By Grainne McKeever, Marketing and Communications Consultant at Imperva
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become integrated into our everyday lives. It powers what we see in our social media newsfeeds, activates facial recognition (to unlock our smartphones), and even suggests music for us to listen to. Machine learning, a subset of AI, is progressively integrating into our everyday and changing how we live and make decisions.
Machine Learning in Finance
Business changes all the time, but advances in today’s technologies have accelerated the pace of change. Machine learning analyses historical data and behaviours to predict patterns and make decisions. It has proved hugely successful in retail for its ability to tailor products and services to customers. Unsurprisingly, retail banking and machine learning are also a perfect combination. Thanks to machine learning, functions such as fraud detection and credit scoring are now automated. Banks also leverage machine learning and predictive analytics to offer their customers a much more personalised user experience, recommend new products, and animate chatbots that help with routine transactions such as account checking and paying bills.
Machine learning is also disrupting the insurance sector. As more connected devices provide deeper insights into customer behaviours, insurers are enabled to set premiums and make payout decisions based on data. Insurtech firms are shaking things up by harnessing new technologies to develop enhanced solutions for customers. The potential for change is huge and, according to McKinsey, “the [insurance] industry is on the verge of a seismic, tech-driven shift.”
Few industries have as much historical and structured data than the financial services industry, making it the perfect playing field for machine learning technologies. Investment banks were pioneers of AI technologies, using machine learning since as early as the 1980s. Nowadays, traders and fund managers rely on AI-driven market analysis to make investment decisions that are paving the way for fintech companies to develop new digital solutions for financial trading. AI-driven solutions such as stock-ranking based on pattern matching and deep learning for formulating investment strategies are just some of the innovations available on the market today.
Despite these technological advances, the concept of machine learning replacing human interaction for financial trading is not a done deal. While Index and quantitative investing account for over half of all equity trading, recent poor performance has exposed weaknesses in the pattern matching model on which investing strategies are based and demonstrates that, no matter how fancy the math, computers are still no replacement for the human mind when it comes to capturing the nuances of financial markets. At least, not yet.
Data Analytics for Security and Compliance
Managing enormous volumes of data make compliance and security two of the biggest challenges for financial organisations. It is no longer enough to protect your network perimeter from attack, as the exponential growth of data and an increase in legitimate access to that data increases the likelihood of a breach on the inside. Additionally, banks are storing large volumes of data across hybrid and multi-cloud environments that provide even more opportunity for cybercriminals to get their hands on valuable assets. In short, the same data that brings new opportunities for business growth increases the security risk for financial firms.
Data analytics using machine learning has been transformational in helping firms overcome these challenges as it picks up on unusual user behaviour to detect suspicious activity and minimise the risk of fraud, money laundering, or a breach. Similarly, data analytics technologies can be applied to compliance activities such as database auditing processes, reducing the need for human intervention and thereby easing the burden for compliance managers.
As the financial services industry continues to leverage machine learning and predictive analytics, the volume of data these firms generate and store is ballooning. Protecting that data, other sensitive assets, and business operations will only become more challenging. Firms will have to adopt new security technologies that can mitigate their security and compliance risk.
‘MOVE FAST BUT DON’T BREAK THINGS’ – WHY FINTECHS WILL COME TO LOVE REGULATION
Alex Johnson, Director of Portfolio Marketing, FICO
The guiding ethos of fintech is move fast and break things. It’s the fundamental advantage that disruptors have over the incumbents they’re disrupting — the ability to move quickly and make mistakes, learn from them and deliver innovative services to customers. Generally, this ethos is presented as a virtue. Banking is ‘broken’ so any investments in improving it are both notable and noble – even if there are bumps along the way.
Conversely, anything that stands in the way of this ‘march of progress’ is generally cast as a villain.
The most prominent villain for fintech companies is regulation. From their perspective, it’s a competitive moat, based on rules written for a different century, that protects banks’ ability to make money without needing to innovate and offer more or improved services to their customers.
So, it’s easy to see why a fintech company — believing fully in the virtue of its mission and faced with a litany of illogical and intractable regulations — might just say ‘we’re doing it anyway.’ That’s what Robinhood co-founder Baiju Bhatt reportedly did when his company tried to roll out a checking and savings product that it claimed was insured without confirming that with regulators first.
The problem is that while we may mythologise the ‘move fast and break things’ ethos in the abstract, consumers don’t love it when their stuff breaks in the real world.
And when fintechs and challenger banks aren’t constrained by regulation (as they mostly are in the U.S and Europe) the harm caused by this ‘move fast and break things’ approach can be much more severe than a service outage or a false claim of deposit insurance.
Stories from overseas
In China, online P2P lending exploded in popularity, with the number of P2P lenders growing from 50 in 2011 to 3,500 in 2015. Then the whole industry imploded when it was revealed that 40% of P2P lending platforms were Ponzi schemes.
In India, online lending companies raised a record $909 million in venture capital last year (the third-biggest market behind the U.S. and China). And those lenders are now using personal data from borrowers’ mobile phones to make lending decisions – which although illegal, is reportedly ignored by Indian regulators.
In the Philippines (another emerging market where venture capital dollars for online lending are pouring in), the National Privacy Commission is investigating hundreds of complaints from consumers about lending apps leveraging their personal data to shame them into making their payments.
A prediction for the decade to come
In the 2020s, I believe fintech companies will come to love – or at least quietly appreciate – regulation for two primary reasons:
Fintechs and challenger banks understand that brand recognition and affinity is key to their long-term success. Building their brands will be a challenge. A recent survey of 2,000 Brits found 40% don’t trust challenger banks at all and 67% said they are more likely to do business with banks that have branches on the high street. As Zach Bruhnke, co-founder and CEO of U.S. challenger bank HMBradley recently said, ‘We’re going to have to grow by word-of-mouth and doing the right things for our customers.’
Fintechs and challenger banks focused on the long-term task of building brand affinity and trust will, over the next decade, come to despise bad actors that skirt the rules and dress up get-rich-quick schemes in the same language they use to describe their own firms. Regulations that constrain and/or shut down these bad actors will be increasingly appreciated by legitimate market participants.
In the 2010s, we saw the beginning of a trend that will strengthen in the 2020s — regulations designed to foster competition between incumbents and new market entrants. To date, such regulatory action has run the gamut, from vague (innovation sandboxes and special-use charters) to hyper-specific (U.S. regulators’ cautiously approving the use of alternative data, or the Bank of England considering giving non-banks access to its 500-billion-pound balance sheet). Perhaps, most promising, has been the work done by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has been proactively driving the adoption of rules and standards around Open Banking for past couple of years. O
ver the next decade, through careful management of public perception and increased investment in lobbying, fintechs and challenger banks will further reshape the regulatory environment from a competitive moat to a more level playing field.
Reaching fintech maturity
’As a licensed broker-dealer, we’re highly regulated and take clear communication very seriously. We plan to work closely with regulators as we prepare to launch our cash management program’.
This was the statement issued by the chastened co-founders of Robinhood shortly after they backed away from their plan to launch a checking and savings product without government insurance. And here’s the crazy part — that’s exactly what happened! Less than a year later the company announced a new deposit product, this time insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
As fintech companies mature in the 2020s and the focus of their strategic objectives shifts from growth to profitability, regulation will play a vital role in transforming the ethos of those companies into something a bit more sustainable. Call it ‘Move fast, but don’t break things’.
HOW TO MERGE YOUR FINANCES AS A COUPLE?
By Nelisiwe Ndlovu, Certified Financial Planner at Alexander Forbes
There is never a good time to discuss finances with your partner, married or unmarried, and one key issue that needs to be discussed is whether you should merge your finances.
Joining all your money matters can seem overwhelming at first, so you don’t have to combine every bank account and credit card from the get-go.
Start by having an honest discussion with regards to your individual money management and financial commitments before deciding to merge or co-manage your household finances while deciding if you want to fully merge all your finances. Detail all individual income, expenses, and all your financial commitments. The best way to achieve this would be to first take your individual budgets and combine them. This will tell you what you can and cannot afford as a couple. If one partner does not usually budget, this is a chance to start doing so as this will ensure that your household finances are under control.
Before you think about merging your finances, be open and honest about:
- How much you earn – what is the income that you will bring home? What is the frequency of your income? Are you permanently employed or a contractor?
- What are your current individual expenses and financial commitments? List your assets and your current debt.
- Your individual financial goals and money management techniques – don’t worry if you might have not figured this out at the time of merging your finances – the important thing to do is to be open and honest so that you both build a stronger money foundation
- Disclose your financial obligations, this becomes very tricky if left until too late and may cause unnecessary tension in the relationship
- What are your goals as a couple – what is the purpose for merging your finances?
Married couples can formally or informally merge their finances as detailed above where household expenses are split between the couple (the split could be 50/50 or any fair split agreed upon by the couple, which could be based percentage-wise depending on one’s income). Some couples tackle finances by adopting the ‘pick a bill’ approach, where one couple pays the water and electricity while the other covers the food.
Being married does not mean necessarily that you need to have one joint account. You may also just want to open one joint account where you each deposit money to pay just your monthly household expenses.
The top five things to remember when merging finances as a couple:
- Have the ability to manage your own finances before expecting another person to merge their finances with you.
- Be mindful of your potential spouse/life partner’s money management behaviour and skills so that there are certain things you can address together before considering merging your finances
- Always keep an open line of communication – honesty is the best policy
- Set a money limit which you can each spend without having to consult each other
- Don’t forget to change your wills and beneficiaries on pension or provident funds as required.
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