Singapore – OCBC Bank and Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore) today announced that they have embarked on a S$5 million research collaboration over the next five years, to develop innovative technological solutions in three key areas – sustainability, data privacy and cyber security.
Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, and Chairman of the National Research Foundation, Mr Heng Swee Keat, witnessed the signing of the research collaboration agreement at NTU’s Strategic Centre for Research in Privacy-Preserving Technologies & Systems (SCRIPTS).
Leading the research is NTU Associate Vice President (Strategy and Partnerships) Professor Lam Kwok Yan, who is also Director of SCRIPTS and the Executive Director of National Centre for Research in Digital Trust. NTU’s SCRIPTS specialises in developing privacy-preserving technologies, which are essential prerequisites in ensuring data protection and data privacy.
NTU’s research partnership with OCBC is also in line with NTU2025, the University’s five-year strategic plan that aims to address humanity’s grand challenges, such as the impact of technology on humanity and mitigating our impact on the environment.
The research will focus on the development of technological solutions to drive the greening of data centres for a start, employing OCBC’s data centre as a use case. These solutions will leverage technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) to enable these facilities to be more energy efficient. They will help boost Singapore Green Plan’s as well as the bank’s decarbonisation efforts.
Data centres are energy-intensive assets, and according to the South-east Asia’s Green Economy report, they will account for 12 per cent of Singapore’s energy consumption by 2030. While OCBC’s data centre has obtained the BCA-IMDA Green Mark Platinum Award – the highest standard attainable for energy-saving buildings – in recognition of its sustainable features, it still contributes 40 per cent of the Bank’s carbon emissions in Singapore. Through this research, OCBC Bank aims to reduce the energy consumption of the data centre and lower its carbon footprint.
2. Data Privacy
Data and digital technologies have enabled Financial Institutions (FIs) to drive personalisation for customers, but robust risk management is essential. With this in mind, the research collaboration will also focus on data privacy, utilising OCBC’s information, such as voice recordings, as the content of the study. Specifically, the collaboration seeks to harness the potential of homomorphic encryption – a leading privacy enhancing technology more commonly used by medical institutions for DNA testing – in financial services. Through the use of this privacy enhancing technology, FIs will be able to perform encrypted operations such as searches and analytics without exposing the sensitive content of the operations.
Given that the Bank processes more than 35 billion transactions annually, the use of this homomorphic encryption will facilitate the processing of highly personalised insights and customised experiences for its customers while the findings from the research will help the Bank sharpen its privacy framework and enhance the protection of our customers’ data.
3. Cyber Security
Cyber security has become more salient given the increasingly sophisticated threats in the digital age. A 2021 study by cyber security company Imperva showed that the financial services sector was the most targeted sector in Singapore, accounting for more than half of the cyber-attacks last year. Strengthening the cyber resilience of the financial services industry is essential to mitigate the growing risk of cyber threats such as deepfake attacks, and the research will bolster OCBC’s security measures while enabling customers to continue to bank online securely.
Mr Praveen Raina, Head of Group Operations & Technology, OCBC Bank, said: “Partnership between industry and academia is instrumental to advancing research. The exchange of insights and information with academia has long been valued by OCBC and the research collaboration with NTU is a partnership that we want to deepen. Financial institutions can offer industry knowledge and use cases that research institutions can draw on to conduct analysis and studies to assess the real-world applicability of research. Through this partnership, I am looking forward to new solutions and capabilities that we can use to augment our digital infrastructure and continuously strengthen customers’ trust in us.”
NTU Senior Vice President (Research) Professor Lam Khin Yong said: “The research collaboration between NTU and OCBC in data privacy and digital trust is aligned with a national priority to develop a privacy-aware Smart Nation. The importance of collaboration in fintech areas with OCBC allows the University to bring our strong interdisciplinary approaches in pedagogy and research to address some of the most pressing and complex challenges facing the fintech industry. One of the key thrusts in the collaboration is on privacy-preserving technologies, which are computing techniques used to preserve an individual’s privacy while allowing maximum value and insight to be extracted from available data.”