How the Financial Industry Can Apply AI Responsibly

This IEEE playbook puts principles into practice

4 min read

A robotic hand reaching toward a screen.

THE INSTITUTE Artificial intelligence is transforming the financial services industry. The technology is being used to determine creditworthiness, identify money laundering, and detect fraud.

AI also is helping to personalize services and recommend new offerings by developing a better understanding of customers. Chatbots and other AI assistants have made it easier for clients to get answers to their questions, 24/7.

Although confidence in financial institutions is high, according to the Banking Exchange, that’s not the case with AI. Many people have raised concerns about bias, discrimination, privacy, surveillance, and transparency.

Regulations are starting to take shape to address such concerns. In April the European Commission released the first legal framework to govern use of the technology, as reported in IEEE Spectrum. The proposed European regulations cover a variety of AI applications including credit checks, chatbots, and social credit scoring, which assesses an individual’s creditworthiness based on behavior. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission in April said it expects AI to be used truthfully, fairly, and equitably when it comes to decisions about credit, insurance, and other services.

To ensure the financial industry is addressing such issues, IEEE recently launched a free guide, “Trusted Data and Artificial Intelligence Systems (AIS) for Financial Services.” The authors of the nearly 100-page playbook want to ensure that those involved in developing the technologies are not neglecting human well-being and ethical considerations.

More than 50 representatives from major banks, credit unions, pension funds, and legal and compliance groups in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States provided input, as did AI experts from academia and technology companies.

“This IEEE finance playbook is a milestone achievement and provides a much-needed practical road map for organizations globally to develop their trusted data and ethical AI systems.”

“We are in the business of trust. A primary goal of financial services organizations is to use client and member data to generate new products and services that deliver value,” Sami Ahmed says. He is a member of IEEE industry executive steering committee that oversaw the playbook’s creation.

Ahmed is senior vice president of data and advanced analytics of OMERS, Ontario’s municipal government employees’ pension fund and one of the largest institutional investors in Canada.

“Best-in-class guidance assembled from industry experts in IEEE’s finance playbook,” he says, “addresses emerging risks such as bias, fairness, explainability, and privacy in our data and algorithms to inform smarter business decisions and uphold that trust.”

The playbook includes a road map to help organizations develop their systems. To provide a theoretical framework, the document incorporates IEEE’s “Ethically Aligned Design” report, the IEEE 7000 series of AI standards and projects, and the Ethics Certification Program for Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.

“Design looks completely different when a product has already been developed or is in prototype form,” says John C.Havens, executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. “The primary message of ethically aligned design is to use the methodology outlined in the document to address these issues at the outset.”

Havens adds that although IEEE isn’t well known by financial services regulatory bodies, it does have a lot of credibility in harnessing the technical community and creating consensus-based material.

“That is why IEEE is the right place to publish this playbook, which sets the groundwork for standards development in the future,” he says.

IEEE Member Pavel Abdur-Rahman, chair of the IEEE industry executive steering committee, says the document was necessary to accomplish three things. One was to “verticalize the discussion within financial services for a very industry-specific capability building dialog. Another was to involve industry participants in the cocreation of this playbook, not only to curate best practices but also to develop and drive adoption of the IEEE standards into their organizations.” Lastly, he says, “it’s the first step toward creating recommended practices for MLOps [machine-learning operations], data cooperatives, and data products and marketplaces.

Abdur-Rahman is the head of trusted data and AI at IBM Canada.


The playbook has two sections, a road map for how to build trusted AI systems and resources from experts.

The road map helps organizations identify where they are in the process of adopting responsible ethically aligned design: early, developing, advanced, or mature stage. This section also outlines 20 ways that trusted data and AI can provide value to operating units within a financial organization. Called use cases, the examples include cybersecurity, loan and deposit pricing, improving operational efficiency, and talent acquisition. Graphs are used to break down potential ethical concerns for each use case.

The key resources section includes best practices, educational videos, guidelines, and reports on codes of conduct, ethical challenges, building bots responsibly, and other topics. Among the groups contributing resources are the European Commission, IBM, the IEEE Standards Association, Microsoft, and the World Economic Forum. Also included is a report on the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the financial services industry in Canada. Supplemental information includes a list of 84 documents on ethical guidelines.

“We are at a critical junction of industrial-scale AI adoption and acceleration,” says Amy Shi-Nash, a member of the steering committee and the global head of analytics and data science for HSBC. “This IEEE finance playbook is a milestone achievement and provides a much-needed practical road map for organizations globally to develop their trusted data and ethical AI systems.”

To get an evaluation of the readiness of your organization’s AI system, you can anonymously take a 20-minute survey.

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