A new report published today by the World Economic Forum explores how technology-driven risks originating in financial services sectors could become systemic threats to the global financial system.
Pushing Through Undercurrents, developed in collaboration with Deloitte, examines how different forces influence the way tech-driven risks spread and offers approaches that financial services executives, policy-makers, regulators and others can use to mitigate these risks.
“While continued tech integration into the financial system has many benefits, it’s important that industry leaders, regulators and consumers be aware of emerging tech-driven risks and take appropriate action to mitigate them,” said Drew Propson, Head, Technology and Innovation in Financial Services, World Economic Forum. “As the financial system becomes more dependent upon technology, new risks are surfacing as a result and it’s essential to apply solutions throughout the financial services ecosystem to ensure resilience and stability in coming years.”
The risks include everything from social media enabling the manipulation of stock markets to increased risks from a rise in “buy now pay later” debt and more. The report also explores managing geopolitical risks, such as the financial system’s vulnerability to state-sponsored cyberattacks, as a top priority for the financial system. If they become systemic, these risks would have profound economic impact for individuals and global economies.
“Our experience over the past few years has shown that powerful new vectors for systemic risk often enter the financial system from unexpected sources. Compounding this challenge, better interconnectivity between financial and non-financial players means that the speed at which new products and services emerge is now measured in weeks, not years,” said Rob Galaski, Vice-Chairman and Managing Partner, Financial Services, Deloitte Canada.
“This all points to the need to monitor and mitigate systemic risk at the level of the entire ecosystem. To do this, the industry will rely on data to build a clearer picture of the complex web of links between financial institutions, technology vendors, consumer platforms, social service providers, and other players – and predictive capabilities like AI to spot and evaluate risk vectors before they become systemic.”
These rapidly evolving, tech-driven risks can be mitigated through creative uses of technology, alongside greater collaboration within and across the public and private sectors.
Mitigation solutions include:
- Promoting trust-enhancing products and services that reinforce financial system stability
- Dismantling information siloes to better identify tech-driven risk at the ecosystem level
- Ensuring predictive analytics capabilities reflect geopolitical and regional uncertainty and are applied to resilience efforts
The report also identifies specific mitigation strategies for each of the sector-specific and regional risks examined.
Emerging tech-driven risks in the financial system
Overall, fragmentation in the global financial system will continue to create risks that could spread through sectors and regions. Additionally, highly dynamic geopolitical and regional forces outpace a financial institution’s resilience measures for cybersecurity, workforce shortages and environmental threats.
Many risks, as well as mitigation opportunities, are emerging from tech adoption in financial services. Potential systemic risks that could emanate from the increased use of technology include:
- Geopolitical tensions and growing cyberattacks
As cyberattacks become increasingly geopolitically motivated, sophisticated and frequent, financial institutions are at high risk of serious damage from such attacks. Added to the risk is increased competition for tech talent. The shortage of such talent in some regions is so severe that they could be unable to resume critical operations after a cyberattack.
- “Buy now pay later” debt
One mitigation strategy to combat attacks is to develop centralized resource centres for private entities to collectively build cyber resilience. Cybersecurity centres for financial institutions have been established regionally but their use could be expanded.
Demand for buy now pay later (BNPL) products, a short-term credit option for consumers looking to pay for purchases in instalments, is on the rise. BNPL is not a new concept but it has grown in popularity due to lenient credit approval processes and ease of access in e-commerce channels through partnerships between fintechs and retailers. By 2025, 12% of global e-commerce spend is estimated to come from BNPL transactions.
While BNPL products provide easy credit with the convenience of interest-free instalment payments for consumers, they also come with a host of risks to the broader financial system. For example, conflicting incentives between protecting customer interests and increasing sales credit increases the chance of over-borrowing, the piling up of shadow debts and defaults.
Additionally, risks of BNPL default may spill over into the broader financial system through securitization. If the scale of BNPL securities were to grow significantly, large-scale defaults could have a spiral effect on the financial system. Research by S&P has indicated that the volume of securitized BNPL assets is on the rise in Europe, with Fitch sounding the alarm on the credit risks associated with this product.
To mitigate this risk, rating organizations could incorporate an assessment of BNPL securities as part of their ratings services. Similar to how banks are rated based on the quality of their credit portfolio, BNPL providers with sound credit underwriting processes and risk management in place can be assigned ratings to guide investors in pricing their credits.
- Social media and investors
With retail investor activity reaching record highs recently, stock speculation on social media platforms continues to proliferate. This creates opportunities for the growth of “meme stocks”, where asset prices are highly disconnected from the underlying value of a company. Resulting market volatility risks have been seen previously and they are growing as meme-stock strategies are now being extended to short-term options positions.
While social media-driven market effects are not limited to meme-stock activity, their influence is well observed in this space. For example, social media platforms driven by algorithms (e.g., Reddit, Twitter) are playing a pivotal role in amplifying stock volatility and heightening individual risk appetites by creating “echo chambers” for investors to communicate frequently with others that have similar views and potentially reinforcing speculative investment decisions.
Expanding the use of machine-learning algorithms to spot warning signs of meme-stock surges can mitigate this risk. One could use real-time data, sourced from third-party data providers, for example, to proactively identify and monitor heightened risk exposure for institutional investors’ existing holdings.
U.S. companies are barreling towards a $1.8 trillion corporate debt
US firms are barreling towards a giant wall of corporate debt that’s about to mature over the next few years, Goldman Sachs strategists said in a note.
There’s $1.8 trillion of corporate debt maturing over the next two years, Goldman Sachs estimated. Firms could be slammed with higher debt servicing costs as interest rates stay elevated. That could eat into corporate revenue and weigh on the US job market.
The investment bank estimated that $790 billion of corporate debt was set to mature in 2024, followed by $1.07 trillion of debt maturing in 2025. That amounts to $1.8 trillion of debt reaching maturity within the next two years, in addition to another $230 billion that will reach maturity by the end of this year, Goldman strategists said.
The wave of debt that will need to be refinanced could spell trouble for companies, as interest rates have been raised aggressively by the Fed over the last year. The Fed funds rate is now targeted between 5.25%-5.5%, the highest range since 2001.
For every extra dollar spent to service their debt, firms will likely pull back on capital expenditures spending by 10 cents and labor spending by 20 cents, the strategists estimated, a reduction that could weigh down the job market by 5,000 payrolls a month in 2024 and 10,000 payrolls a month in 2025.
Experts have warned of trouble for US corporations as credit conditions tighten. Already, the tally of corporate debt defaults in 2023 has surpassed the total number of defaults recorded last year. As much of $1 trillion in corporate debt could be at risk for default if the US faces a full-blown recession, Bank of America warned, though strategists at the bank no longer see a downturn as likely in 2023.
Russian response to sanctions: billions in dollar terms are stuck in Russia
“Tens of billions in dollar terms are stuck in Russia,” the chief executive of one large company domiciled in a country told ‘The Financial Times’. “And there is no way to get them out.”
Western companies that have continued to operate in Russia since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine have generated billions of dollars in profits, but the Kremlin has blocked them from accessing the cash in an effort to turn the screw on “unfriendly” nations.
Groups from such countries accounted for $18 billion (€16.8 billion) of the $20 billion in Russian profits that overseas companies reported for 2022 alone, and $199 billion of their $217 billion in Russian gross revenue.
Many foreign businesses have been trying to sell their Russian subsidiaries but any deal requires Moscow’s approval and is subject to steep price discounts. In recent days British American Tobacco and Swedish truck maker Volvo have announced agreements to transfer their assets in the country to local owners.
Local earnings of companies from BP to Citigroup have been locked in Russia since the imposition last year of a dividend payout ban on businesses from “unfriendly” countries including the US, UK and all EU members. While such transactions can be approved under exceptional circumstances, few withdrawal permits have been issued.
US groups Philip Morris and PepsiCo earned $775 million and $718 million, respectively. Swedish truck maker Scania’s $621 million Russian profit in 2022 made it the top earner among companies that have since withdrawn from the country. Philip Morris declined to comment. PepsiCo and Scania did not respond to requests for comment.
Among companies of “unfriendly” origin that remain active in Russia, Austrian bank Raiffeisen reported the biggest 2022 earnings in the country at $2 billion, according to the KSE data.
US-based businesses generated the largest total profit of $4.9 billion, the KSE numbers show, followed by German, Austrian and Swiss companies with $2.4 billion, $1.9 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
‘The Financial Times’ reported last month that European companies had reported writedowns and losses worth at least €100 billion from their operations in Russia since last year’s full-scale invasion.
German energy group Wintershall, which this year recorded a €7 billion non-cash impairment after the Kremlin expropriated its Russian business, has “about €2 billion in working interest cash… locked in due to dividend restrictions”, investors were told on a conference.
“The vast majority of the cash that was generated within our Russian joint ventures since 2022 has dissipated,” Wintershall said last month, adding that no dividends had been paid from Russia for 2022.
Russian officials are yet to outline “a clear strategy for dealing with frozen assets”, said Aleksandra Prokopenko, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre. “However, considering the strong desire of foreign entities to regain their dividends, they are likely to explore using them as leverage – for example to urge western authorities to unfreeze Russian assets.”
Transforming Africa’s Transport and Energy Sectors in landmark Zanzibar Declaration
A special meeting of African ministers in charge of transport and energy held from 12-15 September on the theme, “Accelerating Infrastructure to Deliver on the AU Agenda 2063 Aspirations” has concluded with an action-oriented Zanzibar Declaration aimed at spurring the Continent’s transport and energy sectors.
Convened under the auspices of the African Union’s Fourth Ordinary Specialized Technical Committee on Transport, Transcontinental and Interregional Infrastructure and Energy, the meeting was organized by the African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Speaking at the Ministerial segment of the meeting, Robert Lisinge, Acting Director of the Private Sector Development and Finance Division at the ECA called on member states to address the barriers limiting private sector investments in infrastructure and energy, urging them to facilitate investments by creating conducive policy and regulatory environments. “The requirements of continental infrastructure development and the aspirations of Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 far exceed current levels of public sector investment,” he said.
He stressed that over the next ten years, there is a need for concerted action to address energy transition and security issues, in order to open up opportunities for the transformation of the continent. He cited ECA’s analytical work on the AfCFTA, which demonstrates there are investment opportunities for infrastructure development in the area of transport and energy and added that digitization and artificial intelligence offer great opportunities for the efficient operation of infrastructure.
According to the Zanzibar Declaration, the Ministers adopted the AUC and ECA continental regulatory framework for crowding-in private sector investment in Africa’s electricity markets. This framework will be used as an instrument for fast-tracking private sector investment participation in Africa’s electricity markets. The Declaration also called on ECA and partners to develop a continental energy security policy framework as called for by the 41st Ordinary Session of the Executive Council and an Energy Security Index and Dashboard to track advancements in achieving Africa’s energy security.
The meeting acknowledged the efforts by ECA to support Member States in coordinating Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) with development partners and the establishment of the African School of Regulation (ASR) as a pan-African centre of excellence to enhance the capacity of Member States on energy regulation.
The Declaration requested the ECA and partner institutions to further act in the following areas:
The AUC, in collaboration with AUDA-NEPAD, ECA, AfDB, RECs, Africa Transport Policy Programme (SSATP), and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat to implement the roadmap on the comprehensive and integrated regulatory framework on road transport in Africa.
ECA, in collaboration with AUC, to identify innovative practices and initiatives that emerged in the aviation industry in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic and propose ways of sustaining such practices, including the development of smart airports with digital solutions for improved aviation security facilitation and environmental protection.
ECA, in collaboration with AUC, to establish mechanisms for systematic implementation, monitoring and evaluation of continental strategies for a sustainable recovery of the aviation industry.
The AUC, AUDA-NEPAD, AfDB and UNECA to engage with development partners and Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) to mobilize resources for projects preparation and implementation of PIDA-PAP 2 projects.
ECA and AUC, in collaboration with partners, to coordinate PPP initiatives to avoid duplication of efforts and strengthen complementarity.
The AUC and ECA to work with continental, regional and specialized institutions to support the design and implementation of programmes, courses, and capacity development initiatives of the African School of Regulation (ASR) to support the implementation of the African Single Electricity Market and Continental Power System Master Plan.
The AUC to work with AUDA-NEPAD, AfDB, ECA and RECs, respective power pools, regional regulatory bodies, and relevant stakeholders to design continental mechanisms for regulating and coordinating electricity trade across power pools.
AUDA-NEPAD, AUC, AFREC, ECA, AfDB, Power pools and development partners to comprehensively assess local manufacturing of renewable energy technologies and beneficiation of critical minerals for battery manufacturing.
ECA and AFREC to accelerate the implementation of the Energy4Sahel Project to improve the deployment of off-grid technologies and clean cooking in the affected Member States.
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