Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, is joining forces with the Haifa-based Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) to advance innovation research in a variety of fields, including Data Science.
Dr. Yoav Intrator, Chief Technology Officer at Bank Hapoalim, told The Jerusalem Post that he expected the partnership to bear fruit in a variety of ways.
“There are several benefits that we believe this partnership will deliver. In addition to keeping our edge over the competition, we gain time. Time is the key to being first,” Intrator said. “The Technion partnership provides the ability to work on challenging problems that are not productized yet and leveraging limited and exceptional skills.
“Additionally, we will gain wider exposure to other innovation and FinTech companies that have originated from Technion and their global partners, such as Cornell University in the US and Shantou University in China.
We are currently planning a joint event in New York City where we hope to include the Technion and Cornell teams to identify areas of focus for the bank.”
Data Science is a new academic field dealing with the creation of valuable information and reaching conclusions and understanding from huge databases with the help of advanced statistical models, techniques of data mining and analytical prediction.
The Technion has just launched a degree program in Data Sciences and Engineering, the first of its kind in Israel.
Working with the Technion and its global partners, and particularly with the Jacobs Technion Cornell Institute in New York, will provide Bank Hapoalim access to world-leading data science researchers at both of these prestigious academic institutions, Intrator said.
On May 29, Jacobs Institute graduated its first class of 12 Connective Media graduates from six countries. The graduates, who received degrees from both the Technion and Cornell, are now launching innovative startups or securing jobs at industry-leading companies across the world.
“We look forward with anticipation to the great things they will accomplish and their impact on the economy, as well as the startups they will launch in New York City and beyond,” said Prof. Adam Shwartz, the outgoing director of Jacobs Institute.
The Institute recently announced the appointment of Dr. Ron Brachman, a computer scientist and internationally recognized authority on artificial intelligence, as its new director.
“The Jacobs Institute is an amazing, unique undertaking, and I am extremely excited about the opportunity to lead it in its next phase of growth and groundbreaking innovation in education, research, and impact,” said Brachman. “I am eager to build on this work in developing the Jacobs Institute’s worldclass dual degree programs and innovative approach to research and industry partnership.”
The Jacobs Institute was established in 2013 with a generous gift from Dr. Irwin Mark Jacobs, founding chairman and CEO emeritus of Qualcomm, and his wife, Joan Klein Jacobs.
It has quickly become a catalyst for global entrepreneurship and a driver of New York’s emerging tech ecosystem and local economy.
The Institute combines professors, research and resources from Technion, a leading global research university that was a vital factor in Israel’s emergence as the “Startup Nation,” and Cornell, a longtime leader in engineering and computer science, with a strong presence in New York City. The Jacobs Institute’s dual-degree program provides graduates with an international advantage and greater recognition in an increasingly global workforce.
What was called a “game-changing partnership” between Cornell and the Technion was forged on December 19, 2011 at a gala ceremony in New York City, after a tender issued by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“The winner…is a dynamic joint submission from two world-class institutions, Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, thanks to an incredibly generous gift from Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan,” Bloomberg said. “We are grateful to Irwin and Joan for making this investment in New York City.”
Since 2012, the Jacobs Institute has been operating out of the Google Building in Chelsea, Manhattan. An impressive new Cornell Tech 12-acre campus is scheduled to open on Roosevelt Island in 2017. When completed, the campus will include 2 million square feet of state-of-the-art buildings, over 2 acres of open space, and will be home to more than 2,000 graduate students and nearly 280 faculty and staff. It promises to be “a new type of urban campus that provides space to think, but one that is also intimately integrated – in both mission and design – with the city.”
A cooperation agreement between Bank Hapoalim and Technion was signed at the end of August by Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie and Bank Hapoalim President and CEO Arik Pinto.
According to a statement issued by the two sides, it “aims to enable the bank to keep its competitive technological advantage and to lead towards innovative steps, including the implementation of a strategy for providing more personal and more focused services, adapted for each customer.”
Intrator said Bank Hapoalim’s partnership with Technion and others would take it into a whole new realm of “smart digital business.”
“Bank Hapoalim has a saying, ‘To be first is an obligation.’ I truly believe that in today’s economy where hyper-innovation is reality, we must live that adage more than ever. We must be aligned with the latest and greatest innovations which have their origins in Data Science,” he said. “Data Science based solutions are the mandatory foundations for digital business. Everywhere we look we see a “smart” label, smart cars, smart cities, smart mobility, etc.
“This is not just marketing hype; this is a foundational reality that underlies strategic global initiatives. It is no longer possible to deal with the velocity, variety, and volume of data in a traditional way and remain competitive.
Nor it is it enough to be competitive; you must be innovative. Therefore, we need the best data scientists to move into these areas where no one has gone before. Partnering with Technion, a global leader in Data Science and engineering, provides us with the brilliant data scientist minds that will move us faster and further towards living up to our words.”
To facilitate the partnership, Technion’s Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management is establishing a special secure FinTech Innovation Lab where Technion researchers and Bank Hapoalim analysts will conduct advanced research, “with the common aim of reaching solutions for various challenges in the world of banking technology, such as advanced risk management and prediction of financial activities of corporate and private customers,” the statement said.
Pinto added: “We believe that we were successful in creating a bank that is humane, personal and technological altogether, and the assimilation of advanced research is a precondition for the implementation of this strategy. The cooperation with the Technion, a leading institution of research in Israel and in the world, opens before us new research channels and paves the way to the concretization of the innovative visions of Bank Hapoalim. The joint research lab and other activities with Technion researchers will help the bank in developing the banking of tomorrow – a banking based on groundbreaking technology, while meeting the personal needs of our customers.”
Avi Kochva, who is in charge of Bank Hapoalim’s Innovation Division, added: “As part of the new perception led by the Innovative Division in Bank Hapoalim, we see the importance of cooperation for both the assimilation of advanced start-up technologies, as well as research and development with academic institutions. There is no doubt that cooperation between the leading bank in Israel and the leading technological institution in Israel shall create a multiplier of real strength in the fields of Data Science and FinTech research, and serve as a means to ultimately provide better services for the customer.”
How will the bank’s customers benefit from this partnership? According to Intrator, “Everything is about our customers. In the past, due to technical limitations, we segmented the markets into large intuitive buckets e.g. regions, age, profession, etc. today these segmentations are of a little value.
We must deliver to our customer services that are tailored to their needs at the right time and at the right place. We will be able to offer new services that are meaningful, at lower costs and provide both business and personal benefits that are not available today. This partnership will allow us find the right balance in our customers’ needs; social, personal, and digital.”
Prof. Boaz Golany, vice-president of Technion, who is in charge of External Relations and Development of Resources, said: “The Fin- Tech Innovation Lab that we have launched in partnership with Bank Hapoalim is a perfect example of the urgent need to educate a new breed of Technion students who will graduate with a degree in Data Science & Engineering.”
“This is a new specialty that became apparent in developed societies only in recent years and Technion was the first university in Israel to identify the need, prepare a bachelor’s degree in this area and obtain its accreditation from the Council of Higher Education (MALAG),” he said.
Asked to explain the significance of this field for the average person, Golany said: “The fact that each of us carries one (or several) mobile devices that keep on generating streams of data, that every move in our lives is recorded, every transaction is stored, every search we perform on the web is observed, every reading of medical devices that are attached to our bodies goes to some cloud, etc. create a new reality that is best summarized in two words: ‘Big Data.’ “
In this rapidly changing environment with ever-growing rates of data accumulation, there is a need for a new type of specialists that will be able to store all these data properly, be able to retrieve the portions that are needed, be able to filter the noise (chuff) from the really valuable pieces of data, be able to analyze the data, identify trends, detect anomalies, create insights from various statistics, learn patterns and be able to predict, and more.
“All these challenges are already present in the banking industry and Bank Hapoalim was among the first to understand both the advantages that such data and the accompanying information technologies yield as well as the risks and threats that the same data creates. We are happy that the bank has chosen to collaborate with Technion towards developing the technologies that will help it face the challenge of Big Data and, at the same time, help us educate the future Data Scientists and Engineers who will address similar challenges in many other application areas.”
How does the Technion benefit from this partnership? Golany gave a five-part answer: “ First, we are grateful to the bank for providing the financial support that would enable the research projects that will be carried out at the lab.
“ Second, we are happy to work with the bank professionals whose in-depth knowledge of the application area is essential to the success of this effort.
“ Third, having access to the real data is absolutely necessary in this type of research and hence we look forward to work with the data that the bank will make available to us. Without an anchor to the real world, such data cannot be simulated or emulated in the labs just on the basis of conjectures and hypothesis.
“Fourth, we intend to involve students, both undergraduate and graduate, in the lab’s activities.
These students will greatly benefit from their involvement. Some may end up looking for employment opportunities in the banking industry after they graduate and we are always happy to offer our students a larger variety of job placements for their future careers.
“ Fifth, we view this collaboration as a first step towards future expansion of this effort.
One of the ways we are now considering, together with Bank Hapoalim, is to involve some foreign banks that have expressed interest in this area. Such an expansion will yield tremendous benefits in all the dimensions listed above and more.”