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Why work in artificial intelligence for an investment bank when there are far more interesting roles on offer in private equity funds?

J.P. Morgan's old head of AI is up to something interesting at Cerberus

J.P. Morgan's machine learning team has had a busy year. Following the exit of various of its senior members,  J.P. Morgan's renowned Intelligent Solutions unit was disbanded and its remaining employees dispersed across the bank's operating units. Nowadays, machine learning in the investment bank is run by Luc Teboul, the head of corporate and investment's data engineering unit. Meanwhile, Afsheen Afshar, the former head of data science at J.P. Morgan's investment bank is busy building an entirely new system at Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity fund which owns a 3% stake in Deutsche Bank.

Little has been publicly divulged about Afshar's project Cerberus. However, when Cerberus announced Afshar's appointment in October 2017, it said that Afshar would both be building a new data science platform and assembling, "a team of world-class technologists."

So far, there's little sign of the latter - although Afshar recruited Jason Gilbertson, a fellow Stanford University data mining and statistics graduate in April 2018.

Quietly, both Afshar and Gilbertson purport to be up to something big. In publicly available information, both say their roles at Cerberus are to, build a 'full-scale front-to-back data and advanced analytics capability that can be leveraged by all businesses and portfolio companies touched by the entire firm.' This is in line with Cerberus' original declaration that Afshar was hired to develop, "a proprietary operations platform focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning, the goal of which is to empower Cerberus' portfolio companies and trading desks with the technological, analytical, and cultural perspectives to extract measurable value out of raw data."

Afshar is working for COAC (Cerberus Operations and Advisory Company), a team of around 110 operating executives and experts which works to improve the performance and efficiency of the companies Cerberus invests in. Earlier this month, it emerged that COAC has been enlisted to help overhaul Deutsche Bank - suggesting that the system built by Afshar - who worked for Goldman Sachs for nearly six years before joining J.P. Morgan, could be used to improve Deutsche Bank as well as the other investments in Cerberus's portfolio.

Cerberus isn't the only private equity company looking at the use of big data and artificial intelligence. In February, Blackstone said it has an internal data group that's also mining portfolio companies for information. Blackstone's data science unit is run by Matthew Katz, who joined three years ago from hedge fund Point72 after starting his career in M&A at Credit Suisse.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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