WeLab on adopting AI in business, retaining tech talent

July 09, 2018 10:50
WeLab's main business includes online lending platforms WeLend in Hong Kong and Wolaidai in the mainland. Photo: HKEJ

Founded in 2013, online lending platform WeLab is one of the fastest growing startups in the region, and is now gearing up for an initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong.

The fintech unicorn rides on the wave of artificial intelligence (AI), offering loans through a fully automated process that allows a borrower to complete a transaction on a mobile phone.

In a recent interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Tat Lee, general manager (Hong Kong), shared his views on how to use AI to meet customer needs and recruit talents for the firm.

HKEJ: WeLab joined Hong Kong Science Park in May to participate in the “Hong Kong AI Lab” program. Can you share some of your practical cases of AI application?

Lee: WeLab was founded in 2013, when no one was talking about AI, and there was no such word as "fintech". We integrated AI technology into the loan business, reducing complicated transaction procedures and time, and providing a better customer service experience.

The main AI-powered products in WeLab are chatbot and the “AI credit card debt actuary”. Programmed to mimic human dialogue, WeLab’s chatbot is able to provide suggestions to customers, serving the purpose of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) information.

Chatbot enables us to reduce the number of staffers required for customer relationship functions. In the Lunar New Year holiday this year, WeLab’s Shenzhen branch allowed the customer relationship staff to have a vacation, with chatbot handling their duties during the period.

On the other hand, as we know, Hong Kong people, in general, have more than one credit card, while some may even have several loans, each potentially with a different interest rate and repayment period. WeLab developed the “AI credit card debt actuary” which connects with the Hong Kong credit database through the application programming interface (API).

With the data analytical technology, it can produce tens of thousands of loan portfolios in as little as one second, and act as a consultant to advise customers on personalized loan plans.

Q: There are online shopping platforms featuring “Live Chat” service. However, the problem is that if there are too many customers waiting to speak via live chat, long queues and traffic jams would occur. Can chatbot help on that?

A: Live Chat service used to be popular for a while, but its disadvantages are that it requires a lot of manpower and resources to run, and it can’t handle a lot of customer inquiries in real time, such that customers have to wait in line to chat. The chatbot we developed can serve customers day and night, solving the time-consuming problem of having to wait, and it can be more humanized.

When the customer uses the chatbot service, it will be like talking to a human customer relationship staff in front of the bank counter, helping the customer complete the application process.

Q: How many customers are now engaging in transactions with WeLab’s chatbot compared to the traditional application procedure?

A: Since the launch of our chatbot, customer usage has increased greatly. It has multiple functions such as handling customer inquiries and application procedures.

The chatbot enables us to keep only one to two staffers dedicated to phone inquiries and logistics service. We don’t need to place a large number of human resources on the application procedures. In addition, we collect data from chatbot every day, continuously training and optimizing its operation, such as training it to understand Cantonese, and the meaning of different sentence patterns, in order to respond instantly to customers' various inquiries.

Q: WeLab has branches in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Do you find the shortage of AI technology professionals in both cities? Is it difficult to hire the right talent?

A: AI is a booming sector in recent years. There was a lack of talent plan to educate and cultivate AI technology professionals before, resulting in a small pool of AI talents. Both cities, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, are in fact facing the problem of insufficient AI technology professionals.

Businesses need AI talents for big data analysis, machine learning, deep learning and other AI-enabled strategies. Thus, the most in demand in the market is the AI data professional.

With fintech now developing rapidly, AI technology talents have great competitiveness in the market. We, as a company, also pay attention to whether the AI technology professionals can fit into the corporate culture like sharing the same goals and cultural values.

WeLab has now about 30 to 40 AI data professionals, mainly working as data scientists. We also recruit AI talents from internet giants in China – Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, as well as JD.com and other tech firms.

Q: How do you retain outstanding AI technology professionals to work for WeLab?

A: First of all, we provide more favorable pay and benefits for outstanding talents. Secondly, we consider the mix of culture between the company and employees themselves. With the wide range of AI technology applications, if the company can work with AI professionals, such as giving appropriate degrees of freedom in developing products, picking the research projects that they are interested in, that will help them to work hard and be willing to continue to work for the team.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 6

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal