Profile: Ethical AI – the future of banking?

Antony Jenkins, former CEO of Barclays, thinks artificial intelligence will have a transformative effect on the financial services sector and many aspects of our future lives
by Jess Unwin 

Former Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins believes artificial intelligence (AI) can make banking “ten times better” than it is today – both for the customer and for the financial services sector. Hence the name of his new venture, 10x Future Technologies, which he founded in 2016. 

The fintech start-up is, in its simplest form, a cloud-based banking platform. At the heart of 10x is a full suite of technologies built to help the automation of banking processes and to help with areas such as compliance reporting, analytics and security, with AI playing an important part in his ambition to use technology to transform financial services. 

All financial services products are basically data, says Antony: “In order to deliver that ten times benefit, you have to be able to manage data much more effectively, which can be difficult for established financial institutions.”The ethics of artificial intelligence in financial servicesThe increased capabilities and functionality of AI bring with it certain ethical questions, which Antony addressed in a keynote speech at a Chartered Body Alliance (an alliance of professional bodies comprising the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment; Chartered Banker Institute; Chartered Insurance Institute) event on 8 May at the America Square Conference Centre in London. 

We spoke to Antony the week before the event. He said: “What we know is that the capability of machines is going to increase, but that has to be used to the betterment of human beings. So the challenge will be understanding how the algorithms work, where the datasets have come from, whether there is any inherent bias in the datasets and how to correct those.”
“In financial services too, the uniquely human skills of judgement, empathy and creativity will become ever more valuable as the information-processing parts of our roles become more automated"To illustrate the potential dilemmas that may arise, he refers to the classic question of whether an AI driving system should put passengers at risk by swerving to avoid a child in the road – or do the opposite. And in healthcare, he says, combining AI with DNA data could create interventions that help people live longer, but the cost of this treatment might result in some people being denied access to such medical advances.

“However, I think AI will produce a net positive, because it allows us to take the skills and experience of humans and scale them. One example is in medical diagnostics like radiography, where AI is being used increasingly to make a first-pass judgement on what the results of the radiography show and then a human makes a second-pass judgement.”

Antony says this means that human healthcare professionals will be able to focus their time and energy on skills that are still uniquely human. For example, building trust and understanding with patients, exercising professional judgement that understands the patient as an individual, and thinking creatively about better ways of caring. 

“In financial services too, the uniquely human skills of judgement, empathy and creativity will become ever more valuable as the information-processing parts of our roles become more automated,” Antony says.Net benefitAI could add real value in financial services, he says. “[It] should make for better credit-scoring decisions, because there will be a reduction in false positives. In theory, that should mean that people who can sustain high levels of credit will get more of it but, equally, people who can’t sustain credit may not get it.”

But he warns: “We have to be careful that we’re not excluding people from access to credit where they do deserve it, or look at whether there’s a way we can use the AI to make better credit decisions at the lower end of the economic spectrum.”

From a customer's point of view, Antony says AI has the potential to manage data so that it delivers slick, high-value services: “Imagine an AI agent that is constantly optimising how you live your life by combing through the digital version of your bank statement every month and saying, 'I see you spent £200 on your gas and electricity, well, I can save you £50. Say yes and I’ll process that for you'. Of course, you can go to a comparison engine today to get that advice – but few people do because it’s a chore.”
Career snapshotAntony’s invitation to talk as keynote speaker on the ethics of artificial intelligence in financial services reflects not only his innovative vision for the future but also an impressive career. He worked at Barclays Bank from 2006, building his way up from CEO of Barclaycard to CEO of retail banking, before becoming the bank’s CEO in 2012, a role he performed until 2015. Before Barclays, he worked for Citigroup for 16 years in a variety of roles, spending more than a decade in the US. 

After 30 years in the financial services sector, he says he's fascinated as to why technology “hasn’t yet changed financial services in a way that we see in other areas of our lives”. 

Whatever AI and other technologies mean for financial services, it's clear Antony is keen to help shape the sector's future with an open mind about the possibilities, but also drawing on the lessons of his career so far: “The focus should always be on the customer, because the customer is the person who pays the bills. I think that, as a sector, financial services has done a relatively poor job of that over the years and it needs to continue to get better at that.”

Members can view the talk on the ethics of AI in financial services soon on CISI TV.
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Published: 02 May 2018
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • The Review
  • People
  • fintech
  • Ethics
  • artificial intelligence

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