Microsoft Drives Financial Inclusion with AI at BootCamp


Emma Okonji

Microsoft has said its Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform, Azure, will help Nigeria achieve its goal of reducing the financial exclusion rate to 20 per cent by 2020.

Microsoft made the disclosure at the Data Science Nigeria (DSN) Financial Inclusion Summit held in Lagos on Wednesday, where Microsoft was the Lead Sponsor.

Microsoft’s AI tools are rapidly changing how financial institutions operate, manage data, and interact with customers. The revolution brought by AI – a blend of three advanced technologies: machine learning, natural language processing and cognitive computing – has huge implications for the financial services industry in Nigeria.

According to Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager, Mr. Akin Banuso, “with the use of modern tools like Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning platform, Financial Service Providers (FSPs) can crunch large volumes of data faster and more accurately, which considerably lessens time-to-market to deliver products and services.

“AI has the potential to advance nearly every field of human endeavour and address countless societal challenges. This is why we are investing in not only making the technology more accessible, but also building capacity in the use of machine learning concepts to address analytical gaps in financial inclusion and other areas.”

To build this capacity, Microsoft, through its 4Afrika Initiative, has since 2013 been aggressively upskilling the African developer community in their use of modern technologies. Through its 16 AppFactory academies, including two in Nigeria, Interns4Afrika, MySkills4Afrika, Microsoft Virtual Academy and AI PopUp Lab programmes, it is pairing developers with technical experts to gain skills in AI, cloud computing, secure coding, machine learning, bot framework and data analytics – and encouraging them to innovate in fields such as financial services.

Expanding further on the features of Microsoft’s portfolio of AI tools and services, Banuso said one of the challenges of FSPs was how to capture the unbanked population in the informal sector as they usually do not have formal identifiers. However, with the AI and machine learning capabilities offered by Microsoft Azure, FSPs can use facial recognition algorithms to eliminate duplication of persons. Similarly, FSPs can rewrite credit-scoring algorithms to better capture current realities based on observed customer patterns through the platform.
“AI makes it possible to circumvent traditional challenges with onboarding the unserved and underserved population,” Banuso added.

The five-day residential AI boot camp and Hackathon will feature face-to-face teaching, virtual online classes, and a hands-on hackathon using the platform. Distinguished data scientists from leading research and academic institutions from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and South Africa will facilitate the sessions.

The initiative is driven by a broader strategic intent to accelerate Nigeria’s development through a solutions-oriented approach to using Machine Learning to solve both social and business problems, while also encouraging skills development in the field of data science and AI. This in turn will increase employability, foster technological innovation and promote sustainable socio-economic development in Nigeria. This is reinforced by the DSN’s vision to create one million new jobs in the next ten years through world-class knowledge and best-practice application.