David Robson, leader of IBM Watson’s business in the European financial services recently held a speech at the AI Finance Summit to explain how Watson can be applied in different industries. International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States, with operations in over 170 countries. IBM manufactures and markets computer hardware, middleware and software, and offers hosting and consulting services in areas ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology. IBM is also a major research organization, holding the record for most patents generated by a business (as of 2016) for 23 consecutive years. Inventions by IBM include the automated teller machine (ATM), the floppy disk, the hard disk drive, the magnetic stripe card, the relational database, the SQL programming language, the UPC barcode, and dynamic random-access memory.

David Robson leads IBM’s Watson business in the European financial services sector. Watson is a cognitive computer that can read, understand, reason and engage with humans in support of a broad range of knowledge workers including medical, banking and insurance. David has been working with Watson for two years, advising banks and insurance companies on how to deploy cognitive technology within their operations. Before joining the Watson Group, David was a Partner in IBM’s consulting business, where he ran IBM’s analytics practice for the UK and Ireland. During his consulting career, David has had the opportunity to work with a large number of banks and insurance companies across Europe.

Robson started the presentation talking about big platform providers vs. niche providers. He explained how the mission for Watson is to become the platform of choice among cognitive services. “However we are an open platform, and if people want to put other cognitive services into that platform, that is absolutely fine with us”, he said. He explaines how they don’t intend to build cognitive applications for every space, and that they would very much welcome a cognitive application for motor insurance underwriting, to be plugged into their framework. “We are very much trying to be an open platform and to work with you and your organisations in solving the types of problems you might have”, Robson said.

Robson gave the audience at the summit a brief introduction to Watson and its capabilities. Watson is at its heart a computer that can read, so Watson learns in the same way that humans learn, by reading. This means that if you let it read about insurance it becomes an insurer, if it reads about medicine it becomes a doctor and if it reads about law it becomes a lawyer.

“The code base in Watson is no different than an online application, it’s the information you give Watson to read and to learn from and the training you give it that determines what it will do”, Robson explained, following up with: “So Watson can read natural language and does not need to be structured in any way”.

In practice you can connect speech-to-text and text-to-speech converses on Watson, and they have many other services around that you can connect with. Because it is trained to read it can understand it, and it can operate on a huge scale. Watson will never forget what its read and can apply it in seconds, Robson explained. “Watson can learn from experience and when provided with feedback it will learn and improve”, he said.

So what can we Watson do in financial services?


The most common case by far that our customers are implementing is the self service advisor, similar to the chatbot-assistant ‘Luvo’ who is assisted by Watson. “You simply type in your question and the agent will answer it”, Robson explains. Watson can also be applied as an agents advisor, sitting on the shoulder of either a wealth manager, relationship manager or a call center agent, and Watson is making the agent look better than they would alone, Robson explains. “And if someone has queries about investments etc over the phone etc, Watson can help the advisor answer that”.

In terms of the insurance industry, Watson is underwriting in claims, so it does a life-and health underwriting program using cognitive computing to form the heart of underwriting solutions. Watson has the potential to improve concepts, reclaiming settlement and improving determination of liability, among many, as an insurance-assistant.

Looking at it in a horizontal perspective, Watson is able to assist in asset management, and Robson believes that Watson will be a really big use case in terms of risk and compliance. “In fact we are looking at building out an asset ourselves in  the risk an compliance space”, he says.

“Watson can read manuals that are pretty inaccessible for a human in less than a second, and then it can answer questions related to these manuals, and start to make them generally more available, to make the whole material more accessible and more usable”, Robson explains.

“We have corporate functions that we deliver at Watson for a number of our clients, things such as HR support and help, helpdesk for IT where people talk to Watson about IT problems, and Watson solves these”.

Robson explained how their customers use Watson for anything from medication, education, using it as a voice-powered travel agent to a scientific researcher. Watson has a broad range of use cases that is all to do with consuming information and being able to apply that.

So how do they do it?


Robson explains that the projects usually starts with a study phase, then they figure out what needs to be built and what services they need to deploy. This usually takes six weeks, and after that they find the data, curate it and  then load it into Watson to train it. Then after three months, they run the use-case, and then they run it.