How students are teaching Westpac about artificial intelligence

Seven small teams of students are preparing to present ideas about how artificial intelligence can be used to modernise banking to Westpac, as part of the University's new Industry and Community Projects Units.

How many undergraduates find themselves in a CBD boardroom, pitching big ideas to Westpac’s Head of Strategy and Group Company Secretary? For students in this class, it’s business as usual.

Seven small teams of students are preparing to present ideas about how artificial intelligence can be used to modernise banking to Westpac, one of the biggest employers in Australia. They’re enrolled in one of the University’s new Industry and Community Project Units – part of our reimagined curriculum. 

Students work in cross-discipline groups to develop solutions to genuine problems set by a number of partner organisations. The problems are as diverse as the teams of students involved; for example, students studying economics, pharmacy, social work and health sciences come together to brainstorm innovations in dairy farming; or a team of economics, information technology and media and communications students collaborate with NSW Parliament to unpack how social media influences politics.

Instead of a final exam, they present their findings to senior stakeholders who assess the originality and commercial viability of their ideas.

At Westpac, our students were challenged to come up with ways to implement artificial intelligence (AI) applications across a range of banking and corporate operations. Specific projects are looking at recommendations for:

  • Employee engagement and career development
  • Fraud prevention
  • Credit assessment
  • Social impacts

“Bringing key perspectives from a broad range of students together is an exciting approach for Westpac to see how University undergraduate students can use their disciplinary knowledge in an interdisciplinary context,” said Shenaz Khan, Westpac Group General Manager for Enterprise HR Strategy and Services.

Isabella Ledden, a final year Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts student, and Vincent Giannini, a third year Bachelor of Commerce student, are working on an AI-powered human resources tool for profiling employee strengths and providing insights to assist Westpac to up-skill current employees and recruit future talent. 

“The ICPU unit teaches you a fundamental skill that you will take with you into the workplace, and that is stakeholder management and engagement. It's a different way of thinking. In this unit you are no longer writing for an academic audience, you’re writing for a huge financial institution,” said Vincent.

“It is a unique opportunity to bounce ideas, such as the ethical implications of gathering emotional data off employees, with the very people who are grappling with these considerations on a daily basis,” said Isabella.

Dr Corina Raduescu, the Westpac Project Supervisor and a Lecturer in the University of Sydney Business School, has found that the real-world impact of the projects has contributed to higher engagement and motivation from her students.

“They have a real client to deliver to, and they are working on a topic that is current at the moment,” said Corina.

“The biggest achievement was to narrow the focus in a very short time. Before identifying specific artificial intelligence applications, students had to understand two very complex and different domains: banking and AI,” said Corina.

Understanding the complexity of these two fields is made easier by the diverse backgrounds within each group. Students from a variety of disciplines including arts, commerce, engineering and IT work together to brainstorm their solutions, building on each other’s strengths and supporting their weaknesses.

“Students from diverse faculties bring new perspectives to the table and the results are outstanding. This interdisciplinary experience is a key stepping stone in preparing you for the workplace and gives you an insight into what life is like beyond the doors of the University,” said Vincent.

“Working with students from other disciplines broadens their ways of thinking and knowledge,” said Corina. “I have seen the benefits of interdisciplinarity in action: a more holistic and comprehensive approach to addressing complex problems.”

4 June 2018

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