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Guest blog: Unlocking efficiency and innovation - how Generative AI can empower building societies for success

Chad Cracknell (Microsoft) and Paul Ballard (Nationwide) outline Nationwide's journey into Generative AI, highlighting the opportunities, ethical considerations and tips to get ready to scale.

Paul Ballard, Nationwide and Chad Cracknell, MicrosoftPaul Ballard, Technology Strategy and Enterprise Architecture Director, Nationwide Building Society

Chad Cracknell, Client Director - Nationwide Building Society, Microsoft UK 
 

Introduction to GenAI 
 

The financial services industry is experiencing an inflection point in digital transformation, with Generative AI (GenAI) offering tremendous potential in the way organisations serve customers and members, drive operational efficiencies, and increase productivity.  

What makes Generative AI distinctive is its capability to produce new and novel outputs based on data the model is trained on. It can generate text, audio and images based on the style of the original data. 

As strategic partners, Nationwide and Microsoft have collaborated since early 2023 to develop an organisational AI strategy, design and implement Responsible AI principles and guardrails, and mobilise several experiments to deploy GenAI solutions within the Society. 

Use Cases of Gen AI in Building Societies 
 

Across Financial Services, opportunities can be summarised into four themes: software development (coding and testing), content synthesis (summarising knowledge and providing insight), creative content (creating documents and images) and customer engagement (supporting interactions).  

As Building Societies - including Nationwide’s position as the UK’s largest building society -  we have a unique role in our approach to serve our communities. GenAI offers potential to further this, for instance, enabling us to offer more tailored digital propositions, improve service, and optimise decision making, risk management and operational efficiency. 

There is opportunity to unlock new avenues of innovation and differentiation, create engaging experiences for members and colleagues, with potential to evolve not only what we do, but also how we do it.

But forever mindful of the nascent nature of GenAI, we are taking careful but positive steps in using the technology. Initially we’re focussed on using GenAI to make back-office processes more efficient by deploying solutions to help colleagues maximise their impact; crucially all GenAI output is always reviewed by colleagues before it progresses in the business process. 

Our mantra is ‘copilot, not autopilot’, looking for opportunities to augment colleagues to support them, not replace, them.   

Nationwide’s journey in exploring Generative AI
 

Use of AI is not new to Nationwide, we use existing ‘predictive AI’ to support colleagues in their roles and support customer service including use in Credit Risk, Economic Crime, our virtual assistant ‘Arti’, and CO2 emissions reporting. 

Our Strategy sets out our approach to become a modern mutual, with a mission of “banking but fairer, more rewarding and for the good of society”.  To continue to deliver value to our customers we must respond to the evolving world around us, including safely adopting emerging technology. 

Our AI strategy, which is aligned to our overall Strategy, focuses on both maximising the Gen AI opportunity while protecting against the risks that come with such technologies.  An AI Centre of Expertise has been established to oversee AI development and an AI Council is in place to ensure all AI solutions adhere to our industry-aligned Responsible AI principles. 

We are developing, testing and piloting AI solutions from Microsoft including 365 Copilot and GitHub copilot; exploring the potential to both enable knowledge worker and software developer productivity.  Other activities focus on leveraging Azure OpenAI services to support colleagues in specific operational roles. 

Ethical Considerations of GenAI
 

One of the key considerations of adopting GenAI is ensuring the safe, ethical, and responsible use of the technology.  This has been foundational to our joint work and is a bedrock to the way the technology will be used across Nationwide.  “Responsible AI” is an approach to developing, assessing, and deploying AI systems in a safe, trustworthy, and ethical way. 

Microsoft has been a pioneer in developing a “Responsible AI Standard” as a framework for building AI systems according to six principles: fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability. For Microsoft and Nationwide, these principles are the cornerstone of a responsible approach to AI, especially as intelligent technology becomes more prevalent in products and services that people use every day.

Getting ready to scale 
 

Prerequisite capabilities must be in place beyond a clear vision and strategy to deliver real value to members before wider use of AI can be considered. Governance must be assessed and evolved into a robust and agile framework aligned to Responsible AI principles; ensuring principles are embedded into approaches for developing and operating GenAI applications.   

Colleagues must be empowered and equipped with the necessary competencies and mindsets to develop, deploy, and use AI effectively and responsibly. Training and engagement should be tailored across the cohorts of those building, using, or impacted by GenAI.  The evolution of skills and the continued support and engagement of employees must be considered strategically. 

The operating model must support the end-to-end lifecycle of AI projects, from idea to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation, and must enable cross-functional teams to work together seamlessly.

A culture of innovation and collaboration should foster experimentation, learning, and sharing of best practices across the organisation and with external partners.

A technology infrastructure must provide the tools, platforms, and data sources that are needed to build, test, and run AI solutions securely and efficiently.

Finally, these aspects are interrelated and mutually reinforcing, and require continuous improvement and adaptation. These capabilities will enable a scaling of GenAI in a way that maximises the opportunity, minimises the risks, and aligns strategic values.

At Nationwide we are focussed on ensuring these pre-requisites are in place before we consider the wider use of GenAI.

Conclusion 
 

There is little doubt GenAI will go on to have a transformational impact on consumers, organisations, and society, and there are numerous opportunities to explore to deliver member value.  However, we need a strategic approach, and we need to apply Responsible AI principles and controls to innovate in a safe and secure way that delivers good customer outcomes, which should be the final goal for all our AI efforts.
 

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