AI, blockchain take center stage at SIFMA fintech event

Developers demonstrated real-life use cases showing how firms can deploy the next-gen technology.

Jun 21, 2018 @ 2:40 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

For an indication of just how far the financial services industry has evolved on technology, look no further than its trade groups.

Just one year ago, a fintech event hosted by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association rehashed the already stale debate over digital advice. A Betterment employee extolled the values of automation, and executives from traditional advice firms argued that technology can never replace the value of human financial advisers.

Blockchain and artificial intelligence were mentioned, but only as concepts that were still in the early stages of development.

Fast forward to this week, and this year's SIFMA event featured multiple technology vendors demonstrating blockchain and AI products and how they can be used by the largest banks and broker-dealers.

Accern showcased the work it's doing with unstructured data and how a computer can analyze news and market events to make predictions and actionable insights for professional investors. Another fintech company, Arria, demonstrated an AI tool for generating natural language that firms can use to improve client engagement and set up an entirely digital, 24-hour customer service center. And a data scientist from BNP Paribas showed how the firm is using AI to validate scanned documents.

(More: Artificial intelligence coming to life in financial advice)

"Data is permeating everything we do, and it is accelerating," said Rob High, chief technology officer of IBM Watson. Mr. High said data will grow 4,300% annually until 2020, and financial institutions need to invest in scientists and engineers who understand how to work with it.

There were also demonstrations of how firms are taking advantage of digital distributed ledgers, popularly known as blockchain, to better execute transactions and trades.

"In order to get value from a blockchain, it's not just transferring an asset. It's creating an asset. It's having the complete lifecycle of that asset managed digitally," said Ron Papanek, managing director of Symbiont, a fintech company developing blockchain products for financial insitutions. "A manual, paper-heavy process can get transformed through this technology."

(More: Vanguard will use blockchain to share index data)

The SIFMA event also focused on how regulators are working to keep pace with the rapid rate of technology advancement to allow institutions to innovate and engage with the latest technology.

Beth Knickerbocker, chief innovation officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, told the audience that while investing in technology research and development can be risky for financial institutions, not doing so can be equally risky. She said her agency and other regulators are trying to change their own culture to foster technology development within financial services.

"Existing regimes are more flexible than you think," Ms. Knickerbocker said. "This is a great time because regulators are also very open to looking outside the box. If there's an inappropriate barrier, we want to hear that and we want to address that."

However, she reminded firms that while digitization of everything from moving money to providing financial advice can improve customer experience, firms must always be mindful of new risks. The specters of cybersecurity and privacy loom large, and Ms. Knickerbocker said firms can't "forget about blocking and tackling" as they race to develop things like AI and blockchain.

The regulator is keeping a close eye on robo-advisers, which were developed after the financial crisis, to see if they will be able to respond to the stress of similar event in the future, she said. All technology, whether from a fintech startup or a large institution, require ongoing monitoring.

"It's really important to think about governance around innovation," Ms. Knickerbocker said.


What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Upcoming Event

Sep 13


Women Adviser Summit - Denver

The InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit, a one-day workshop now held in four cities due to popular demand, is uniquely designed for the sophisticated female adviser who wants to take her personal and professional self to the next level.... Learn more

Featured video


What it took to win an Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award

Editor Fred Gabriel and special projects editor Liz Skinner explain how InvestmentNews chose the winners of our inaugural Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Awards.

Latest news & opinion

10 highest paid professions in America today

These are the top-paying jobs in the U.S., according to Glassdoor.

Ameriprise to pay $4.5 million to settle SEC charges that five reps stole more than $1 million from clients

Agency censures firm for not protecting clients from thieving brokers.

SEC slaps Lockwood with $200,000 fine over unseen trading costs to clients

Clients were forced to pay fees in addition to the usual wrap charges, the regulator maintains.

Gotcha! 10 lessons from brokers gone bad

These cases show why regulators nabbed reps and firms, and how to avoid their fate.

Tax-credit investigation may trip up Wells Fargo

Justice Department is investigating bank's dealings in tax credits for low-income housing, sources say.


Hi! Glad you're here and we hope you like all the great work we do here at InvestmentNews. But what we do is expensive and is funded in part by our sponsors. So won't you show our sponsors a little love by whitelisting It'll help us continue to serve you.

Yes, show me how to whitelist

Ad blocker detected. Please whitelist us or give premium a try.


Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print