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AI Will Transform Financial Services Industry within Two Years

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A new survey released by the World Economic Forum and the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) finds nearly two-thirds (64%) of financial services leaders expect to be mass adopters of AI in just two years compared to just 16% doing so today. These firms expect to use AI for purposes beyond cost reduction including revenue generation, process automation, risk management, customer service and client acquisition.

In Transforming Paradigms: Global AI in Financial Services Survey, over 150 senior financial services executives in both fintech and incumbent financial institutions responded to a range of questions on the impact AI will have on the industry, concluding that there will be a significant gap between firms that quickly implement AI and firms that lag behind.

Currently, 60% of firms invest less than 10% of their R&D resources on AI despite evidence of accelerating returns. Pay offs have shown to be especially strong between investment levels of 10% and 30% as well as investment levels of 30% and >40%.

“The comprehensive and global study confirms that AI is affecting the financial system at an accelerating pace,” says Matthew Blake, Head of Financial and Monetary Systems at the World Economic Forum. “With the rising trend of mass adoption of the technologies throughout financial services, those firms that implement AI quickly look set to sprint ahead.”

The study has also revealed executive fears surrounding AI bias and market-wide risks, with over half of executives saying they expect mass AI adoption to worsen bias and discrimination within the sector. Other market-wide risks were also identified.

This is a worry, but 70% of respondents also believe they are at least somewhat prepared to mitigate AI bias risks. Generally, firms using Risk and Compliance teams in AI implementation are most confident about their chances.

The report also identified a difference between how fintechs and incumbent firms are expecting to use AI in their businesses. For example, a higher share of fintechs are creating AI-based products and services, employ autonomous decision-making systems, and rely on cloud-based offerings. Meanwhile, traditional financial services players predominantly focus on harnessing AI to improve existing products.

“This empirical research underscores the growing importance of harnessing AI in financial services,” says Bryan Zhang, Executive Director of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, “which gives new impetus for firms to develop a holistic and future-proof AI strategy.”

The Global AI in Financial Services Survey, which was produced in collaboration with EY and Invesco, looks into many areas of AI adoption in financial services. The report’s other major findings include:

77% anticipate AI to have high or very high strategic importance within two years

Nearly half of all respondents see a major competitive threat in “Big Tech” firms leveraging AI capabilities to enter financial services.

Selling AI-based solutions as a service is becoming a distinct business model, currently adopted by 45% of fintechs and 21% of incumbents, which allows firms to capitalize on larger and more diverse datasets through digital platforms.

Novel insights are increasingly provided by using AI to analyse new or alternative datasets such as social media and geo-location data, with 60% of respondents making use of such data in their AI applications.

Data quality and access to data and talent are seen as major obstacles to implementing AI by more than 80% of respondents each.

Traditional financial services firms expect AI a 9% net reduction of jobs by 2030 while fintechs expect to increase their workforce by 19%.

While views of regulatory influence on AI implementation diverge, most firms feel impeded by data-sharing regulations between jurisdictions and entities as well as regulatory uncertainty and complexity.

“AI is transforming the financial services industry and we can expect widespread adoption to continue,” says Nigel Duffy, EY Global Artificial Intelligence Leader. “As the technologies start to disrupt business models and transform business functions, it’s increasingly important for organizations to focus on the long-term implications of AI adoption: trust in AI, workforce transformation, and how customer and stakeholder value can be radically reimagined.”

“The report highlights the amazing opportunity ahead of us in financial services for using artificial intelligence and machine learning to the benefits of our customers and our organizations,” says Donie Lochan, Chief Technology Officer, Invesco. “Technological advances such as leveraging intelligence to define investments for customers tied to their personalized goals, improving customer experience through the use of intelligent bots, additional alpha generation via insights from alternative datasets, and operational efficiencies through machine learning automation, will soon become the norm for our industry.”

Overall, this survey highlights the profound shift AI is bringing to the financial services industry. As companies begin to leverage AI to increase profitability and achieve scale, more changes can be expected within the industry and for consumers.

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Financial education gaps are primary barrier to retail investing in capital markets

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New research from the World Economic Forum finds that 40% of non-investors have chosen not to invest because they do not know how or find it too confusing. Furthermore, roughly 70% of people would be more likely to invest, or invest more, with expanded financial education

Done in collaboration with BNY Mellon and Accenture, The Future of Capital Markets: Democratization of Retail Investing also finds that increased participation of retail investors in capital markets is a largely positive trend. Though some concerns about riskier investments remain, retail investors are showing themselves to be prudent investors using markets to build long-term wealth.

“Even amid market volatility, participation in capital markets can empower people to take ownership of their financial future,” said Meagan Andrews, Investing Lead at the World Economic Forum. “We’re just now starting to understand the new wave of retail investors and the power they are wielding in the market. It’s important industry leaders take steps to empower individuals so they can optimize financial decisions for their betterment, whether they currently invest or not.”

Based on a global survey of over 9,000 respondents from 9 countries and expert interviews, the report highlights the importance of enhancing personalized advice for retail investors and improving the reliability of information and investor protections. It also underscores opportunities to improve education, trust and access to increase inclusion in global capital markets.

With the current market volatility, industry players, policy-makers and others need to act now to ensure the benefits of investing are increasingly accessible worldwide.

“Global capital markets are undergoing a fundamental transformation, with more individual and retail investors seeking access than ever before in history,” said Akash Shah, Chief Growth Officer at BNY Mellon. “This research highlights opportunities for the entire financial industry to build the trust and transparency needed to empower and democratize market participation in underserved communities around the world.”

Trends of retail investors
The survey results provided critical insights into the factors and mindsets impacting individuals’ decisions to enter capital markets globally.

Notably, the survey found that individuals primarily look to capital markets to build long-term wealth, especially in emerging markets. Half of those surveyed were investing to save for retirement or to build generational wealth.

Retail investors are skewing younger, with Gen Z and younger Millennials investing at higher rates. Younger investors are much more likely than their peers to have received financial education earlier in life.

Meanwhile, non-investors are less confident they will achieve their long-term financial objectives and, when compared to investors, a higher proportion only learned about investing many years after entering the workforce. Their main reasons for avoiding financial markets were fear of losing money and because of an investing knowledge gap.

Generational wealth also plays a vital role in deciding to invest early. Respondents whose parents invested in the market reported that they began investing earlier in life compared to those with parents who did not invest.

The survey also revealed significant gaps in product awareness. For instance, surveyed investors noted they had a greater understanding of newer products like cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) compared to more traditional instruments like stocks and bonds.

Expanding the benefits of retail investing

There are many ways capital markets and global society can work together to grow wealth for more individuals in a responsible manner.

1. Financial literacy and improving investor education

Personal finance education – from setting a budget to learning how to secure one’s retirement – is integral to building wealth responsibly. Industry players should focus on increasing basic financial literacy, promoting responsible investment strategies and improving proactive retirement planning outside of pensions.

Providing information is not enough – content should be fit for purpose, with efforts to make it as understandable as possible. Both policy-makers and private sector actors need to improve their tactics to meet the desires of today’s investors.

2. Personalized, outcome-oriented advice for all

Solutions that financial institutions currently offer are often siloed and don’t always resonate with investors. Those at lower wealth thresholds are often left with few options to get financial advice: 80% of current investors state being able to speak with an adviser is essential to making an investment decision but only 48% are able to turn to a financial adviser or wealth manager for advice.

All investors should have access to the tools and guidance they need to be successful participants in capital markets. This should be inclusive of investors of all income and wealth levels. The industry must expand access to personalized advice and scale services to thrive to meet increasing retail investor demand – this must happen across all wealth brackets.

3. Collaboration and public-private partnerships

Increased collaboration across the industry, including public-private partnerships, will be needed.

Brokerages, wealth managers and exchanges are integral to this effort due to their proximity to retail investors and the speed at which they can enact change. From educational efforts to initiatives to lower the barriers to entry for retail investors, public-private partnerships will be essential.

“Increasing market participation and empowering retail investors has to include collaboration from all stakeholders,” said Kathleen O’Reilly, Global Lead, Accenture Strategy. “Financial institutions especially, from the C-suite to individual wealth managers, must play a critical role in offering relatable education efforts in addition to the investment products that will help investors become smarter and more confident.”

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Global economy: Outlook worsens as global recession looms

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Still reeling from the COVID pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the global economy is facing an increasingly murky and uncertain outlook, according to the latest report released on Tuesday by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The World Economic Outlook Update July 2022: Gloomy and More Uncertain, highlights the significant consequences of the stalling of the world’s three main economic powerhouses – the United States, China and the major European economies.

“The outlook has darkened significantly since April,” said Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, IMF Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.

“The world may soon be teetering on the edge of a global recession, only two years after the last one”.

The baseline forecast for global growth is for it to slow from 6.1 per cent last year, to 3.2 per cent in 2022 – 0.4 per cent lower than forecast in the last Outlook update in April.

Three key economies

With higher-than-expected inflation – especially in the US and the largest European economies – global financial conditions are becoming tighter.

In the US, reduced household purchasing power and tighter monetary policy will drive growth down to 2.3 per cent this year and one percent next year, according to the outlook.

China’s slowdown has been worse than anticipated amid COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns, with negative effects from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continuing.

Moreover, further lockdowns and a deepening real estate crisis there has pushed growth down to 3.3 per cent this year – the slowest in more than four decades, excluding the pandemic.

And in the Eurozone, growth has been revised down to 2.6 per cent this year and 1.2 percent in 2023, reflecting spillovers from the Ukraine war and tighter monetary policy.

“As a result, global output contracted in the second quarter of this year,” said Mr. Gourinchas.

Inflation

Despite the global slowdown, inflation has been revised up, in part due to rising food and energy prices.

This year it is anticipated to reach 6.6 per cent in advanced economies and 9.5 per cent in emerging market and developing economies – representing upward revisions of 0.9 and 0.8 percentage points respectively. And it is projected to remain elevated for longer.

Broadened inflation in many economies reflects “the impact of cost pressures from disrupted supply chains and historically tight labour markets,” the IMF official stated.

Downward risks

The report outlines some risks ahead, including that the war in Ukraine could end European gas supply from Russia altogether; rising prices could cause widespread food insecurity and social unrest; and geopolitical fragmentation may impede global trade and cooperation.

Inflation could remain stubbornly high if labour markets remain overly tight or inflation expectations are too optimistic and prove more costly than expected.

And renewed COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns threaten to further suppress China’s growth.

“In a plausible alternative scenario where some of these risks materialize…inflation will rise and global growth decelerate further to about 2.6 per cent this year and two per cent next year, a pace that growth has fallen below just five times since 1970,” said the IMF economist.

“Under this scenario, both the United States and the Euro area experience near-zero growth next year, with negative knock-on effects for the rest of the world”.

Destabilizing inflation

Current inflation levels represent a clear risk to macroeconomic stability, according to the outlook.

Responding to the situation, central banks in advanced economies are withdrawing monetary support faster than expected, while many in emerging market and developing economies began raising interest rates last year.

“The resulting synchronized monetary tightening across countries is historically unprecedented, and its effects are expected to bite, with global growth slowing next year and inflation decelerating,” said Mr. Gourinchas.

Policy priorities

While acknowledging that tighter monetary policy would have economic costs, the IMF official upheld that delaying it would only exacerbate hardship.

And hampered by difficulties in coordinating creditor agreements, how and whether debt can be restructured, remains unpredictable.

He argued that domestic policies responding to the impacts of high energy and food prices should focus on those most affected, without distorting prices.

“Governments should refrain from hoarding food and energy and instead look to unwind barriers to trade such as food export bans, which drive world prices higher,” advised the IMF official.

Meanwhile, mitigating climate change continues to require prompt multilateral action to limit emissions and raise investment to accelerate a “green transition”.

Policymakers are urged to ensure that measures are temporary and only cover energy shortfalls and climate policies.

Teetering on the edge

From climate transition and pandemic preparedness to food security and debt distress, multilateral cooperation is key, said the IMF economist.

“Amid great challenge and strife, strengthening cooperation remains the best way to improve economic prospects and mitigate the risk of geoeconomic fragmentation,” he underscored.

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Slow Moving Regulatory Decision Making for Cryptocurrency not Economically Favourable

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A new study by the World Economic Forum suggests that the current, indecisive regulatory approach for both crypto and stablecoins poses the greatest risk to financial and monetary stability while also hindering innovation.

Based on interviews with 15 expert economists worldwide, the new white paper, The Macroeconomic Impact of Cryptocurrency and Stablecoins, says that letting both crypto and stablecoins play a regulated role in an economy is the optimal way to promote the advantages of innovation while curtailing potential downsides. The whitepaper also provides important perspectives on the options available to policymakers as they deliberate the path forward for their respective jurisdictions.

“Cryptocurrencies and stablecoins have grown in significance as enablers of economic activity. The time for regulatory ambiguity has passed,” says Matthew Blake, Head of Shaping the Future of Financial and Monetary Systems, World Economic Forum. “Effective regulations are needed to help mitigate the risks associated with digital currencies while realizing the benefits.”

Analysis of macroeconomic net benefit of each regulatory option for cryptocurrencies

Image: World Economic Forum

Analysis of macroeconomic net benefit of each regulatory option for stablecoins

Image: World Economic Forum

The analysis of the macroeconomic impact was carried out using a qualitative review of interview notes from individual interviews.

Next steps for cryptocurrency and stablecoins

Much of the benefits of cryptocurrency and stablecoins will depend on how regulations are designed and enforced. A key component of this regulation will be common definitions surrounding different types of digital currency. The Macroeconomic Impact of Cryptocurrency and Stablecoins lays out important definitions of both crypto assets and stablecoins that will be key for policy-makers to build on as they develop and implement digital currency regulations.

Other steps for regulators to take now are coordinating with other governments, including crypto and stablecoins in monetary financial statistics, and including economic projections in their regulations as they become more available.

In the coming months, the World Economic Forum will release further analysis and recommendations for regulators, business leaders and others in the digital currency ecosystem through its Digital Currency Governance Consortium community.

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