Adapting AI to upscaling opportunities

When the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe in late 2019, it upended critical structures, including socioeconomic class structures, healthcare systems and medical treatments, economic life, communities, institutional arrangements, and everyday living. A canvassing of opinion by the Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center and Elon University has found that most business and policy leaders believe in deepening technological adoption.

Asked to comment on his forecast of what life will be like post-pandemic, Edwin Bautista, president and CEO of UnionBank of the Philippines, one of the most digitalized banks in the country, said he had changed his mind three times over the past six months because of the rapid advancements in digitalization and artificial intelligence that have been reshaping the workforce and triggering the debate about the future of work.

“The problem with taking baby steps is by the time you are ready with your innovation; the technology has already moved on [to the next level]. So you need to move much faster, and you need to be bolder,” he said. Before the pandemic, the buzzword was blockchain technology and how it would impact the banking sector. After the pandemic, Bautista noted that people are now talking about AI and how it would shape the future of banking.

“I have changed my views three times over the past six months, and I believe I am going to change my mind again next year after this conversation if I were to be asked what advice I would give to children if they take data science or math because of the rapid advancements in technology,” he went on to say.

Bautista explained that with many aspects of life, the key is to keep an open mind with these digital and innovative technologies and be persistent. These technological innovations were developed to make life easier once we learned to master their use. We might even find the learning process enjoyable. But more importantly, these latest technological trends offer opportunities to upscale your business.

AI adoption

The introduction of automated technology has opened a debate on the future of work. Machine learning, robots, and AI-powered technologies perform tasks previously done by human hands. The emerging shift is reshaping job opportunities and roles while at the same time creating a need for new competencies and skills.

But Bautista has dismissed fears AI will eventually replace humans.

“AI is developed in different stages, and to me, AI is a logical progression for using data science. When you look at data science, it means using statistical tools, and that concept has been used long before. As computing power increases, you can now do statistical methods that allow you to get the results you require faster,” Bautista explained.

With automation and AI reshaping industries and the job market, specific skills and behavior are becoming increasingly valuable in the technology-driven environment. Soft skills, including critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability, are more sought after because they are uniquely human and not replicable by machines.

AI and automation also allow humans to perform tasks at super fast speed. “What usually takes us hours of computation can now be achieved in seconds.”

He went on to say, “Nearly all areas in the banking industry now have some AI and automation features. But does it fit under the description of what you think AI is? To some, yes. It’s like a borderline, but that allows us to be prepared in case the technology is there, and we can learn from the technology to implement and adopt. The problem is not about whether to do it or whether you are prepared to act.”

UnionBank prepared for the technology when it started its digital journey five years ago, with the vision to eventually adopt AI. The introduction of automation and AI as part of its digital transformation allowed UBP to process loan applications from its growing customers instantly.

In addition, automation and AI allowed UnionBank to streamline its marketing strategies and, eventually, expenses, with the AI identifying customer sentiments almost instantaneously, allowing the bank to adjust direction based on customer preference.

He said AI provides UnionBank “the ability to modify the things they have,” with a “backend that allows me to change my products and features near real-time,” Bautista said.

Innovations and strategies

One of the most significant innovations introduced by UnionBank is its digital banking services giving financial access to the previously unserved and underserved sectors, who otherwise would be borrowing elsewhere or to loan sharks that charge exorbitant interest rates.

“We’re providing them (unserved and underserved sectors) with speedy access to credit at a lower interest rate, something they have experienced in the past. That’s the big thing because that is the whole premise of the digital bank that we are able to get the speed.

At the more everyday level, UnionBank is positioning itself as a digital bank to be seen ahead of its competition. “Digitize or die” was the favorite adage of Bautista and his UnionBank team.

However, the bank focuses on more than its digital banking branding, as several competitors have also entered the space. The next stage of UBP’s digital journey is to become the number one consumer bank in the Philippines in the next three years to cement its growth path to broaden its customer base.

Connected world

AI technologies and automation saw the future undergoing a revolutionary transformation. While the advancements in digital technology bring about challenges and concerns, they also create fresh opportunities and enhance the potential for greater productivity and innovation.

Adapting to the evolving landscape requires a focus on developing digital literacy, lifelong learning commitment, and soft skills. But fostering a partnership between machines and humans while guaranteeing inclusive growth allows us to navigate the future seamlessly and successfully.

“The world is so interconnected, you can choose to live in the middle ages, and you are not going to be competitive worldwide, or you can accept it to look into an advantage,” Bautista said. The Philippines will be the least affected negatively, but you will also have a positive impact. Some jobs require empathy. Those things require EQ, those things that can sing but will have the same depth of feelings that new artists can produce; look at the attempts to make art AI can draw art, right? But actually, it only copies what is already been created.”

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