Artificial intelligence is changing the finance industry, with some early big movers monetizing their investments in back-office AI applications. But as this trend widens, new systemic and security risks may be introduced in the financial system. These are some of the findings of a new World Economic Forum report, The New Physics of Financial Services – How artificial intelligence is transforming the financial ecosystem, prepared in collaboration with Deloitte.
“Big financial institutions are taking a page from the AI book of big tech: They develop AI applications and make them available as a ‘service’ through the cloud,” said Jesse McWaters, AI in Financial Services Project Lead at the World Economic Forum. “It is turning what were historically cost centres into new source of profitability, and creating a virtuous cycle of self-learning that accelerates their lead.”
The report points to Ping An’s One Connect and BlackRock’s Aladdin platform as prime examples of the trend:
In China, One Connect sells AI-powered services ranging from credit adjudication to instantaneous insurance claims settlement to hundreds of small and mid-sized Chinese banks and is expected to fetch up to $3 billion at public sale
In the US, Aladdin provides sophisticated risk analytics and comprehensive portfolio management tools that leverage machine learning to a range of asset managers and insurers and is expected by BlackRock’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink to provide 30% of the firm’s revenues by 2022
The report, which draws on interviews and workshops with hundreds of financial and technology experts, observes that the “size of the prize” driven through these as-a-service offerings and other applications of AI is much larger than that of the more narrow applications that drive efficiency through the automation of human effort.
The report predicts that AI will also accelerate the “race to the bottom” for many products, as price becomes highly comparable via aggregation services and third-party services commoditize back office excellence.
“AI’s role in financial services is often seen narrowly as driving efficiency through the automation of human effort, but much greater value can be driven through more innovative and transformative applications,” said Rob Galaski, Deloitte Global Banking & Capital Markets Consulting Leader.
As such, financial institutions are seeking to build new sources of differentiation on the back of AI, such as on-the-fly product customization and free advisory services built into products.
Canadian lender RBC is providing its automotive dealership clients with sophisticated demand-forecasting tools that complement the existing credit products it provides to these firms
IEX, a young New York-based stock exchange, is exploring the use of machine learning in creating new order types that protect trades from execution during unstable, potentially adverse conditions
The net result for customers will be “self-driving finance” – a customer experience where an individual’s or firm’s finances are effectively running themselves, engaging the client only to act as a trusted adviser on decisions of importance.
“A small business won’t go to a bank for a revolving line of credit,” said Bob Contri, Deloitte Global Financial Services Leader. “It will seek out a liquidity solution that anticipates how their need for growth capital will evolve and provides customized products to meet those needs,” he said.
But the expanding presence of AI in finance doesn’t come without tensions and risks.
First, financial institutions will be drawn closer to big tech since cloud computing is central to most AI strategies. But there is a chance that most of the benefits will escape them.
Second, the report warns that AI will raise new challenges for the financial ecosystem, particularly around regulation. The divergent path being taken by regulators around the world towards customer data could create a new form a regulatory arbitrage, project participants said.
Finally, the report points to systemic and security risks from creating a more networked finance system, where a few AI databases contain most clients’ information.