ECI Chief Innovation Officer Rich Itri Talks Secure AI on PayPod

Rich Itri

ECI’s thought leadership takes many forms – from white papers and webinars to industry demos, conference presentations and more. One of the latest examples is ECI Chief Innovation Officer Rich Itri’s recent interview on PayPod. Last month, Rich sat down with host Kevin Rosenquist for a wide-ranging discussion on the evolution and future of financial technology. The conversation placed special emphasis on the transformational role of AI, and how firms can best leverage AI in a secure and compliant way to drive innovation.

Focusing on the Transformational Role of AI PayPod is one of the premier podcasts devoted to unpacking the hot topics of the payments and fintech industry. Launched in 2019, the show covers advances in software and new technology through interviews with top industry thought leaders shaping the world of financial services. Given ECI’s nearly three decades of experience serving clients in the financial services industry, this influential outlet proved to be a natural fit for Rich to share ECI’s unique perspective as a highly specialized MSP devoted to the technological needs of alternative investment firms.

With AI as a pervasive topic of discussion across all industries, the episode paid special attention to how AI is transforming the sector and impacting financial firms specifically. AI and ML algorithms allow firms to conduct robust and highly proactive analytics for market insights, portfolio research, decision support and more. AI can also help hedge funds, private equity firms and other alternative investment companies automate and scale everyday processes that such firms rely on to conduct business. Generative AI and large language models (LLMs) help power virtual assistants, augmented research platforms and other systems that improve workforce productivity.

But as Rich emphasized in the PayPod discussion, such capabilities come with security, compliance and quality implications that must be addressed. He told host Kevin Rosenquist these concerns are what drove his team to develop the ECI Large Language Application (ELLA) managed platform as the first secure LLM application for the alternative financial market and other highly regulated industries.

Developing the ELLA Managed Platform

Rich talked about the origins of ELLA as a game-changing solution that creates a secure and compliant staging ground for AI processes and modeling within the organization. He recalled how his team designed ELLA to answer key questions for financial firms as they seek to leverage the power of AI and LLMs while sidestepping the risks.

“How can we prevent data loss? How can I use my data to let it stay within my four walls? How to use models like ChatGPT, but use them in a secure way,” he said. “That was the original premise behind ELLA: We wanted you to be able to bring your own data and we also wanted to be able to provide surveillance (and) stay aligned with what the regulators expect in terms of how to protect client data.”

Beyond compliance and security, Rich said ELLA was also designed to ensure more accuracy in AI outputs from clients concerned about hallucinations, insufficient business context and outdated LLM training data. “One of the biggest concerns that I would have (as a client) using this for business purposes is ‘how do I know the answer is right?’ There were a lot of companies early on that were excited about ChatGPT and Open AI. But I think people quickly realized that ‘whoa, this is scary.’”

Rich explained that ELLA was designed to address all these concerns as a highly protected and private environment for access, use and creation of materials and data-driven outputs from LLMs. “It’s putting good permissions around information, putting good data security in place and then governance and controls to make sure you maintain it.” In the months since ELLA’s initial release in November 2023, Rich said the platform continues to evolve to meet the evolving needs of clients seeking to leverage AI in their business. “Now we have ELLA Plus,” he said, “It’s a more advanced version of ELLA that does a little more automation around some of the tasks that we’re seeing clients wanting to use the original version of ELLA for.”

The PayPod conversation was peppered throughout with personal anecdotes from Rich on his lifelong obsession with the worlds of both technology and finance – from his childhood fascination with computers and his college days majoring in finance, to his nearly three-decade career since then as a leading fintech innovator for companies like AIG, HSBC Securities and numerous alternative investment firms before joining ECI in 2020 as Chief Innovation Officer. “I always thought I was going to go into finance,” he said. “I never thought that technology would take over my career in finance.”

Access the full video interview and transcript of Rich Itri’s PayPod appearance here!

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