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UNLEASHING AI’S POTENTIAL IN FINANCIAL SERVICES

Luis Rodriguez, Chief Product & Innovation Officer at Strands explores how financial institutions can overcome the barriers in AI deployment and capitalise on its true potential

 

The idea that machines have the potential to make better decisions than us humans is nothing new. The recent explosion of available data, coupled with advances in technology has elevated AI’s commercial credibility, which, unsurprisingly, the financial services industry is keen to take advantage of.

Many banks have already begun their AI journey, albeit with relatively narrow applications. At the front-end, chatbots have started to replace humans in digital customer interactions, for example.  Internally, the industry is investing heavily in AI-enabled solutions to enhance automated threat intelligence and prevention, and fraud analysis and mitigation.

Despite these steps, however, considerable challenges remain before AI’s real potential can be unleashed.

 

Luis Rodriguez

Data, data everywhere

Much of this potential lies in unlocking the value hidden in the vast amounts of data, by translating it into individualized products and services for consumers.  To do so requires financial institutions to break-down silos, strategically evaluate existing and new data sources, and create a world-class governance model to prevent ‘black box’ AI.

The ‘black box’ problem is a key challenge. This describes the instance when no one can explain how data has been processed to achieve a specific outcome. This is particularly pertinent to financial services, when such outcomes impact the lives of customers. As AI is deployed in credit scoring, mortgage applications and lending practices, for example, banks and other lenders must be able to evidence the rationale behind their decision making.

They must also avoid the pitfalls of data bias and discrimination. Data sets can harbour hidden biases, just like the humans whose algorithms create them. If banks lose even partial sight of how their AI solutions are arriving at decisions, how can they guarantee impartiality in the process?

Should such instances occur, accountability will remain with the bank’s people, so the development of ethical policies that can steer the implementation of decision-making AI solutions is becoming increasingly important. Banks that champion transparency here will be the first to succeed.

 

Getting personal

Outside of financial services, AI has been powering increasingly seamless and customised consumer experiences for years, raising the stakes for what consumers expect from other services. Historically, banks have enjoyed the uncontested loyalty of their customers, thanks to their reputations for trust and security. But the drivers of loyalty are changing quickly. The new generation of digital challengers continue to gather momentum and are luring customers to their ranks by delivering new user experiences that are powered, at least in part, by AI. Banks now need to think carefully about how they respond. Leveraging behavioural economics to enable the deep personalisation of their banking services is one avenue under widespread consideration.

Despite concerns around the data privacy, a study by Accenture* found that 60% of consumers would be willing to share personal data, such as location data and lifestyle information, with financial service providers if it resulted in lower pricing on products, or delivered other benefits, such as faster turnaround on loan approvals.

But just because consumers are willing to hand over data, doesn’t mean it’s right for the bank to use it. Where should the line be drawn? As data converges, it will be easier to create individual consumer profiles and assemble a tailored offering, dependent on each consumers’ circumstances. But should FIs really have this level of access into a consumer’s personal life? And, what about those who dont want to share these details? Will they be penalised?

 

Human skills still needed for AI success

Digital transformation has not yet changed the fact that businesses are still built, managed and kept alive by people and, reassuringly, the true potential of AI cannot (yet) be realised without us. That said, serious investment in AI skills at banks is needed if they are to make proper use of its commercial potential. Many banks, particularly resource stretched tier two and tier three institutions may need to look to collaborative partnerships with specialist fintechs if they are to keep pace with AI’s development.

 

What about the regulators?

Right now, there is no specific regulation or legislation to govern the use of AI. As with any emerging technology, regulators apply existing frameworks to ensure that any firm engaging with technology has the right risk controls in place. It’s likely that regulation will adapt to address the new issues surrounding AI, but no-one can be sure exactly how that will play out, or at what speed. Financial institutions should think ahead here, and try to forecast how future regulation may impact their AI services. Collaborating with other institutions to create a general framework and set of guidelines could elevate future regulatory impact. Firms should also look at implementing AI processes internally to remain compliant throughout their operations.

 

What’s next?

Making sense of AI for FIs requires a collaborative industry effort. To explore this topic further, Strands, in collaboration with global industry association, Mobey Forum and ESADE, is hosting an event from 27 – 29 November to bring together players from across the ecosystem. TitledAI In Financial Services: Unleashing the Potential, it will cover five key themes related to AI: ethics; infrastructure; personalisation; regulations and legislation, and the challenges with data. Speakers include Elena Alfaro, Global Head of Data and Open Innovation, BBVA, Jason Mars, CEO, Clinc, and Oriol Pujol, Vice President, University of Barcelona.

 

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Finance

WILL BLOCKCHAIN REVOLUTIONIZE FINANCE?

By Ken Timsit, ConsenSys

 

Over the last 10 years, researchers, software developers, start-ups, and large companies have been conducting experiments aimed at determining whether networks based on blockchain technology can ultimately – in whole or in part – replace the infrastructure on which financial institutions and capital markets are built.

 

In today’s electronic databases, any information can theoretically be replicated at will. This is why most governments allow only regulated actors to keep records of digitized assets (banks, depositories), to avoid pitfalls such as the execution of misleading transactions or the creation of artificial assets. With blockchain, these pitfalls can be avoided at the source code of the technology, which is available to all members of the network. The creation of Ethereum enabled a more robust blockchain network capable of “smart contracts”, which once programmed, can run automatically without the results being modified or manipulated.

 

Contrary to what some critics argue, the potential of the blockchain is not the creation of a free and unregulated space in which everyone can invent new financial instruments. Rather, the potential lies in creating a much more efficient and globalized commercial and financial infrastructure, in which many layers of control and intermediation are no longer needed as they are replaced by transparent and immutable IT rules that ensure the same risk management functions.

 

For example, bonds are essential financial instruments on which a large part of our economy and savings are based. The issue and exchange of a bond requires the intervention of several dozen financial institutions (issuers, intermediaries and investors). Some regulated players in this intermediary chain exist mainly to ensure that it is possible to know, at any time, who holds each bond, in order to guarantee their rights to its bearers.

 

It is theoretically possible to simplify these stacks of operators by linking them to a global blockchain network, open to all stakeholders in the industry. The blockchain network can thus ensure at any time that the number of outstanding bonds corresponds exactly to the number of bonds issued, and that each exchange transaction is carried out without the risk of default.

 

The blockchain revolution is first and foremost the reduction of costs and delays caused by the current financial infrastructure. The blockchain revolution also creates innovation opportunities for consumers, savers, and investors.

 

 

The Web3 revolution, often used to refer to the blockchain revolution, will be driven by the reduction in transaction costs, allowing the emergence of new peer-to-peer business models that we are not yet able to accurately predict, but which will probably participate in a rebalancing of the relationships between financial institutions and their clients. Some international peer-to-peer payment and loan-to-peer savings investment models are already attracting increasing interest from the most sophisticated consumers.

 

Where are we in 2020?

Today, the blockchain revolution is still in its infancy. Transaction volumes through blockchain networks, public and private, are low compared to those of existing systems. The fixed costs of the technology are still relatively high, and the user experience leaves something to be desired.

 

However, innovations abound. It is already possible for me, from my smartphone, to buy digital assets whose value is equal to about one US dollar, and to lend them in three clicks to other users who will pay me between 1% and 10% per year for this service, depending on the type of platform.

 

The number of large operational business projects is still small, but very promising. Numerous international commodity trading players have joined forces to create Vakt and komgo, two platforms that contribute to a significant simplification of trade and oil financing. Similar and competing projects, Voltron and Marco Polo, are being launched. On the corporate side, the Capbridge 1x platform (Singapore) already allows shares to be traded on an Ethereum blockchain network. Other important projects such as LiquidShare (France), SIX Digital Exchange (Switzerland), Daura (with Deutsche Borse and Swisscom in Switzerland), Synapse (Hong Kong Stock Exchange) are in preparation. The World Bank, Société Générale and Santander have issued bonds on an Ethereum blockchain network. These initiatives are still experimental but have attracted significant interest from financial institutions around the world.

 

And of course, many projects aim to revolutionize global payments by creating digital assets on blockchain networks that are fixed in Euros, U.S. Dollars or other currencies, such as those of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the South African Reserve Bank, and Union Bank of the Philippines. Since the announcement of the Facebook-initiated Libra project, many governments have expressed concern about the possibility of private companies controlling global payment flows, and have asked their domestic financial institutions to redouble their efforts to explore competing initiatives.

 

All of this is to say that adoption is happening, albeit gradually. The middlemen and intermediaries of the financial world will not be replaced overnight. Moreover, the exact formation or architecture of the new financial system is impossible to predict with accuracy. However, it’s safe to say that blockchain will enable a financial system that is more efficient and yields more value-add to consumers, users, and investors.

 

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Finance

RECOLLECTING 2019 CRYPTOCURRENCY TRENDS & LOOKING FORWARD TO 2020

Marie Tatibouet is the CMO at Gate.io

 

It has been a bold and progressive year for the digital asset market with exciting announcements flowing in from technology behemoths and government bodies around the world. However, Facebook’s launch announcement of Libra (though they are now facing regulatory issues) and China’s new cryptocurrency law caught all the attention, affecting the Bitcoin price, and the overall market sentiment.

In 2019, the global market saw several catalysts emerging for mainstream adoption despite increased scrutiny around several burning issues such as wash trading and security breaches. For over 400 cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, being able to constantly improve on aspects around user experience and fund security is the only way to be sustainable. However, only a handful have real trading volume and technical expertise to build strong trust in the community. For instance, global wash trading has been the hottest topic of discussion in 2019 but new rankings on CoinMarketCap clearly indicate that the industry is working towards eliminating market manipulation.

 

Looking back at 2019

In 2019, digital asset organisations have constantly innovated to attract users but at the same time, the trading process has become increasingly fragmented, spiking the time gap between new users becoming long-term users.

 

Marie Tatibouet

Holding & Lending Funds

Since 2014, the Bitcoin margin trading market has expanded from $10 million to $100 billion. Margin trading has been a great use case in the cryptocurrency space. Many exchanges launched the feature to provide diversity to the trading experience and attracting a huge amount of users to the platforms. It allows traders to multiply their profits on successful trades, providing a range of possibilities for both profits and losses.

Staking is a process where users can buy digital assets and earn interest by keeping (holding) them in a cryptocurrency wallet for a particular period of time. It has proved to be a strong use case for digital asset companies as it encourages user participation. In 2019, staking programs brought stable earnings for cryptocurrency investments made by the users. For instance, HODL & Earn launched by Gate.io in August 2019 has been bringing stable earnings for cryptocurrency investments made by its users. The competitive advantage for HODL & Earn is its annual interest rate, which is as high as 32%.

 

IEO

Crowdfunding as an approach to build and grow products has seen a lot of traction over the last decade or so. One of the highlights this year was the emergence of “Initial Exchanges Offerings”, more commonly termed as IEOs, an alternative to traditional IPOs where companies can raise funds by selling a quantity of digital assets to investors, supervised by cryptocurrency exchanges. With over 1.5 Billion funds raised, IEOs shook the entire cryptocurrency space in 2019.

Owing to the richness and variability that we have seen so far, there has been no one clear winner to pick, but there’s also no ignoring the leaders; Gate.io has the second best average IEO returns, raising over 80 million dollars in its first 5 projects and has similar offerings panned out for 2020.

 

Source: https://medium.com/@neironix.io/top-8-largest-ieo-whats-happening-to-them-now-f7e60a638dda

 

Deals and Discounts 

Discount deals are being increasingly leveraged by digital asset companies, encouraging users to maximize their capital. Holiday seasons such as Black Friday are packed with jaw-dropping discounts. However, as an industry, we should aim to integrate discounts in digital currencies into the mainstream world, which would bring price stability.

 

Dynamic User Relationship

Cryptocurrencies are being taken seriously and companies are designing consumer-specific strategies. It is a great indication of the fact that more and more people are interested in trading digital assets. However, we have a long way to go when it comes to tackling the industry challenges and unlocking value for the entire ecosystem.

 

Regulation, Security, and Mass Adoption 

Central banks of the US, Europe, China, and Ghana are looking at creating their own central bank digital currencies, putting a structure to the adoption of the blockchain technology across finance and other industry verticals. Japan’s recent regulation amendments, China’s new crypto law have laid the right frameworks for mainstream crypto adoption.

While we have major countries pushing for the mainstream adoption, security remains a major concern. Cryptocurrency thefts and frauds in Q3, 2019 annual stand at USD 4.4 billion and this will only increase if fund safety mechanisms aren’t strengthened. Therefore, the strongest will survive as far as digital asset security is concerned.

Nonetheless, blockchain technology is helping to create an innovative and accessible financial system around the world and its mainstream adoption is closer than we can fathom.

 

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