ANZ to tap Watson for big data financial advice

ANZ is set to leverage IBM's cognitive computing platform Watson in a bid to improve its financial advice process, and extend the service to hundreds of financial planners around Australia.

ANZ is set to unveil its Watson Engagement Advisor Tool in its Sydney "Grow Centre", with plans to also launch the cognitive computing platform's functionality more broadly to over 400 financial planners.

The company hopes to observe the types of questions coming from both customers and financial advisors in order to continue enhancing Watson's capabilities and insights with the opening of its Watson tool externally.

ANZ signed up to IBM's Watson-powered "Engagement Advisor" in May last year, with the service allowing customer-facing employees to obtain customer insights via the platform's cloud-based, data-driven analytics, along with Watson's natural language-powered learning engine. The goal is for Watson to help enable its financial advice team to deliver an improved advice process — making it more efficient for customers to receive a statement of financial advice, and reducing the time down from weeks to a single session.

The initial scope of Watson is in the area of insurance and protection, and it will soon be expanded to cover the full wealth strategy, including superannuation and investments.

"Everyone should have access to affordable, consistent, and high-quality financial advice. To this end, we began to look at how we could leverage Watson to process big data to enable smarter and faster financial advice," said Joyce Phillips, ANZ CEO global wealth group.

"This technology is an important step forward in the way we serve our clients. It has the potential to not only reduce the time it takes to deliver financial advice, but also to make the customer experience simple, yet tailored and enriched with personalised data and insights," she said.

The move comes in the lead up to the opening in November of a Watson Client Experience Centre located within the IBM Research Lab in Melbourne.

The centre will act as a local skills hub, allowing Australian organisations to collaborate with over 2,600 local and international experts, and experience Watson's capabilities first-hand, and is one of six that IBM plans to open around the world as part of a billion-dollar investment, with the Watson headquarters in New York City's "Silicon Alley" opening this week.

In addition to New York City, Melbourne joins other centres located in Brazil, England, Ireland, and Singapore.

IBM is also partnering with major universities across Australia to launch cognitive computing courses that give students unprecedented access to Watson technology.

Beginning in 2015, Victoria's Deakin University and the University of South Australia will offer cognitive computing courses. The courses will be embedded in various faculty offerings, including IT, computing, business, and engineering degrees.

Deakin is planning to use Watson to develop an online student engagement advisor. The student advisor application will deliver online access via the web and mobile devices for the university's 50,000 students.

Over the next several months, Watson will crunch thousands of pages of the university's unstructured data contained in documents, presentations, brochures, and online to ensure that users receive "consistent, high-quality responses" to the thousands of queries received across a broad range of topics.

"Students continuously tell us they want access to accurate, immediate, and easily understandable information that they can instantly find themselves," said vice-chancellor and president of Deakin University professor Jane den Hollander. "Watson ticks all of these boxes. Watson will fundamentally change how we engage with our broad communities based here in Australia and overseas."

IBM's expansion of the Watson platform in Australia follows the company's launch of Watson Analytics in late September, with Big Blue hailing the platform as a big data game changer that would allow the average business user to employ data analysis technology.