Swiss financial service providers are recognizing the artificial intelligence (AI) trend and do not want to do things by halves. Jörg Osterrieder, Finance Professor at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), says: “We have received a lot of enquiries from finance companies that want to collaborate with us on AI questions over recent months.” Greater Zurich is predestined for this – it is a finance center that has grown over time and has renowned universities with a focus on AI. At the ZHAW School of Engineering, successful projects have been undertaken in this area for years. Osterrieder points out: “For financial service providers, there are AI applications in all business areas.” This is due to the availability of data, which can be analyzed using AI to produce much more than efficiency gains.
Fintech trend fueled by AI
AI is in particularly high demand among Swiss financial service providers but not just in the big data and blockchain areas. It is used to create clever commercial strategies for asset management in particular. Some of the wealthtech startups from the Greater Zurich Area are among the most innovative in the world.
Last year, the Zurich-based startup Aaaccell made an impressive exit with its decision-making tool for asset managers and it is now part of the international LPA Group. The family office software company Altoo from Zug has seen rapid growth. However, AI has also simplified new solutions for loan refinancing: for example, the Zug-based company i2invest is breaking new ground in marketplace lending and gained new investor funds in 2020. They have all refined their AI together with Prof. Osterrieder’s team.
ZHAW coordinates international projects
Osterrieder has a good view of the AI scene. For almost two years now, he has also led a European research program on the subject of fintech and AI in finance. Institutes and companies from 38 countries are coordinated from Winterthur in Greater Zurich, where the internationally renowned conference on AI in industry and finance is held at the ZHAW, currently in its sixth iteration. The projects span a whole range of current AI applications, including transparent design of AI models in the finance industry to prevent the “black box” problem. The experts are also working on proposals for new industry guidelines.
Conditions are excellent in Greater Zurich
It is no coincidence that the ZHAW School of Engineering is at the forefront of this subject. “Conditions for AI finance projects at the ZHAW and in the Greater Zurich Area as a whole are exceptionally good,” Osterrieder explains, adding that there are great opportunities there to implement very large, exciting projects with the help of research funding and companies that consciously want to invest in AI and work closely with research. Osterrieder goes on to say: “Moreover, we are in an optimal position to recruit excellent skilled workers on an international comparison.” By this, he means experts from the local universities or the European region, for example. This includes experienced professionals seeking a change of scene after working at a major bank. This is particularly important with regard to competition with the USA and China, where tech giants amass AI know-how.
However, according to Osterrieder the concentration of research competences also makes the location exciting. There are partner institutes at the University of Zurich or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) that are very close-by. The ZHAW itself established a Centre for Artificial Intelligence (CAI) this year, where work will be conducted on the fundamentals, which can make a major difference when applied in the finance industry.
By Yvonne von Hunnius
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