HSBC launches global AI lab in Toronto

The bank's new lab will employ 50 staff and help analyze 'largest collection of client data it has ever compiled.'

HSBC is looking to make Toronto a major part of its global AI work, with the bank announcing the opening of a Global Data & Innovation Lab in the city on Thursday.

Focused on creating an AI ecosytem that develops advanced machine learning techniques, the bank said the lab’s work will involve the largest collection of corporate and institutional client data it has ever compiled, including 47,000 tables of information from all 67 countries where HSBC operates. It will process 10 petabytes (or 10,000 terabytes) of data from 1.6 million clients.

The goal is to employ 50 staff at the lab, including AI professionals, technologists, co-op students and interns. It will also bring external partners into the lab, looking to leverage the numerous fintech and AI companies based in Toronto and across Canada. James Bickerton, global head of operational strategy at HSBC Global Banking and Markets, said the lab will be built around “co-development” of solutions, sharing its intellectual property to create a collaborative atmosphere, instead of a competitive one.

HSBC has also opened a similar Global Data & Innovation Lab in London, U.K., and aims to employ an additional 100 staff there.

Artificial intelligence has become a major focus of investment for banks in recent years – both in Canada and globally – as they look to organize and analyze the wealth of market and client data under their ownership to better anticipate market changes, predict client behaviour and develop consumer-facing tools that serve their financial needs. Much of that investment has been through a mix of working with Canada’s AI and fintech companies, but also through launching their own labs and research centres: last year, TD acquired AI startup Layer 6, while RBC spent 2018 growing its Borealis AI research lab and expanding it into new cities. At this week’s Collision conference in Toronto, Michael Rhodes, group head of innovation, technology and shared services for TD, cited a collaborative approach to working with startups as being key to accelerating the implementation of AI solutions.

“The Lab will give us the ability to aggregate a wide variety of datasets to truly understand, on a global basis, what corporate clients are doing, what their consumption patterns are, and what the trade flow looks like across all the jurisdictions where we operate,” said Chuck Teixeira, chief administrative officer and head of transformation at HSBC Global Banking and Markets. “We will not only be anticipating what a customer’s needs are, but also actually behaviouralising and then adding it to the historical consumption patterns to do predictive analytics around that customer.”