CBA boosts AI cred with new partnership, unleashing a ‘juggernaut of co-innovation’

Andrew McMullen CBA
CBA's Chief Data and Analytics Officer & H2 board member Andrew McMullan

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has secured an exclusive partnership deal with Silicon Valley-based artificial intelligence (AI) developer, giving the ‘big four’ bank’s Australian and NZ arms access to a powerful new AI brains trust.

The deal will see CBA implement’s “state-of-the-art” AI Cloud platform, enabling the bank to advance on existing and emerging customer personalisation initiatives delivering through its online portals, including bills prediction, cash flow forecasting, tailored product offerings and discounts, as well as a number of ‘green’ initiatives.

H2O’s AI Cloud service is equipped with automated machine learning capabilities and natural language processing technologies, with the AI-specialist developer noting that finance-specific features can be added into the platform, including anomaly detection (to help pinpoint instances of fraud, for instance), automated credit risk assessments, and LIBOR clause detection.

Among H2Os current financial services industry partnerships include Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Capital One, PayPal, Discover, and Equifax.

“An AI Cloud… [makes] it easier for organisations to roll-out AI to every business unit and build it into the fabric of day-to-day operations,” H2O noted on its website.

“AI Clouds offer technology across the AI lifecycle, including making features, models, and apps, operating and monitoring them, and sharing them across the organisation.”

The deal will also give CBA access to H20’s rich talent pool of data scientists, engineers and business users, including ‘Kaggle Grandmasters’ – a select community of accomplished machine learning engineers and product specialists – “that will work full time on developing new AI solutions within the bank”.

CBA chief executive Matt Comyn said the new deal would give CBA the opportunity to work with “some of the world’s best data scientists”, as well as attract “top talent wanting to work with the best tools on the biggest data sets on the most interesting problems”.

“We see broad application for AI and machine learning technology right across our business – in operational processes, protecting customers from fraud, lending decisions, and risk management,” he added.

According to H2O, the world’s top 20 ‘Kaggle Grandmasters’ (spruiked as “a community of best-in-the-world machine learning practitioners and data scientists”) are employed by H2O. The Kaggle community forum is a subsidiary company of Google, with CBA noting that H2O “employs a significant number of the world’s top data scientists” from Kaggle’s ranks.

Comyn welcomed the potential of the partnership to “further differentiate and extend [CBA’s] artificial intelligence capability to better anticipate customer needs, and reimagine products and digital experiences to meet those needs”.

He singled out the potential to advance on the bank’s service personalisation objectives, delivering, he said, “deliver greater value for our customers.”

CBA’s chief data and analytics officer, Andrew McMullan, also a director on the H2O board, recognised applications for the to help “better predict bills and forecast cash flows for both retail and business customers”.

“Customers want to be in control, and through the combination of our award-winning app, powered by artificial intelligence, we can deliver products and services in the moment to manage unexpected expenses or irregular incomes.”

McMullan said the platform would help to link its customers not only to personalised offerings from the bank itself but also CBA partner businesses.

“Through this [H2O] partnership, we will be able to better help customers find personalised and relevant offers to save money while they shop across platforms like Little Birdie, Karta, CommBank Rewards, and Klarna, while at the same time driving sales for merchants.

“We intend to be one of the highest quality, lowest cost sources of leads to our business customers.”

This could also extend to ‘green’ initiatives, McMullan said.

“We are not just helping customers make better decisions about their finances, but also about how they can reduce and offset their energy usage and carbon emissions.

He added: “We will be using our AI models to orchestrate a range of services available across the CBA ecosystem for customers, including through our own products like the Green Loan to help homeowners finance solar or a battery, or through recently announced partnerships such as Amber Energy and CoGo.

CBA is also a among a number of major investors in H2O, contributing to its most recent capital raising round. H2O said it has amassed $100 million in Series E funding.

The AI specialist firm has now raised more than $250 million from these funding rounds, with Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Crane Venture Partners, Wells Fargo, New York Life and NVIDIA among its investors.