Banking on the Future

New technology has a habit of disrupting entire industries. Some traditional businesses, such as travel agencies, video rental stores and newspapers, have been greatly diminished with the introduction of technology-based alternatives.

ATB Financial is determined to be a disruptor and make sure financial services in Alberta keep up with technological changes.

“We’re in an industry that is under an assault of change,” says Wellington Holbrook, chief transformation officer with ATB Financial. “I think we’re going to see more change in the next five to 10 years in this industry than we have in the last 100 years.”

ATB is the largest Alberta-based financial institution with more than 300 locations across the province, providing services to more than 750,000 individuals and businesses. Two years ago, the organization created the role of chief transformation officer who oversees a team of nearly 1,000 people.

ATB, and more specifically its transformation team, has been experimenting with 
a number of what Holbrook calls “big topics.” From “blockchain” to “machine learning,” these experiments aim to improve how business gets done in the province.

ATB believes that making banking processes faster is critical for the province’s small businesses. Currently, it can take weeks for a small business to get approval for a loan – a major challenge when you have an opportunity that you need to act on.

“We’ve been re-platforming the process using artificial intelligence and automation. What we’re building toward is being able to approve financing in minutes or hours. That’s a big leap,” says Holbrook.

Machine learning is another area where ATB is building expertise and capabilities. By applying massive amounts of computing power to analyze large data sets, this service would be able to predict the advice and solutions people need at the most relevant times of their financial journey.

One of ATB’s early efforts was in 2016 when it recorded one of the first international payments between financial institutions using blockchain. The transaction, a $1,000 transfer to a bank in Germany, took only 20 seconds to complete. Typically, that kind of transaction takes two to six business days.

Blockchain is a digital record of transactions that is publicly available. While it has risen to prominence as the platform that supports cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, ATB has continued experimenting with blockchain to see how else the technology can be leveraged to deliver value for Albertans.

For example, says Holbrook, blockchain might be used to move money faster on oil settlement day — the day each month when energy companies settle payments between one another. The financial institution is also exploring how blockchain might be applied in the area of digital identity.

“Financial institutions are good at authenticating users,” says Holbrook. “We’re looking at ways that we can authenticate people that other industries, such as healthcare for example, might be able to rely on.”