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CTO Chronicles: Inside a Tech Leader’s World

Posted at: 02.26.2024in category:Top Stories
Dive into tech leadership with seasoned CTO Stéphane Alizon from Younited.

Stephane Alizon portrait With 23+ years of industry experience, Stéphane Alizon shares his journey from software development to driving innovation across sectors. Explore how his role at Younited shaped Europe's instant credit revolution.

What emerging tech trends do you see shaping the future of your industry?

The technology we currently see as the most transformative in the credit industry is AI combined with Open Banking. Having access to our customers' and prospects' banking data and analyzing it with our AI models is key to offering them an extremely simple user experience, by instantly making a definitive decision on their credit application with a minimum of supporting documents. This also enables us to keep credit risk under tight control, so that we can offer the best rates to our borrower customers, and competitive, stable returns to our investor customers who finance these loans. It's also hard not to mention generative AI and the upheaval caused by the democratization of LLMs over the past year. The impact in terms of productivity is potentially very significant, even if you have to choose your use cases carefully, avoiding putting the models in front of the customer for now.

How is your company leveraging these trends to stay ahead in the market?

We've always put innovation at the heart of our business, and were early adopters of trends not widely used in the industry, which is vital when you want to compete with the traditional banking system! We are looking into leveraging generative AI to generate even more realistic data to work within our models, without compromising the confidentiality of user data. We have developed and are in the process of perfecting a corporate framework to integrate with different interaction methods (instant messaging, email, APIs, etc.), be able to manage complex tasks (using different LLM models depending on the need, for example), and ensure scalability, all in a secure and cost-effective way. We see this framework as a powerful lever for fostering innovation in a secure way. We have already put in place a number of use cases, mainly in the field of Tech ops (production incident root cause analysis, production monitoring, technical support, etc.). The implementation of this framework will enable us in the very short term to make the capabilities of different models available to all our staff in a very simple and intuitive way and fine-tune them to our needs to identify a multitude of new use cases.

What trend are you most excited about?

One of my favorite emerging trends, which I hope will soon see considerable growth, is FHE (Fully Homomorphic Encryption) in the field of privacy. This is a technology that enables you to process encrypted data, without having to decrypt it, and obtain the same result as if it had been in clear format. In other words, we can imagine entity A possesses data, and entity B possesses an algorithm; FHE enables entity A to benefit from entity B's processing without having to provide entity B with its data, a giant step forward in the field of data privacy and intellectual property protection. At present, this type of process generates additional calculation times and is not available for all types of processing, but these two points are progressing rapidly, and the technology should be able to be democratized and made available for a wide range of use cases.

How do you and your team stay updated on the latest developments and trends?

Clearly dedicating time to this is crucial! At Younited, our Tech teams devote every Friday afternoon to innovation, sharing best practices and technology watch. This time is sacralized and is not used to carry out changes to the product roadmap. Teams, grouped into communities of practice, organize workshops to explore a particular topic, either as a team or individually. Then, when interesting information is gathered or conclusive POC results are obtained, they are shared more widely, often at our monthly plenary meetings. It's very motivating for the teams to have this time available to progress and keep up to date, and also gratifying to have the opportunity to present success stories to the whole Tech community. If an innovation or new practice has been identified, and its relevance and feasibility proven, then we use the 20% of Product bandwidth dedicated to technical projects to industrialize it and put it into production.

What are your predictions for future tech in your industry over the next 5-10 years?

It's hard to make reliable predictions on this timescale, given the speed at which things are evolving, but I can give it a try! Openbanking and AI will most probably become increasingly important in the sector, involving more collaboration between banking institutions and fintechs, which should lead to the birth of new, and increasingly personalized, services for users. This will also mean more data sharing between these players, and therefore a greater challenge in terms of data security and confidentiality, and we may well see some high-performance solutions from the FHE mentioned earlier! We can also look forward to major advances and the democratization of quantum computing, which should open up new possibilities in terms of AI and make huge strides in risk modeling and fraud prevention. The other side of the coin is the risk this poses in terms of cybersecurity, as the explosion in computing capacity is likely to undermine current defense mechanisms, and we're going to have to be prepared for this. It's likely that within the next 5 to 10 years, there will be significant developments in Decentralized Finance, not only thanks to technological advances on underlying technical assets (blockchain), but also above all thanks to advances in terms of regulation of this approach. And with future advances in virtual reality, augmented reality, and generative AI, we can easily imagine disruptive user experiences that are highly immersive and personalized compared to what we know today, such as chatting with your virtual financial advisor at 10 pm, available in a second to tell him or her about your real estate project, just as you would with a human face-to-face.

How do you see your role as CTO evolving?

First of all, I think that we need to ask ourselves, much more than we used to, about the CSR dimension of the technologies we use and consider. The CTO must make his employees and the whole company aware of the social and environmental impact of technologies. Secondly, I believe that the CTO and his team must position themselves as "innovation catalysts” and develop and maintain a culture of innovation within the company. This means, among other things, identifying the people within the teams who are the driving force behind innovation, giving them a framework (issues on which we feel it's relevant to invest) and resources (time to enable them to get away from day-to-day operations, and budget), and knowing how to highlight successes as well as the right to make mistakes. Last but not least, knowing how to adapt one's organization very quickly is essential to be able to seize technological opportunities.

Any advice for aspiring CTOs looking to navigate the evolving tech landscape?

I'd say you always have to be careful not to lose sight of the business need or the problem you're trying to solve, because sometimes you can be blinded by the beauty of technology and absolutely want to use it when it doesn't fully meet the need, and another solution, perhaps less trendy, would do the job perfectly. This, of course, implies a thorough understanding of business needs. You also need to know how to set aside time for technology watch, training, attending conferences, exchanging best practices, and networking, because otherwise, day-to-day operations will always take priority! Beyond sharing points of view and experiences, this can also create opportunities for recruiting.

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