The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is launching a data lab in Waterloo in a bid to tap the local technology talent pool and develop innovations to give the bank a foothold in the digital economy.

The CIBC Data Studio — in partnership with Communitech and located at the startup-supporting non-profit new’s Data Hub — is set to launch on Thursday with four full-time data scientists working with three co-op students from nearby universities.

In a dedicated area within Communitech’s new 19,000 square-foot facility, the team will work on business problems from a data perspective, helping to accelerate the bank’s ability to learn and implement new data-driven capabilities, said Jose Ribau, CIBC’s chief data officer.

The team will also work with “key partners,” such as local companies and fintech startups, he added.

“What we want to do a better job of is to be where the talent is, and rotate some of the individuals, who are learning the best, newest technologies and methods, through an environment that is more conducive for them to not only learn, but to also share some of their best practices with us,” Ribau said in an interview.

CIBC would not disclose how much it spent on its first dedicated data lab, but Ribau said it was a “meaningful” investment.

It’s the latest move by one of Canada’s biggest banks in the race to harness the latest financial technologies, and in the battle for the top talent to stay ahead of the pack.

In January, the Bank of Nova Scotia opened a 70,000-square-foot “digital factory” in downtown Toronto, where hundreds of data scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and other top tech talent were brought in to develop new fintech capabilities.

Also in January, the Royal Bank of Canada announced it had snapped up Canadian artificial intelligence pioneer Richard Sutton as an adviser for its Alberta Machine Intelligence institute located at the University of Alberta, where Sutton is a professor.

CIBC is a founding partner alongside the City of Waterloo, investment fund Quantum Valley Investments (an investment fund launched by BlackBerry founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin) and is the only bank at the Communitech Data Hub, located on Erb Street in downtown Waterloo.

Canada’s fifth-biggest bank has a similar collaborative space in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District called CIBC Live Labs, but the Waterloo lab housed is focused solely on data, said Ribau.

“Data is a key driver in in terms of our transformation, trying to be the bank of the future. As… data science itself matures, we want to invest in that space.”

The first cohort of students will be from the University of Waterloo with backgrounds in computer science, engineering, and math, said Ribau.

Last week, the students were brought to CIBC headquarters in Toronto to familiarize them with the bank’s business and processes.

As well, CIBC employees from Toronto will be rotated through the 500-square-foot data lab in Waterloo to “make sure we’re cross-pollinating back,” he added.

The terms for who owns the intellectual property developed at the Data Studio, and how it can be used at the bank, will be set on a case by case basis, said Ribau.

Ultimately, the CIBC Data Studio is aimed at feeding the talent pipeline back to Toronto, he said.

“The goal with the co-op students is to start building that relationship early, so that we know who those students are and what their capabilities are, build a bridge to the university, and then a do a great job of recruiting not just for the local CIBC Data Studio, but recruiting for CIBC more generally,” he said.

While CIBC’s data lab doesn’t have a bowling alley or a gym, as Scotiabank’s Toronto digital factory does, to lure in talent, it is a collaborative space a stone’s throw away from Kitchener-Waterloo’s universities and nearby research facilities such as the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Ribau added.

“It’s open, bright, and people can work together… That’s ultimately what the local startups and companies are looking for… It’s less about the foosball tables, more about the actual work environment being collaborative,” he said.

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