Switzerland's UBS looks to increase size of Artificial Intelligence workforce

AI talent pool is scarce and a challenge to financial institutions seeking to maintain competitiveness

An attendee tries out an application on a SoftBank Group Corp. Pepper humanoid robot at the SoftBank Robot World 2017 in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. SoftBank Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son has put money into robots, artificial intelligence, microchips and satellites, sketching a vision of the future where a trillion devices are connected to the internet and technology is integrated into humans.  Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg
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UBS Group AG is expanding its workforce in one of the few areas in banking where demand for talent is growing.

“We’re currently recruiting more people for artificial intelligence,” Veronica Lange, head of innovation at Switzerland’s biggest bank, said in an interview in Moscow. “These are data scientists, architects, business analysts.”

AI refers to technology capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence. Big global banks like UBS are using it to scour vast databases for insight on customers and markets that could help lenders stay competitive as more and more technology firms delve into financial services.

UBS rolled out a robo-adviser last year that uses algorithms to help customers build and manage portfolios with little or no human interaction. Credit Suisse Group AG introduced a similar digital advisory platform in Hong Kong and Singapore in July.

Fraud prevention, optimization and risk management are also areas where the technology could be applied, Lange said. She declined to say how many people the bank wants to hire.

“We’ve built up a pipeline of projects over the past few years,” she said. “We believe it’s really fundamental, because the future is in the cognitive bank.”

About nine financial service companies out of 10 are working with AI technologies, according to a survey this year by Deloitte LLP and the industry group EFMA. After questioning about 3,000 executives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, it identified scarcity of technical talent as one of their biggest challenges, especially in the final phase of projects when the need for highly trained specialists often increases.

While most organizations need to make external hires to fill the AI skill gap, the majority are having trouble finding the right talent, EFMA and Deloitte said in a report on the survey.

The demand for AI experts runs counter to the trend where automation and digitalization is allowing lenders to make do with fewer employees. UBS Chief Executive Officer Sergio Ermotti has said the next decade may bring a 30 percent reduction in the bank’s workforce, partly through attrition.

Artificial intelligence “is a nascent technology in banking, and we are yet to grow the number of practitioners in the industry,” Lange said, when asked whether UBS was having a hard time finding qualified candidates. She declined to elaborate.