Calgary Joins RBC's Global Innovation Ecosystem

Calgary Joins RBC's Global Innovation Ecosystem

Read Time : 5 minutes

Data revolution will bring profound changes to the banking world. The Bank’s vision to be a global leader of AI insights are falling in line for the Calgary Innovation.

This article was originally published on RBC Stories

Opportunity doesn’t always knock on your door. For Tony Augruso, it came by text message.

In the summer of 2020, RBC had announced plans to establish an Innovation Hub in Calgary. Tony was approached with an opportunity to head it up.

Moving out west would mean uprooting a comfortable routine that Tony and his wife had built for their family in Burlington, Ontario. But it also meant Tony could be closer to extended family and have the chance to drive the impact the Hub would have on the Bank, its clients and the community.

In particular, the new Hub would become part of the Bank’s global innovation ecosystem, working alongside business and technology teams in cities such as London, UK; Minneapolis and Toronto. And, in doing so, RBC would also help grow the city’s burgeoning tech sector, through partnerships with academic institutions and other local companies as well as by creating an estimated 300 jobs in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data engineering, and data analytics over the next three years.

For someone who has dedicated his career to helping businesses make better decisions through data and advanced technologies, there was an obvious attraction to the leadership role. It also provided Tony and his wife the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle that the region has to offer, which they love.

“There was just the matter of Bandit, our family cat. Travelling half way across the country in a car with a paranoid cat was a challenge. In fact, by comparison, everything else was easy.”
‘Everything else’ included building a team from scratch, establishing a unique work culture, as well as quickly contributing to the Bank’s renowned research and development efforts. No small feat, which was made perfectly clear for Tony from day one. The Hub’s workspace was in need of renovations. But he saw this empty shell as a ‘clean slate’ to help RBC imagine and then shape the future of banking. 

A number of mandates to help accelerate the Bank’s vision to be a global leader of AI insights are already falling in line for the Calgary Innovation Hub. This includes an enterprise initiative to make sense of – and transform – the daily interactions RBC has with clients, employees and business partners into actionable insights that will help provide better service.

“In effect, our global innovation ecosystem wants to build a system where our data remains alive, continuously learning and improving upon itself,” said Tony, who leads RBC’s efforts to develop and execute the data architecture for the Bank’s enterprise data strategy. “That enables RBC to be relevant in the very moment our clients chose to interact with us. We can better understand – and anticipate – their intent and offer the best course of action for them to take.” 

But the potential applications of this initiative extends beyond banking according to Tony. “The foundation of every innovation – to solve a problem or seize an opportunity – is data. When we address and improve issues around the quality of data, and how it is structured and accessed, we are enabling our offerings to function at a higher level. That gives us even more powerful tools to solve complex challenges facing our communities.”

By its very nature, RBC’s innovation ecosystem explores ideas and develops offerings that don’t actually exist in the real world. It’s exciting work, and integral to the Bank’s overall growth strategy, but Tony recognizes success cannot be simply measured by the groundbreaking innovations RBC develops alone.

“Many people need to trust the innovation before they adopt it,” said Tony. “Think about ATMs. When they were first introduced, my dad didn’t feel comfortable sticking money into an envelope and shoving it into a machine. But overtime, the value of the service – greater convenience – won him over.”

Similar challenges will emerge as advanced technologies create new mediums, such as conversational artificial intelligence. This creates truly natural interactions between people and software systems, whether through speech or text. “We are just in the first few innings of the technological revolution transforming our industry,” said Tony. “Change will be profound, but for RBC, it must also be purposeful.”

A core focus for RBC and the Calgary Innovation Hub is to ‘embed trust’ into the offerings it ultimately develops. Ensuring consumers provide consent over the collection and use of their data is table stakes. The decision-making process and outcomes of any give AI-powered solution must also be explainable, so that consumers can understand why certain decisions have been made. 

Biases can be built into AI models in multiple ways, including if those building them come from similar backgrounds and experiences. “If you only take data sets constructed by a single group of people, you may have unconsciously produced a bias in the model,” said Tony. “That’s why we are pushing very hard for cultural and gender diversity on our team. It is and will remain a top priority for us, and our entire innovation ecosystem.”

Much has changed since Tony first entered the Hub space. Plans are underway to transform the office space into a centre “that embodies the spirit of innovation.” Progress has also been made on the people side. “You can find an abundance of diverse talent, brimming with the energy and can-do spirit that this city and province are known for. It’s great to be part of this growing team of innovators, and contribute in meaningful ways to RBC’s future, and that of our clients and this community.”

As for Bandit, he has settled nicely into his new surroundings too. “He likes soaking in the sun from our home’s south-facing view,” said Tony. “He just may come to like the outdoors as much as me.”