Fast Company has included BBVA AI Factory in its annual list of ‘Best Workplaces for Innovators.’ BBVA’s artificial intelligence (AI) center was ranked 40th in the world and first in the category of companies with fewer than 100 employees for fostering knowledge-sharing among employees and supporting female talent.
The leading U.S. publication awarded the prizes after evaluating initiatives submitted by more than 1,500 companies from a wide range of industries, including information technology, biotechnology, education, financial services and cybersecurity. Commenting on BBVA's AI Factory, the magazine had high praise for the X Program, an innovative scheme for solving technical challenges in data science and AI on a global scale.
The X Program emerged in 2021 in response to a need detected by BBVA AI Factory: to explore disruptive ideas that go beyond usual tasks and lead to solutions to common challenges faced by several teams at once. This is an incubator for small-scale innovation projects driven by the company's data scientists’ mindset of exploring new ideas. The program focuses tightly on solving the bank’s data-related challenges. “The goal is to create quick, usable prototypes of new data-driven products that fit the common needs of several company initiatives, not just one,” explains Jesús Renero, Head of the Advanced Analytics discipline at BBVA AI Factory and promoter of the X Program. “Every X Program project arises from ideas, needs or challenges that team members share and discuss together on a weekly basis.”
“We pick an idea that addresses a structural challenge and create a tailored, one-off team to develop a working prototype for that idea in just three months,” explains José A. Rodríguez Serrano, X Program team lead. “Once a basic but functional prototype is ready, it is implemented in the project it was aimed at, refined with feedback from the business team, and made available to the bank globally so it can be applied to other products.”
Boosting AI machine learning
The first X Program project was developing a tool dubbed Annotify, which quickly tags large volumes of data for AI machine learning purposes. The team achieved this by using a statistical technique called ‘active learning’ that pre-selects the data that will be most relevant for the final operation of the AI model. This significantly reduces the volume of information that needs to be fed into the learning process. The new capability is proving key to streamlining the upcoming evolutions of the checking account entry categorizer in BBVA’s app, which gives customers a more accurate picture of how their monthly income and expenses are distributed.
“With the X Program approach, we managed to overcome a sector-wide challenge: big data tagging.”
“For an AI model to learn to distinguish between receiving a paycheck or paying an insurance premium, a human team must first tag each account entry,” explains Francisco Maturana, CEO of BBVA AI Factory. “For the previous version of the account entry categorizer, our data scientists had to prepare a set of two million tagged account entries. In the new taxonomy that will be implemented in future updates, by using Annotify, only a little over 40,000 account entries had to be tagged to achieve the same accuracy as the original analytical model. This is a sector-wide challenge that we managed to overcome using the X Program approach.”
Annotify is available for use by any BBVA team worldwide. The X Program is already working on another project, which focuses on improving the interaction between customers and the bank over a range of communication channels.
Self-leadership and female talent
Other features of BBVA AI Factory’s corporate culture viewed favorably by Fast Company are knowledge-sharing, personal and professional growth, training and self-leadership. “By self-leadership we mean the maturity that enables an employee, regardless of their position, to make independent decisions within their field of action, without need of special guidance from a supervisor,” explains Marina Arruabarrena, Head of Talent and Culture at BBVA AI Factory. “The employee always has the support of the rest of the team, who help them work through doubts and uncertainty.”
In addition, employees can share the progress achieved and challenges faced by their projects at a biweekly ‘debating society’ and attend master classes taught by data science experts. The center also promotes a culture of equality. For instance, using career-oriented social media, the company reaches out to women who meet the requirements of open selection processes and encourages them to apply for a position. “In our selection processes we have managed to balance the number of resumés from men and women,” Arruabarrena explains.
BBVA AI Factory adds Fast Company’s accolade to the recognition that Global Finance awarded it in 2021 as one of the best financial innovation labs worldwide.