say some of that data is structured, some of it is probably noisy, unstructured data. So you have to kind of connect the dots, and you know, all the analogies, finding needles in the haystacks and all of that to make sense of it.

Tell us a little bit about how then perhaps this is where machine learning and other technologies come in to help make order from that chaos of data.

ROQUE: It's funny, when we think about data generally, there's definitely like the two camps — there's structured and unstructured. But when you end up ingesting it into your organization, if it's not all structured the same, it kind of just looks like it's unstructured — it feels like it's unstructured. It's basically an exercise of restructuring everything regardless of its structure outside.

And so we end up looking at data really from three different categories, and the categories are, one is, we call it like the forefront or the academic type of category, and these are things like scientific papers, to scholarly papers driven out of universities, colleges, et cetera, patent offices, for example, and even conference presentations.

The second category is what we call like journalistic, right? This is what you read on the paper, this is what you see online, right, those news sources. And again, they may be credible, they may not be, but this is also part of the learning language, if you will.

And then the third category is social media. This is the most unstructured data, if you will, but again, when we treat it as it comes into the organization we treat it all the same across the three categories.

So the interesting piece about all of this is how do we take these three things that are only exploding and expanding and be able to say: oh, my, how do we create competitive intelligence and make sure that it's right and it's relevant? And this is where machine learning comes in.

So could you imagine, we have a bench of several researchers who are doing this day in, day out for a living — 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Where I see the opportunity for AI at the very least is to be able to — how can we train, let's call it AI agents, to augment and add to the team? And then, maybe one day be able to replace some of those team members. But not literally replace them, but be able to have those team members use their brainpower their knowledge capital and apply it to a higher order thing because the AI agent is their proxy and it's just, it's automatically being their ingestion, digestion and synthesis tool while they sleep. And that is really exciting.

Giving back the gift of time

CUOMO: You're right, Oscar.  It's about building the hybrid workforce. Technology and humans, to do something better than either of them individually. So, that's great.

So, with that, can you paint a picture of where this is all going, maybe even a day in the life of one of your customers, how it might all come together?

ROQUE: Yes. I think if I were to really take a step back on what does an AI agent and the automation and all of this very scientific, artful things, what it ends up meaning, is I think some of these, what we would classify as tedious or just day in, day out tasks I think some of them will go away. They have to go away. Right?

So, we can take a step back and say, hey, we have now additional brain cycles, additional time. I actually think about AI, these agents, as actually not only AI agents but agents of time — the idea if you were to able to have machine learning automation, yes, there's value in the experience for customers, for the consumers, for the researchers or the strategists, even.

But at the end of the day, the real value is giving back one of the few limited things in our world, time. There's only so much time that we all have in our day in day out lives.

And what I see in the day in the life — it's basically as we give back time to automate some of these things that are not at the top of the list, what it really allows us to then focus on a macro level is on the elements that are emerging or that also require, let's call it, a higher EQ or higher conversations to happen. Right?

And so when I start to intersect that with everything that's happening in equity, diversity and inclusion — everything that's happening with solving the large problems of the world around the environmental, the sustainability, the governance — those are like the EQ type of conversations that we can then use AI to help augment us with all of those key data points to make the proper discussions happen and take a path forward.

So, a day in the life for me is all about being able to automate the things that we really just need automated to be able to have those higher order conversations — person to person, group to group, community to community — to be able to think about these bigger problems because they're here, they're right around the corner and they need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Financial services as a crossroads

CUOMO: Oscar, you and I have worked together before, and I'd reflect on some of the projects where you're kind of joining industries together. I don't know if you can talk about some of that, kind of doing things around sustainability and things of that nature. Working with the electric companies and bringing together payments in interesting ways. Maybe you can reflect on how your industry acts kind of as a crossroad to many interesting things and facilitator, because I think it's — once you automate your enterprise I think you also have the possibility to create networks across other enterprises.

ROQUE: Yes, a hundred percent. And most people will know Interac as Canada's domestic debit network, and we run a variety of different platforms that allow Canadians, at the end of day, to be able to spend their money wherever, however and whenever they want.

The interesting piece about this whole network effect that you were talking about is we don't only see the transactions as being a payment transaction. A transaction can evolve to being a value transaction across our network, across our reach — and so that applies to digital ID.

But also, one could say that also applies to anything that's data related. Right? When you talked about some of these earlier projects that you and I worked on — we worked with a utility company, we worked with also a healthcare company.  And at the end of the day, we were able to use our network to be able to provide value so that when consumers shared their data and did good for themselves or the planet, right, they actually got value and return for it.

If you think about that, that's great, because there's an element around incentives and behavioral nudging, but there's also a higher order element around how do actually the actions of one or the actions at, you know, from a day-to-day perspective, those minute actions, end up evolving to be a significant community movement. And that's pretty exciting.

CUOMO: I agree. So, ladies and gentlemen, you've been listening to Oscar Roque, the innovator, the shaper of the future of finance, here at the Art of Automation. Oscar, I want to thank you for joining us today.

ROQUE: Thanks, Jerry. Glad to be here.

Learn more

Make sure you check out The Art of Automation podcast, especially Episode 23, from which this chapter came.

Make sure you check out The Art of Automation podcast, especially Episode 23, from which this chapter came.

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