FIS flips an exec’s script to do more with data, AI

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The lumbering pace of product development is one of the typical drags on large bank technology firms, while nimble startups can seemingly launch new offerings overnight.

FIS is planning to change the way it operates by expediting its customers' access to certain new services as a result of its $43 billion acquisition of Worldpay. But that's just one part of its plan. To speed up its internal product-development cycle, FIS is trying the novel approach of flipping one executive’s role from products czar to chief data officer for payments.

Longtime FIS executive Bob Legters has spent more than five years as chief product offer of integrated financial services at the Jacksonville, Fla.-based bank technology company, where a big part of his job was juggling different streams of data to support development of more than 400 different FIS banking and payments products.

But in recent months it became apparent that data—powering artificial intelligence and machine learning—was driving some of FIS’ most significant new products. The company decided that rethinking data’s role in product development might get quicker results.

In January FIS retitled Legters as chief data officer in charge of banking and payments, enabling him to spread the company’s best data innovations across the organization at a faster rate.

“The value isn’t in the data, but in productizing the data, and putting a creative product guy like Bob in charge of data will allow new products to grow and flourish,” said Bruce Lowthers, FIS’s chief operating officer in charge of integrated financial solutions.

The shift in strategy runs deeper than just redefining Legters’ job, according to Lowthers.

“FIS is about two years into a three-year journey to modernize our payments technology stack, in response to banking clients who said they want more products and faster speed to market for those solutions,” Lowthers said.

FIS hopes to launch up to 60 new products this year under its new accelerated-development structure, and Legters will play a key role in directing that effort with his new data-centric perspective.

“As a products guy, I have a unique vision into what we need data to do, and the new role gives me that leverage,” Legters said.

AI and machine learning are rapidly evolving, he noted.

“These technologies are dynamic, but AI and ML are only as valuable as the amount of data and the breadth of data it can access. We think we can unlock a lot of product capabilities by opening data up,” Legters said.

For example, ML technology has improved fraud-prevention tools by tracking and learning from trends to optimize fraud tools’ performance. Recent advances in AI are enhancing capabilities to predict fraud before it occurs, and FIS wants to pour more of its own data—and third-party data streams—into the mix, Legters said.

“We’re applying data more effectively in all types of products to improve financial institutions’ efficiency and using data to improve tools and expand the reach of banks’ products and services and transaction volume,” he said.

The effect is faster mapping of new-product requirements, with quicker development through the lens of data’s expanding capabilities, Legters said.

While “big data” has become a rather meaningless term that individual banks struggle to apply, FIS also wants to give financial institutions more power to tap their own customer data, he said.

“Our goal is to give individual banks the ability to customize the way they engage with each consumer, faster and in unique ways. Fintechs don’t own the data—banks do—and we’re creating ways for banks to act on that through by modernizing our payments-innovation wheel,” Legters said.

The organization-wide transformation will take time, Lowthers cautioned.

“Four years ago we started on a major technology transformation, and now we’re halfway through a cultural change that also cuts across the organization, with Bob’s job move just one example of how we’re attacking processes differently and reimagining things,” he said.

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Artificial intelligence Big data FIS