Alibaba moves to transform Australian fintech

June 15 2018

Alibaba Group’s innovative facial recognition, artificial intelligence and data analytics technology is coming to Australia’s financial services sector, under a partnership with local technology group TAS.

The landmark deal between TAS and Alibaba’s cloud computing arm, Alibaba Cloud, will provide Australian businesses with the opportunity to access cutting edge cloud computing and data centre services.

TAS and Alibaba will also develop a joint innovation centre in Australia under the deal, to develop and tailor new technologies and services for the Australian market.

TAS has been providing technology solutions in Australia’s financial sector for nearly three decades, servicing about 60 institutions with cloud solutions for internet and mobile banking, internal systems as well as connection to third parties and ATMs.

Alibaba Cloud ASEAN and Australia-New Zealand general manager Raymond Ma said the tie-up with TAS would support the digital transformation of Australian financial services.

Mr Ma said since Alibaba Cloud had established an Australian data centre in 2016, the company had been scouring the market for the right local partner to help roll out its technology.

“It is not only Alibaba Cloud, but Alibaba Group has an ecosystem here, and we are trying to build up that ecosystem as well,” Mr Ma told Australia China Business Review.

“At that time, Alibaba Cloud was looking for a partner to work with us, we were looking at consultants, and we were looking for a partner to build up that kind of ecosystem.

“This market is a very mature cloud market and very open and very eager for digital transformation, especially for the financial sector – Australia’s financial sector has a huge potential to adopt new technology like facial recognition and big data support

“Our partner can help us lend our experience of best practice in the financial sector in China to this market.”

Mr Ma said early discussions with TAS unearthed a desire from its customers to upgrade their cloud technology, particularly in the fields of cloud security, big data analysis and how to use AI to support digital transformation and innovation in the financial sector.

“Fortunately, we have this kind of practice because we have supported Alipay in China for the last few years and we have a lot of experience from that,” Mr Ma said.

“That’s the reason why we have come together; one side has very good demand, a very good reputation and a lot of customers here.

“On the other side, we have the experience, we have the technology and we are willing to work together with partners.”

TAS chief executive Shane Baker said while accessing Alibaba’s cloud computing infrastructure was a compelling proposition, it was the technology giant’s experience in financial services, particularly through its payment platform Alipay, that had most attracted his company.

“We didn’t want to partner with someone that could provide infrastructure only, because while that’s important, it’s pretty basic and it’s very standard to our business,” Mr Baker told Australia China Business Review.

“This is about how we advance the industry, and things like facial recognition and voice recognition are certainly seen to be the future in that we will be communicating with technology in that fashion.

“So those technologies were one of the biggest considerations in terms of selecting a partner.

“The other thing about Alibaba for us is their regional focus.

“They have a desire and intent to be the largest in the Asia-Pacific region, which is perfect for us. The Asian corridor is where we see the most opportunity for growth outside of Australia and into Australia.”

Mr Baker said the major benefit of the partnership would not only provide value for both companies, but also be the target market of Australian banks and insurance providers.

He said applying Alibaba’s technology to the cloud computing sector would give institutions the opportunity to streamline processes and reduce costs, while also allowing for better customer engagement.

“The insurance industry in particular realises that it’s at a tipping point where there is a lot changing in their world,” Mr Baker said.

“The way that cars are becoming more autonomous and certainly will be autonomous over time, weather patterns and all sorts of things are eating into premiums and therefore profits, so they have got to think about things differently.

“They have got to become leaner and using smarter technology is a way to do that.”

Mr Baker said he expected the financial services sector to embrace Alibaba’s entry to the market, particularly its commitment to collaboration.

He said Alibaba’s investment in the development of new technology through universities and other research institutions had been “remarkable”.

The company had also been a big contributor to the rapid modernisation of China’s financial sector over the past two decades.

“When you go back and research China, one of the arguments is that financial services jumped a whole era, if you like, in a progression that the western world went through in core systems and digitisation,” Mr Baker said.

“As a result of the way that they have advanced, it’s really advanced technology.

“The other thing with China that the world recognises is that technology advancements, focusing on development of technologies and patenting IP is what China does and does very well, and it’s what China has been doing for a number of years now.

“This is where our clients are getting really excited, talking about an organisation like Alibaba that has those advanced technologies, understands financial services themselves.

“We are getting a lot of interest from those organisations saying ‘we want to be a part of that. We want to look at how we resolve some of those issues and capitalise on these opportunities with an organisation that gets it, but also is prepared to do it in a collaborative fashion.’

“But it’s not just about the technology, it’s about how the technology gets applied to industries to add value.

“The way that they are considering the changing environment both in China and globally and how the technology can apply to solutions to those challenges and opportunities is quite unique.

“That’s the thing that excites us, because we can bring solutions to a market rather than just a product.”

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