Artificial intelligence is set to revolutionise the financial services industry in the years ahead, says Westpac’s chief technology officer David Walker, driving major efficiency gains and allowing for more personalised customer experiences.
“Generative AI, I believe, will be the most disruptive technology innovation since the advent of the personal computer and, more recently, the inception of the internet,” said Walker in his opening address at TECHx23, the bank’s week-long technology expo.
“It’s something that is going to change the way that we all individually and personally interact, and it’s going to be incredibly important for the bank going forward.”
The ninth annual TECHx conference – which brought together almost 5000 attendees across the bank – is an opportunity for staff to learn about tech innovation, hear from industry thought leaders, and connect with colleagues in the community.
The impact AI will have on the industry is likely to evolve across three distinct waves, Walker said.
“We’re at the peak of the first wave – this stage is very much a partnership in making decisions, [AI providing data] that humans have to interpret.”
But that’s just the beginning. In the future, AI will increasingly act on behalf of humans, gaining greater autonomy in decision making and problem solving.
The finance sector’s immediate focus is on boosting productivity across different processes with artificial intelligence. A recent study by PWC found that by 2030, generative AI will have helped to increase global GDP by 26 per cent.
Earlier this year, Westpac conducted an in-house experiment to understand whether integrating generative AI would improve productivity and experience for the bank’s engineers.
The experiment found that, when compared to a control group performing tasks solo and manually, software engineers who were aided by generative AI saw a 46 per cent productivity gain.
AI-pair programming, a technique that involves the use of AI to assist a developer in writing code, was found to deliver equal – or better – quality code.
The quality of developers’ experiences significantly improved as well.
“Engineers went from being somewhat sceptical at the beginning, to the point where they are strong advocates for it,” Walker said.
For senior engineers, use of AI removed toil from their work allowing them to focus on more value-added tasks, while junior engineers found it more beneficial from a training and guidance perspective.
Rolled out to over 700 engineers across Westpac over the last 4 months, they are writing 22 per cent more code every day.
The move towards hybrid intelligence, where both human and artificial intelligence can interact with each other, is next on the horizon. This stage will see AI using ’domain-based expertise’ – making judgement calls, evaluating inputs, and guiding users, while humans are still in charge.
The opportunity here is to create ‘ambient’ user experiences – technology systems which will seamlessly and intuitively interact with Westpac’s customers and employees, based on the needs and context of their requests.
Creating ambient user experiences involves re-thinking and re-imagining a world beyond mobile banking apps; where conversations, personalised video, and new customer experiences are favoured.
Ambient computing is poised to revolutionise user experiences. It could be the banking app offering customers quick access to withdrawal options and promotions when they are near Westpac ATMs, or a smart home device proactively suggesting allocating funds to savings based on spending patterns when reviewing the user’s daily schedule.
“These interfaces and this ability to just converse with technology in a different way, and a more meaningful way, will create these new experiences.”
As technologies mature, and new services and products are available, autonomous AI will eventually be the norm – representing a shift from AI as a tool, to AI as reasoning machines.
“The third [wave], which is a little bit further out, is this idea of creating a personalised financial concierge capable of looking over our digital shoulder and helping us in our everyday activities, particularly in giving us the advice that we need at the right time,” said Walker.
But while autonomous AI can be powerful and meaningful, the prospect of AI acting on our behalf places even more importance on its responsible use, Walker said.
“Responsible AI is a community concern, and collectively we all need to understand how we apply the techniques and technologies to ensure that we adopt AI at scale, but also responsibly,” said Walker.
“As AI grows, we need to build in the ethical boundaries, we need to make sure it’s transparent, and we also need to make sure it’s aligned to our values.
At a time of fast-technological change, it’s important that organisations are constantly looking to evolve, Walker said.
“Our goal is to become a future ready organisation at every opportunity.”