This article was published on March 7, 2017

Why AI will determine the future of fintech

Why AI will determine the future of fintech
Nikolai Kuznetsov
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Nikolai Kuznetsov

I am a financial analyst and professional trader, based in Tel-Aviv. I am fascinated by how disruptive fintech innovations/start-ups are cha I am a financial analyst and professional trader, based in Tel-Aviv. I am fascinated by how disruptive fintech innovations/start-ups are changing the face of global economy and how they challenge traditional financial corporations. I always enjoy a good workout at the gym as I am also a black belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.

More investors are setting their sights on the financial technology (Fintech) arena. According to consulting firm Accenture, investment in Fintech firms rose by 10 percent worldwide to the tune of $23.2 billion in 2016.

China is leading the charge after securing $10 billion in investments in 55 deals which account for 90 percent of investments in Asia-Pacific. The US came second taking in $6.2 billion in funding. Europe, also saw an 11 percent increase in deals despite Britain seeing a decrease in funding due to the uncertainty from the Brexit vote.

The excitement stems from the disruption of traditional financial institutions (FIs) such as banks, insurance, and credit companies by technology. The next unicorn might be among the hundreds of tech startups that are giving Fintech a go.

What exactly is going to be the next big thing has yet to be determined, but other developments in computing like artificial intelligence (AI) may play a huge part.

Stiffening competition

The growing reality is that, while opportunities are abound, competition is also heating up.

Take, for example, the number of Fintech startups that aim to digitize routine financial tasks like payments. In the US, the digital wallet and payments segment is fiercely competitive. Pioneers like PayPal see themselves being taken on by other tech giants like Google and Apple, by niche-oriented ventures like Venmo, and even by traditional FIs.

Some ventures are seeing bluer oceans by focusing on local and regional markets where conditions are somewhat favorable.

The growth of China’s Fintech was largely made possible by the relative age of its current banking system. It was easier for people to use mobile and web-based financial services such as Alibaba’s Ant Financial and Tencent since phones were more pervasive and more convenient to access than traditional financial instruments.

In Europe, the new Payment Services Directive (PSD2) set to take effect in 2018 has busted the game wide open. Banks are obligated to open up their application program interfaces (APIs) enabling Fintech apps and services to tap into users’ bank accounts. The line between banks and fintech companies are set to blur so just about everyone in finance is set to compete with old and new players alike.

Leveraging technology

Convenience has become a fundamental selling point to many users that a number of Fintech ventures have zeroed in on delivering better user experiences for an assortment of financial tasks such as payments, budgeting, banking, and even loan applications.

There is a mad scramble among companies to leverage cutting-edge technologies for competitive advantage. Even established tech companies like e-commerce giant Amazon had to give due attention to mobile as users shift their computing habits towards phones and tablets. Enterprises are also working on transitioning to cloud computing for infrastructure.

But where do more advanced technologies such as AI come in?

The drive to eliminate human fallibility has also made artificial intelligence (AI) driven to the forefront of research and development. Its applications range from sorting what gets shown on your social media newsfeed to self-driving cars. It’s also expected to have a major impact in Fintech due to potential of game changing insights that can be derived from the sheer volume of data that humanity is generating. Enterprising ventures are banking on it to expose the gap in the market that has become increasingly small due to competition.

All about algorithms

AI and finance are no strangers to each other. Traditional banking and finance have relied heavily on algorithms for automation and analysis. However, these were exclusive only to large and established institutions. Fintech is being aimed at empowering smaller organizations and consumers, and AI is expected to make its benefits accessible to a wider audience.

AI has a wide variety of consumer-level applications for smarter and more error-free user experiences. Personal finance applications are now using AI to balance people’s budgets based specifically to a user’s behavior. AI now also serves as robo-advisors to casual traders to guide them in managing their stock portfolios.

For enterprises, AI is expected to continue serving functions such as business intelligence and predictive analytics. Merchant services such as payments and fraud detection are also relying on AI to seek out patterns in customer behavior in order to weed out bad transactions.

People may soon have very little excuse of not having a handle of their money because of these services

Pros and cons

Despite the exciting potential AI brings, there are still caveats. A big challenge for Fintech is to develop AI to be as smart as it can. There will be no shortage of people who will try to game and outwit such systems.

While AI seeks to eliminate human error, the flipside – losing the human touch – is a common criticism of AI. Smart money decisions are best made through numbers and logic. However, people do have an emotional connection with their money so it will be a challenge for Fintech apps to create experiences that do not alienate its users. Take the sad stories of insurance claims being denied due to strict algorithms that disregard the nuances of the human condition. AI still has a way to go factoring in what is just and moral in its decision making.

As for finance as a field and industry, there is also the issue of financial analysts, advisors, bankers, and traders being threatened to obsolescence by AI. A running joke with AI alludes to the Terminator movie franchise where AI seeks to eliminate humanity from existence. Unemployment, however, is rarely a laughing matter.

Towards the future

With the stiff competition in Fintech, ventures have to deliver a truly valuable products and services in order to stand out. The venture that provides the best user experience often wins but finding this X factor has become increasingly challenging.

The developments in AI may provide that something extra especially if it could promise to eliminate the guess work and human error out of finance. It’s for these reasons that AI might just hold the key to what further Fintech innovations can be made.