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From Learning AI to doing AI

From Learning AI to doing AI

  • April 2022
  • By Tan Mengxuan
  • 15 mins read

Tan Mengxuan, 30, received the OCBC Postgraduate AI Scholarship and graduated from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence in 2020. He joined the Bank’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) Lab as a Data Scientist in 2021. He is an exercise, cycling and swimming enthusiast.

Hi, I’m Mengxuan, an Artificial Intelligence junkie. AI is a dynamic field and evolving at a breakneck speed. Amazing technological advances have been made in AI during the 21st century. Just look at the achievements over the past decade in areas such as vision, language and decision-making.

OCBC Bank is a pioneer in this field and was one of the first banks in Singapore to establish a dedicated AI Lab. Therefore, I feel extremely privileged to be working in OCBC Bank’s AI Lab. It’s really exciting to be part of the ride in defining the use of AI in the banking sector.

Why the scholarship appealed to me

Since I already had a deep interest in AI, I intended to obtain a Masters in this area. When I discovered the OCBC Postgraduate AI Scholarship, I grabbed the opportunity as there are not many scholarships available for AI. I didn’t have to think too hard about it. It was practically calling out my name.

But it was more than just the scholarship that appealed to me—it was what lay after graduation that made me really excited. While AI is interesting in and of itself, it was a tremendous draw when I realised that should I get the scholarship, after graduation, I could use my AI knowledge on real-life projects in the Bank. And we’re not talking about any bank but OCBC which is a leader not only in the financial sector but a pioneer in the application of AI in the industry.

Developing an AI model to predict loan defaults

Of course, I first had to be awarded the scholarship. The application process was challenging and what stood out was the take-home test. We were given a few projects to choose from. I chose one that required the applicant to build an AI model to predict if customers would default on their loans. I had only 24 hours to develop a practical and implementable solution to this challenge.

I built the AI model using data that was provided to me. The biggest challenge was interpreting the data as at that point, I did not have adequate industry knowledge to make sense of it all. It took some research to understand how to interpret the data in the context of the Bank. But I did it!

Receiving the scholarship meant the world to me because it fulfilled two of my desires. Firstly, the chance to study what I was passionate about at a postgraduate level. Secondly, after graduation, the ability to work in the OCBC AI Lab and immediately apply what I had learned in a real-life banking environment. It was a huge confidence booster that OCBC decided to invest in me. I was going to be an AI professional!

Advice for applicants

It’s a given that everyone who applies for this scholarship is interested. But beyond mere interest, it’s absolutely vital to demonstrate passion and knowledge about AI. These two, I believe, are the key differentiators. Show that you’re deeply interested, get your passion and energy across to the selection team. Demonstrate this desire not only in the interviews but in the application—in how you write it. Give it thought. Your passion, sincerity and commitment will come through and will make a difference.

AI just got cooler

It was a mind-opening experience joining OCBC AI Lab at the beginning of 2021. I got more than what I bargained for. If I had thought AI was interesting in and of itself, but wow, it really came alive when I started to truly understand how AI technologies are being used in different ways across various business units in the Bank! I’ve learned to have a greater appreciation of why AI and its application is so important in the financial sector.

Next Best Conversation

I have been working on a project called the “Next Best Conversation”. In this project, we process billions (yes, billions, not millions) of data points every month to create intelligent and personalised recommendations for our customers. My main job is to use AI models to streamline the recommendation pipeline such that our businesses receive customised solutions for clients promptly. This in turn allows the businesses to work more effectively and efficiently with their customers.

The most enjoyable thing about this project is that I can clearly see how my work is making an impact in driving sales and revenue for the Bank. It’s empowering and gratifying to know our work in AI Lab is not just an academic exercise but that it makes a difference to the business.

Simplicity is key

One thing I have learned while working in AI Lab is that effective technological solutions to business problems can be simple and elegant. They don’t have to be overly technical or complex. It’s not necessary to overthink. Be on top of the technology, understand what the business needs and provide an elegant solution that just works. At the same time, keep learning and refining. The field of AI moves extremely quickly and I’d advise those who are interested in AI to be open-minded and learn as much as possible by participating in as many projects as possible. There is no better way to learn than through hands-on projects. Experience adds value to artificial intelligence and together, it’s a winning combination.