A coffee with… David Fellows, CDO, Acuity Knowledge Partners
With over two decades of experience in tech, David Fellows heads up tech, innovation and digital transformation at Acuity Knowledge Partners, which provides research, analytics and business intelligence solutions to the financial services sector.
Prior to joining Acuity in 2017, Fellows worked for Moody’s Analytics, leading the development and delivery of several credit risk products, including leading the division dedicated to bank capital stress-testing solutions.
TechInformed met up with Fellows to discuss the current finance landscape and generative AI’s part-to-play to ease some of the issues it’s facing — all over a cup of coffee.
What does your job involve?
It’s focused on what we like to call ‘plastic challenges. We look at application development, we have a data science team focused on generative artificial intelligence challenges, so problems you could solve using natural language programming.
Underpinning everything are the change management issues involved when introducing new technology and new processes.
But the thing that’s changed the most — probably over the last nine months — has been the introduction of generative AI. It’s introduced a lot of changes, many for good.
What are the biggest challenges finance is facing right now?
We’re still facing a lot of uncertainty due to the macroeconomic climate and the war in Ukraine. There are also significant challenges around inflation and cost of living.
It’s led to a situation where a lot of organisations are being cautious and assessing how they can make their budget go further. Banks also have a ton of work to do around regulation, while also considering how they can be efficient and spend their budget in the right way.
How can AI help overcome these challenges?
It can enable analysts to do their work quicker, at a higher quality. If you’ve got a massive data set, generative AI can help you make sense of that a lot quicker than if you were trying to do so manually.
In lending services, organisations must build credit reports, these are usually 50-page documents. GPT 4 can be used to help analysts by creating a draft version.
In HR, GPT 4 can be used to answer first line human resources questions, such as ‘What’s my pension?’, ‘When will I get paid?’ etc. It helps take the pressure off.
You can’t handle the volume, variety, and veracity of data today without having augmented capabilities.
Why are some businesses cautious about using generative AI?
Like with any great technology, the challenge is to figure out how to deliver it and make it work. There are still many unanswered questions around traceability.
If we’re using a large language model and it offers an opinion based on facts, do we have the traceability to understand where those facts came from? If you’re doing a credit risk under the Dodd-Frank regulatory regime in the US, you must be able to explain all the elements that go into it.
There are also ethical considerations. Large language models have been trained on huge corpuses of data and there’s questions around whether there’s inherent biases in that data — If so, how do you understand them?
Data security and data residency in regulatory environment is also something to think about. Having data leave your firewall is something that needs to be carefully considered and controlled.
What can be done to get management on board with LLMs?
Be very open, very honest, and very inclusive.
At Acuity we’re trying to help the analysts understand how they can use this technology. We’ve put in place structured programs around LLMs. We also have innovation days and generative AI workshops where we teach analysts how this technology can be applied.
What coffee do you have there?
Double espresso, European style.
Besides caffeine, how do you recharge your batteries during the working day?
I cannot emphasise how important a question that is, which I didn’t realise until fairly recently.
I spent a lot of my career in California, and I picked up some good habits. I’m a big believer in mindfulness and meditation, and I also do a lot of swimming. I also have two Golden Retrievers who require a lot of walking.
But it’s important to consider how you’re feeling if you’re going to be an effective executive these days.
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