This Canadian financial institution disrupted their industry with AI!

Posted 29 January 2018
Disrupting the financial services industry with AI

Any discussion of insurgents in the financial services industry and companies using artificial intelligence (AI) to get business value from their data would be incomplete if it didn’t include ATB Financial, the largest Alberta-based financial institution (FI).

But it’s not flashy robotics or virtual customer service agents that have added the most value for ATB. “Probably the coolest AI activities that we’re undertaking now”, said Wellington Holbrook, CTO at ATB, “are things that won’t get seen by our customers at all.”

Wellington Holbrook, CTO at ATB Financial
Wellington Holbrook, CTO at ATB Financial

“It is the process improvements we’re bringing to things like how we fund loans, to how we complete applications for credit, to how we perform account administrations for our customer accounts. AI is completely transforming the experiences, and just the wait times our customers experience when dealing with us.”

“Like many banks it might take us a week or two to approve and fund a mortgage for our customers, we’re starting to find ways to do that in minutes if not hours. It’s AI which is driving those changes, yet customers would never know AI is involved in the experience”, Holbrook told us.

How and why are ATB using AI to make process improvements?

“[AI technology] is the only affordable and relatively simple solution to process problems”, said Holbrook. “The processors of any bank are quite complex, as they’ve been developed over decades, so they’re not very customer friendly in today’s world where expectations have changed dramatically because of technology.”

“Often these processes are smoothed out to try and make them work. But that generally means that they’re even slower, and more prone to mistakes. AI is one of the only solutions that is actually feasible to do some of this work, 24 hours a day, with much fewer mistakes and much higher frequency of getting the answer right.”

ATB supplied aiweek with the specific details of some of the AI technologies the FI is using to streamline their processes and save their customers, as well as their staff, valuable time. We have published a selection of that information here:

AI Technology Description/Use Department it may support Vendor
Robotics Process Automation (AKA RPA, First Bot we deployed is named Botson) This is a processing bot meant to execute simple MasterCard transfers and transactions for the consumer. Examples include Balance Transfer, Fee & Interest Reversals and Payments CFO Portfolio – Mastercard processing Blue Prism (Burnie Group is our implementer)
Watson Data generation/collaboration – internal Data IBM
Proof of technology in process Support ATB’s effort in customer onboarding All of ATB Avoka, (Australia) won a global fintech challenge to tackle this with us


These are examples of how ATB has taken a bold approach in adopting new technology, contriving ways to uncover the best AI vendors, and identifying processes in their business which could and should be automated.

44% of potential clients are lost in an onboarding processing that is both physical and digital, according to data by Swiss Post, the national postage service of Switzerland, so it is particularly interesting that ATB is employing AI technology to optimize this process.

“Just about all financial institutions are starting to come to the realisation that we must approach technology in a very different way than we have, historically”, Holbrook told us

As shown in the table, Avoka, a fintech founded in Sydney, won ATB’s Customer Onboarding Global Innovation Challenge, powered by KPMG, and was unanimously awarded first prize, outstripping more than 50 other fintechs from 14 different countries.

ATB’s innovating strategy is not entirely new, as back in 2011 ATB successfully migrated their entire legacy system to a major new core system built using SAP solutions, a project of one of the largest scopes in North American banking.

In 2016 ATB sent one of the world’s first real-time payments from Canada to Germany, using blockchain technology supported by SAP.

“Just about all financial institutions are starting to come to the realisation that we must approach technology in a very different way than we have, historically”, Holbrook told us.

“The infrastructure of some of the largest global financial institutions is so complex that these kinds of projects are quite difficult to manage. Mid-sized financial institutions like ATB have a competitive advantage to use this kind of tech.”

Optimize your operations, retrain your staff, reap the benefits

“When we look ahead, we don’t see us having less people working here”, Holbrook told us, when asked how new technologies will affect the 5000+ employees working at ATB. “We just see them doing different kind of work than they do today, or many of them doing different kind of work than they do today.”

“The challenge and opportunity AI brings”, he said, “is to shift where our team members are currently spending their time, which is a lot of process driven activities that are lower value add, to a place where there’s much more customer connected activities where there’s high-value add.”

“When we can redeploy team members or resources from doing low value-added tasks, to high value-added work, we measure that and so we know it is definitely of financial benefit to us.”

“In the old days banks would spend three years on big technology projects and often the outcomes would be not nearly as good as were hoped for. This technology happens in small bits and pieces, and what’s amazing is that you can start to see big gains with small initiatives very quickly. Our industry is just getting started, and it’s exciting.”