Citizens Financial Group in Providence, R.I., is partnering with IBM to develop a virtual career coach for its employees.

Chairman and CEO Bruce Van Saun discussed the initiative for the first time Wednesday during a speech at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia on how technology is transforming banking.

The virtual career coach, known as “Myca,” will use artificial intelligence to help employees set career goals and determine what kind of training they need to develop new skills. The new technology will help Citizens automate a labor-intensive aspect of human resources, though Van Saun emphasized the focus is on “upscaling” its workforce for the digital age, rather than simply cutting costs.

“Part of the intelligence of this is that we can’t have an individual career coach for every person, given the staff levels you run,” Van Saun said in an interview Wednesday, prior to his speech. “Everybody would like to have a mentor that can help plot every move that a person can make.”

IBM and Citizen Bank
Bloomberg News

Citizens is one of five companies globally that is working with IBM to develop the career coach. A spokesman for Citizens did not say whether the any of the other companies are in financial services.

The $153 billion-asset Citizens will pilot the career coach with a small group of employees next month. It expects to make the technology available to all employees within the next year.

Van Saun said the coach will help employees by showing them what kinds of steps their colleagues in similar roles have taken to advance their careers.

“The new thing here is that there’s an AI capability that can connect those dots and say, ‘If you want to be here in six years, this is the training you should take, and these are the rotations you should move to,’ ” he said.

During his speech, Van Saun took a broad view of the industry, looking at how changes in consumer preferences — particularly for the conveniences offered by smartphones — are changing the business of banking.

Such changes have created an urgent need for banks to invest in new technology to stay competitive over the long term.

Van Saun pointed to several examples of how big banks in particular have launched innovative new products to meet consumers’ expectations, including JPMorgan’s mobile-only bank for millennials, known as Finn, and Goldman Sachs’ digital banking platform, known as Marcus.

Van Saun also highlighted the recent technology investments Citizens has made, including its launch of a nationwide, digital bank and its robo-advisory partnership with SigFig. He described them as “forward-leaning” approaches to technology.

“The window within which banks can become digitally proficient is a narrow one, and it’s closing more quickly and every day,” Van Saun said in his speech. “Failure to take action risks putting banks o a path of decline similar to that now being traveled by big-box retailers and other slow movers.”

During the interview Wednesday, Van Saun also discussed Citizens’ $511 million acquisition of Franklin American Mortgage Company, which was announced last week. Both companies have been in talks with the same fintech firm to develop a digital mortgage application.

The planned acquisition has “accelerated” those efforts, according to Van Saun. He said Citizens expects to announce a mortgage-related fintech partnership in the coming month.

Additionally, once Myca, the virtual career coach, is up and running, Van Saun said he expects other banks to follow Citizens’ lead and partner IBM to develop similar HR-related tools.

“Even if it’s new under the sun, it doesn’t stay new for very long,” Van Saun said.

There are some advantages, however, to being a first mover. For Citizens, there are “financial benefits” to beta-testing the product, including not having to pay the full upfront costs, given that it’s not yet a developed product.

“I think we get to put our imprint on it, as well,” Van Saun said.

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