Adrian de Valois-Franklin ’02 talks fintech, the fascinating world of AI and offers words of wisdom to today’s students.
Describe what you do in 140 characters or less.
I serve as the CEO of Castle Ridge Asset Management, a hedge fund using self-evolving Artificial Intelligence to power its investment strategies.
How did you get into fintech, AI and big data?
Prior to co-founding Castle Ridge, I was an investment manager with some of the world’s largest financial institutions. I started my career with Goldman Sachs in San Francisco. While in Silicon Valley, I then focused on buying and building technology businesses with Accel-KKR; originally a joint venture between the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and the venture capital firm Accel Partners. Eventually, I got the tap on the shoulder to return home to Toronto to help build the active investment strategy for the now $400 billion Canada Pension Plan. My focus on FinTech led to a meeting with a scientist who spent 40 years in the Artificial Intelligence field. The team was working on a new approach to AI called Geno-Synthetic Algorithms that could learn and adapt to ever-changing market environments. We co-founded Castle Ridge, and after years of testing, the WALLACE AI system was born.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career so far?
Launching my own company was certainly the most memorable career milestone. I never planned to be an entrepreneur. However, my background in finance and technology allowed me to identify just how unique this AI was. While traditional machine learning systems are static and often fail when environments change, WALLACE constantly learns and evolves. The implications of this new self-evolving technology are enormous, not just for finance, but for numerous fields. It only made sense to take the leap with my career. As the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Do you have any advice for UCC students interested in your industry?
Learn to code! The investment industry is changing quickly. Computer literacy has moved beyond email and spreadsheets. You will need to understand how machines think and learn. AI can help us quickly analyze vast data sets to uncover patterns not obvious to humans, but AI still needs us to ask the right questions…for now. Even a university minor in computer science will prove extremely valuable for most careers. Students can also take advantage of the many online courses available from some of the best schools.
How do you feel your time at UCC prepared you for your career?
My interest in all things AI developed while at UCC. In fact, I wrote my IB Extended Essay on the subject of man-machine symbiosis. Two decades later, many of the ideas I explored in that paper have become technological realities, while many more are in development. Everything came full circle for me when I was able to combine my interests in finance and AI to create a career that did not exist before. Now I have the privilege of helping to advance the field of evolutionary computing.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
Make yourself indispensable. It is important to become an expert at whatever you choose to do. You need to keep learning and finding ways to put that knowledge into practice. If you are passionate about something, then the motivation to keep improving should come naturally.
What's something you wish you could tell your UCC self?
As much as you may want to plan your life path, it is important to stay flexible. Some UCC students may already have a clear idea of their goals, while other students may not, and that is okay. It has been interesting to see how the cards reshuffle for my own UCC classmates every few years. Those who started on one path end up doing something completely different. I certainly never could have imagined running an AI hedge fund. You cannot predict the path your interests and life will take. Just like the WALLACE AI system, you must learn, adapt and evolve to changing environments.