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High costs and data skills shortage the main barriers to AI in banking: Emirates NBD official


Consultancy firm PwC predicts potential contribution of AI to the economic growth of the UAE to stand at 13.6 percent by year 2030

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being integrated into many services already provided by banks in the United Arab Emirates, but its high cost and a shortage of specialist data scientists could preclude a more widespread use, according to Emirates NBD’s vice-president of analytics, Paul Butres.

Speaking to Zawya on the sidelines of the Artificial Intelligence Week Middle East conference in Dubai on Tuesday, Butres said of Emirates NBD’s own operations that AI “is used everywhere in the bank”.

“It covers retail banking, wholesale banking, risk and compliance department etc. So it touches all the areas of the operations of the bank,” Butres said.

“If you look at it (AI) from a retail point of view, everything is done in our interaction with our customers is done through advanced analytics and AI. So simply the offer you are receiving to any channel that you are connected with the bank on, like mobile banking, or at a branch, ATM. All those offers coming to you is by analysing the information of our customers and trying to offer the best to the customers at the right time.”

Artificial Intelligence is created via a series of algorithms that allow companies to analyse large sets of data for a special purpose or to highlight specific customer insights. From this, banks can create customised offers or detect patterns of potentially fraudulent behaviour.

Discussing the challenges of wider integration of AI into banks, Butres said:“I do not know if I can call it a challenge, but sometimes you look at the value for money and ask: if I am going to spend $x million on analytics, am I getting $3x million or am I getting $x million or less?”.

“But you need it (AI), there is no way you can sustain your position or compete without investing in this technology, you will find yourself outside of the market soon.”

Consultancy firm PwC said that AI could add as much as 13.6 percent to the UAE’s economic growth by 2030, which was not as high as China (26.1 percent) but was more than regional peers in Saudi Arabia (12.4 percent) and Egypt (7.7 percent).

PwC did not provide short-term growth estimates, though. In a response to questions from Zawya, one of the report’s authors, Richard Boxshall, said its projections were derived from an analysis of each geography’s population, capital growth and technological changes.

Butres said that another concern related to the AI industry in the Middle East was in the skillset of data scientists in the market.

“Data scientists started to come to the region recently and hopefully they will be changing the way we do advanced analytics in terms of uncovering hidden insights,” he said.

He said the next move for the integration of AI in Emirates NBD is to implement an AI-powered face recognition technology that could identify customers before they have any conversation with the bank employees. The technology could even deduce whether customers were happy or not. He did not say when such technology would be implemented, but said it would be “soon”.

He added that Emirates NBD was also working on an enhanced chat bot, which is a computer programme designed to conduct online chats with people either to solve problems or direct enquiries. The enhanced bot should be able to better understand customers’ enquiries and their emotional state, he said.

He argued that the integration of AI technology does not put the privacy of customers at risk

“We treat data very carefully and nobody is allowed to access any data. The machine is the one that has access to the data through AI technology… We don’t have access to names or any data related to any customer.”

During an earlier presentation at the conference, Ahmed Kajoor, the chief information officer at Dubai Municipality, said that one future application of AI could be identifying the productivity of employees through an upgraded face recognition technology that could detect if a person was actually working, or doing something else.

“I know from experience in (a) contracting company that almost 30 percent (of working hours) is being wasted and people are not working. Just by putting the (AI-powered) camera, monitoring the people and identifying even the people’s names… you can find out what people are doing,” Kajoor said.

“Those things are needed. We are in a place where we have to be very efficient and use the resources very efficiently,” he added.

About Marc Mcilhone

Marc Mcilhone
Marc Mcilhone is ArabBrains' Editor - sourcing news and features content and overseeing the work of the site’s contributors. Marc’s work is informed by his technical background in architecture having worked for some of the UK’s leading practices on projects within the education, healthcare and housing sectors. Marc has a particular interest in how innovators are creating sustainable solutions that have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives. Please email press releases and news to:

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