CIBC Digital’s Aayaz Pira: Toronto can become a global centre of AI excellence
Aayaz Pira is the head of CIBC Digital, where he helps to lead the 150-year-old financial institution’s transformation into a tech-first organization. He brings his consulting knowledge into that world, leveraging deep relationships from the burgeoning Toronto tech scene. Read on to see his global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
My first steps were walking towards the TV remote! Fast forward 15 years, and I got into building websites. Unfortunately, this is right around the time of the dot-com bubble burst. After the burst, I had a tech company for a few years throughout the early 2000’s but it didn’t work out.
I moved into management consulting, working at PwC. I got the chance to work with some of Canada’s greatest brands, and that’s where I continued to be around tech. I learned a lot from these companies and how they were using tech, plus I brought my knowledge and helped them with some tech projects.
Now, I’m at CIBC Digital.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
You can find love in anything – people, places, food. I’d want to find out what defines love for the individual first.
If it’s food, we have an amazing culinary scene in Toronto, so showing the culture and diversity we have is great.
I’m also a huge fan of music, so we could go to the ballet, a jazz club, or a music venue on King West to hear some music you can listen and move to.
We also have amazing greenery in Canada and Toronto, so I’d show that off.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
Representing and working with a large Canadian bank, we have found a lot of success working with Canada’s best, whether that be large or small companies.
Recently, for instance, we partnered with Canadian online lending FinTech company Borrowell, and it was great because we could offer CIBC clients free credit scores and increased access to loans online through Borrowell.
It’s a classic example of collaboration between big business and startups.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is expanding on what large organizations already do, which is to build centres of excellence. I’d make it about technology beyond the borders of a country.
If you look at companies like Audi or Volkswagen, they have centres of excellence to create amazing car technologies. So we need to think about how we can apply this to STEM broadly – it’s crucial to pick places to invest in to become the global centre of a given technology.
For instance, it might make sense for Canada and Toronto to become the global centre of excellence for AI. The same goes for India and engineering, because they have amazing universities there.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world needs to know that what we offer to Canada – diversity, great talent, potential – we can offer to the world. You need to come here to actually understand just how special Toronto is in terms of all elements of tech, diversity, business, and culture.