What Does The CEO Of SCB Abacus Say About AI In Banking?
Sutapa Amornvivat was always precocious. As a youth she represented Thailand at the 23rd International Chemistry Olympiad and later won the country’s most prestigious academic scholarship, the King’s Scholarship. A Harvard University degree in applied mathematics and a doctorate in technology, management and policy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) followed almost as a matter of routine.
Helming SCB Abacus, an advanced financial data analytics spin-off by Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), is the latest port of call on her odyssey through the world of international high banking and finance, a world in which she shines. “After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I deferred my PhD programme at MIT for a while and decided to test the waters in consulting. During that time I also interned at the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the Harvard Institute of International Development.” The position of director of macro-economic analysis at the Thai Fiscal Policy Office followed before she returned to the US for a role at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington DC.
While in the States Dr Sutapa realised she needed exposure to European economics and finance and took leave without pay from the IMF to work with Dutch banking and financial services giant ING Group in the Netherlands. Then, as fate would have it, in 2008 ING took a major share in Thailand’s TMB and she was asked to return to Bangkok to establish TMB Analytics, the bank’s risk modelling unit. Incredibly, when she subsequently joined SCB in 2010 she was still only 38 years old.
In the intervening years the chief economist and spearhead of the Economic Intelligence Center (EIC) and the risk analysis division at SCB has become a key figure in the modernisation of financial risk management in Thailand. That she is held in esteem by her peers is evidenced in the various senior positions she holds on influential committees and industry watchdogs within the Thai banking and finance sector. These include a seat on the sub-committee for Monetary Banking, Financial Institutions and Capital Markets under the National Legislative Assembly, a seat on the general committee of the Thai Center of Excellence for Life Sciences, and a spot on the Public Sector Audit and Evaluation Sub-commission overseeing the development of Thailand’s eastern economic corridor under the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission.
In 2017 Dr Sutapa began to get to grips with artificial intelligence, or AI, in banking. “A couple of years ago we started to notice AI as a highly disruptive and emerging trend. The traditional players in the market weren’t sure how and to what extent AI could create disruption but the bank wanted to understand it.” Hence a small unit was set up to investigate—which would grow to become the SCB Abacus team comprising 40 of the brightest individuals in the business. As the unit head explains, “The advantage of AI is that you can quickly find the value of data across a range of different industries. If you rely on data from a single industry, you don’t see the mass of interlinked information. We wanted to explore the capabilities of AI technology and how it can be used to uplift existing financial services.”
However, the busy wife and mother of a young daughter—where she finds the time to indulge her passion for meditation is anyone’s guess—ends on a cautionary note. “AI, fast calculations and logic are important and you won’t beat a machine when it comes to that. But human communication skills are fundamental too. Face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable,” she says.
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