The most exciting new team at OCBC is expanding in Singapore

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The most exciting new team at OCBC is expanding in Singapore

OCBC is recruiting more data scientists for its artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Singapore. The unit, which launched last March with a team of just three, now employs about 30 data scientists, and OCBC wants its headcount to reach 40 next year, says lab head Ken Wong.

“Over the past three years, we’ve seen a huge increase in strategic AI projects within the bank that require specialised data science skills,” says Wong. “So we decided that the best model is to hire data scientists into the central OCBC AI Lab.”

Wong’s AI Lab currently has two open roles, according to the OCBC careers site. If you want to work as a mid-level AI data scientist, you’ll need at least four years’ experience and a postgraduate degree in fields such as statistics, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. You’ll also need experience in “applying machine learning techniques and designing algorithms that are scalable and production-grade”. And you’ll need to know analytical tools and languages such as Python scikit-learn, R, or SAS ML.

Therein lies the rub for OCBC – candidates with these skills are hard to find in Singapore, which has only recently emerged as a centre for AI development. Google, Amazon and Facebook are all hiring in AI, as are large banks. DBS, for example, is recruiting senior engineers to lead its in-house development of AI, Soh Siew Choo, head of consumer banking and big data analytics technology, told us earlier this year. JP Morgan, meanwhile, is hiring extra technologists in Singapore, partly because of additional investment in areas such as AI.

Wong, however, says the local talent pool is slowly expanding. “While there are still shortages of AI professionals in the market, we have begun to see better candidates in the last six months, as more people get exposed to the technology,” he says.

OCBC is also trying to build a “pipeline of AI talent”, via its S$100k OCBC AI Scholarship, which is open to full-time masters students from NUS, NTU and SMU, says Wong. Three students will be awarded the scholarship this year, and they will work in the lab for 12 to 18 months after they graduate.

What sort of work gets done at OCBC’s AI lab? Earlier this week, for example, the bank launched a new voice-activated virtual assistant for its mobile app, which uses conversational AI and natural language processing (NLP) technology. Developed in partnership with Clinc, a US-based fintech, the product was designed to process “unstructured phrases” – in other words Singlish dialogue such as, “Can pay my bill?”.

OCBC’s AI Lab is embedded within the advanced analytics team, which employs close to 80 data analysts and scientists. The bank has rolled out more than 50 AI-driven products for customers and employees since 2016. “We use AI to combat financial crime through prioritising flagged transactions according to their risk levels and assisting our analysts in their investigation efforts,” says Wong. “These cases tend to be very complex and our AI is able to suggest possible links and patterns which might be difficult for humans to spot,” he adds. Other focuses of OCBC’s AI include account opening and insurance-claim processing.

Image credit: siyuanma, Getty

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