Artificial intelligence can enhance efficiency and productivity in financial services and is hence emerging as an important tool in the industry. It can reduce human errors and biases, along with improving the quality by spotting anomalies that cannot be picked up from current reporting methods.
We caught up with Jayashree Mitra, the global head of the end-user service desk, to understand more about AI and automation in this industry. She has 23 years of cross-industry experience, of which she has spent 20 years working in Financial Services Technology for Standard Chartered Bank and UBS.
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AIM: You have had an interesting career trajectory. Share some of your major milestones and other interesting anecdotes.
Jayashree Mitra: Throughout my childhood, I was always taught the virtues of self-reliance. At that time, all I understood was that I would have to stand on my own feet very soon and earn my own living right after college (dad was clear that I had to leave home by 20!).
I started off being an entrepreneur at age 23, running an IFB authorised sales and service centre. Working with technicians and electronics, I learnt the art of making washing machines and microwave ovens work! Probably my strong foundations in Math and Physics helped. In time, I sold the company and moved on to Office Tiger Database Systems, where I was the lead floor manager – a very different job than I experienced. And I did well – earning promotions and salary raises! Standard Chartered Bank happened next – from an IT Change Analyst to heading Testing for the biggest core banking programme to being chief of staff to the group head of technology to leading IT Infrastructure to IT Risk and Compliance. This bank taught me most of what I know in IT today.
Currently, I am the global head of the end-user service desk which means I am looking at driving more automation and intelligence into the way our users interact with the services we offer.
Working across countries, cultures and different divisions, I learnt to appreciate IT as an enabler – as a means to an end, not the end in itself (so, learn the domain also, don’t be just technical). I also learnt that the future belonged to companies that would transform themselves into “technology companies in the business of banking, manufacturing, healthcare, etc.”
And in all honesty, the power of information technology, the way it shapes and transforms our everyday lives – the power of it all amazed me, and I was drawn to it automatically.
AIM: How is UBS utilising AI, ML, and analytics to drive growth?
Jayashree Mitra: Together with our innovation teams, we are continuously bringing more automation and personalisation into our platforms. We primarily use AI and machine learning and ultimately use data to drive all our decisions.
At UBS, harnessing AI is the cornerstone of our data intelligence and automation strategy, which involves using automation and AI to develop best in class recommendation engines for our clients and our employees. Diverse AI projects are going on as we speak – from fraud detection to compliance, risk management to advanced HR analytics, and a new system that facilitates foreign exchange transactions.
AIM: Tell us about UBS’ plans on expanding its India office.
Jayashree Mitra: We opened our fifth office in India in December 2020 in Hyderabad. UBS is in India for the long term and has grown rapidly in the last five years. We have seen a lot of growth in the number of people in India, and this is a testament to the talent and expertise available in the country.
AIM: What is the role of emerging technologies such as AI and data analytics in financial institutions?
Jayashree Mitra: AI is a machine tool capable of mimicking human-like cognitive functions like learning, thinking, and problem-solving. It comprises a suite of technologies like ML, deep learning, speech recognition, image processing, etc. In financial institutions based on trust, AI-driven decision-making plays a very important role. AI-powered chatbots are helping in mobile banking, AI banking applications suggesting targeted financial products, automation for efficiencies, AI-based data collection for more personalised experiences, AI algorithmic predictions for wealth and portfolio management, fraud detection, market sentiment analysis, loan disbursement decisions and more.
AIM: What are your views on technology governance?
Jayashree Mitra: As was said in the ‘Spiderman’ movie, “With great power comes great responsibility”, we need to handle the AI power responsibly. We have to be able to understand the difference between “error in judgement” vs “error in intent”. All AI must be built to tackle both of these.
Many developed nations have national-level AI strategies where the general common elements are R&D, skilling, data ecosystems, developing computing & network infrastructure, collaborative partnerships, ethics and regulations. However, mature laws and regulations are still being developed. This is an age of self-regulation. Everyone from the developers to board members of organisations will be accountable for responsible AI. Authorities are looking for explainability, transparency, provability, neutrality, accountability and accessibility associated with AI.
AIM: As a Diversity and Inclusion leader at UBS India, how do you think diversity will help build better technology solutions?
Jayashree Mitra: It’s not only about race or gender when it comes to diversity. Background, perspective, age, education, and a variety of other factors all play a role, and India, with its vast natural diversity, has plenty of it.
In order to come up with the best answers to company difficulties, customer success, and innovative thinking, diversity of opinion is essential. A big chunk of the invention spectrum is overlooked when team members are too similar.
To be genuinely valuable today, teams must be inventive. Teams that challenge the current quo, explore beyond the obvious, and operate creatively are more likely to innovate. If everyone on the team has the same information, skills, worldview, and biases, they will invariably arrive at the same conclusions. The only way to avoid falling into this trap and build truly innovative teams is to embrace diversity.
AIM: How can we encourage more women in STEM?
Jayashree Mitra: To begin, the following steps can be taken:
- A love for the sciences has to build from Kindergarten. Curiosity, analytical ability, using logic to explain a point of view and mental arithmetic should be rewarded. These are the basics of STEM.
- The mindset that Math and Physics are for men should be challenged. The human mind is the same for both sexes – why should we paint it in our prejudices?
- Schools and colleges should be incentivised to bring in more girls.
- Employment opportunities and favourable work conditions for women from STEM should be mandated.