The Use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the Financial Sector

The Use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the Financial Sector


With increasing computational power, exponen- tially growing amounts of data and continuously improving approaches, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning1 (ML) are achieving considerable success in many fields, in both theory and in practice. Applications of this kind are gai- ning considerable momentum in the financial sector, too. This development is expected to in- crease in the near term.

ML changes the modelling paradigm significantly by switching from classical, simple hypothesis- based mathematical methods to a modelling method that is based on learning algorithms, which allow for accurate predictions on the basis of even highly non-linear and complex data. These developments raise the question of whether regulators and supervisors need to consider specific risks which may not be sufficiently co- vered by current frameworks. Many stakeholders have already published initial papers on this topic.

As banks increasingly apply ML to their proces- ses, achieving gains in quality and efficiency, challenges might emerge. Among these are the

often-cited black box dilemma, appropriate data quality, model testing and validation stan- dards, and finally the correct implementation into banks’ processes. Motivated by these chal- lenges, this paper aims to outline the most rele- vant issues to be considered when reviewing supervisory expectations for the use of ML. The approach taken here follows the potential new risks. It keeps in mind that balanced and diffe- rentiated requirements are needed for legal cer- tainty but also for practicability in order to pro- fit from the potential advantages of ML. In doing so, we are acting as a risk-oriented enab- ler of ML in response to industry demand for guidance4 on the use and regulation of ML.

In order to contribute to the discussion – espe- cially regarding the adequate supervision of banks’ ML approaches – this paper defines dis- cussion points that also include preliminary considerations for a supervisory strategy that is embedded into a tech-neutral, innovation-ena- bling and risk-sensitive approach. Where super- visory expectations are formulated, these are summarised in the page margin.

Machine learning – between status quo and new risks

Based on observed and expected use cases from practice, the paper focuses on ML applica- tions5, bearing in mind that current develop- ments all fall under the definition of “weak AI”, which can only tackle a specific problem within a limited scope. We structure the considerations into three areas: First, the supervisory perspective on risks contains considerations on the regula- tory framework, on supervisory approaches and on the relevance of ML for prudential supervisors. Second, we argue why a differentiated discus- sion on the black box characteristics of ML is needed. Third, we discuss considerations con- cerning the essential aspects when implemen- ting ML at banks.

Supervisory Perspective on Risks

Any supervisory approach on AI/ML must be aligned to the prudential mandate of banking supervision and therefore be risk focused. The following considerations 1 to 6 form the funda- ment of such an approach.

Consideration 1 – Before passing new regulation, supervisors leverage the existing frameworks.

Amendments should be made only where necessary. For internal models (Pillar 1), requirements are available at a general level as well as a more specific level for different risk types (e.g. credit risk, market risk). Since the comprehensive framework is technology-neutral, it can be used to assess ML applications. Building on this frame- work, competent authorities are experienced in the supervision of internal models as well as re- lated processes.

While the rules of the Basel framework for Pillar 2 are principle based, there are many natio- nal regulations in place, spelling these principles out. Often, these jurisdictional frameworks for Pillar 2 already cover relevant topics at least on a general level7, defining principles for the se- cure design of IT systems, associated processes and sound risk management. Examples are a well-informed decision-making process, proper documentation and appropriate reporting to the responsible management bodies. The majo- rity of these principles apply to ML.

When facing new model risks or when new use cases of ML arise in banking areas without the need for supervisory approval, supervisors should leverage the existing prudential frame- work to the maximum extent, while constantly reviewing and revising established require- ments, processes and practices. Legislators should amend or expand legal foundations only when necessary. The following considerations elaborate on such characteristics of ML.

Consideration 2 – The use of ML should be assessed on a case-by-case basis without prior approval.

First, the exception: For Pillar 1 models, compe- tent authorities are mandated to grant dedica- ted approvals on an individual basis and chan- ges to approved models are already regulated. The need for approval stems from the fact that banks can deviate from standardised rules and define their own methodologies for calculating regulatory capital.

ML applications correspond to ML algorithms together with a use case. Thus, the application is the broader concept.

Internal models are regulated under the Capital Requirements Regulation (CRR), the EBA Single Rulebook and the SSM supervisory manuals.

The Capital Requirements Directive (CRD) as well as the Minimum Requirements for Risk Management (MaRisk) and Supervisory Requirements for IT in Financial Institutions (BAIT).

Pillar 2 builds upon established principles of risk-orientation and proportionality (see Consi- deration 1). The need for individual approval in all cases could impede technology-based inno- vations and would require specific justification. In addition, from a practical point of view, a ge- neral need to grant authorisation would create massive administrative burdens.8

Consideration 3 – The prudential mandate does not include ethical issues surrounding ML.

Since prudential risks are at the centre of the Bundesbank’s supervisory mandate, ethical issues only play an indirect role: banks need to consider these risks as a driver of their operational and business model risk, and subsequently treat it within their operational risk management. Bey- ond that, ethical considerations are relevant for customer protection supervision. Additionally, the use of specific data plays a role for data pro- tection authorities. Potential discussions should differentiate between typical types of concern such as algorithmic discrimination, insufficient overall model quality, non-compliance with data protection regulation or inadequate usage.

Consideration 4 – ML is not a regulated activity and banking supervision is no algorithm supervision.

The supervisory focus does not lie on ML itself but rather on the risks resulting from its deploy- ment in the underlying banking processes. Banks are accountable for such models and their model risks. Supervisors are responsible for assessing the way risks are addressed by the bank in accordance with the prudential frameworks, including the application of ML. The question as to the inten- sity of such assessment and potential approval processes is crucial. Supervisors need to carefully take the risks connected with the impact of ML on the respective outcome or decision into account. Risk type, range of application, level of ML use9 or decision type10 are possible criteria to consider.

For the assessment of ML, a supervisory “deep dive” into the algorithmic and mathematical set- ups, might not be required in all cases, however. Proportionality also remains an applicable prin- ciple for ML. The higher the risks of the under- lying process, the higher the required standards and the more profound the supervisory assess- ment approach should be (see also Considera- tion 2).

Consideration 5 – Not all “AI” labels actually comprise AI.

“Artificial intelligence” has become a widespread marketing term that implies high levels of predictive power and efficiency. In fact, the label may be misleading. In the absence of a clear or consistent definition of AI11, supervisors need to understand the features and characteristics of AI in order to assess the associated challenges, issues and limitations. Essentially, a key element of AI solutions in the supervisory context is ML and the aspect of learning, where the machine predominantly performs the training process of a model without pre-defining hypotheses and rules. ML is not about deterministic “if-then” decision rules or hypothesis-based models, even if they reach a certain complexity. Often, AI and big data are mentioned in the same breath. Never- theless, big data is not an absolute necessity for ML.

Consideration 6 – Supervisory expectations regarding ML are independent from banks’ sourcing policy.

Outsourcing arrangements are likely to become more important as banks expand their use of ML. Fintechs offer their solutions to many banks, and banking groups are increasingly working in collaboration. As stated in Conside- ration 1, the expectations regarding outsourcing arrangements are already covered by the regu- latory framework. However, expectations regar- ding ML not only affect banks, but also Fintechs and service providers. If a bank has classified the outsourcing arrangement as critical or im- portant within the risk assessment, supervisors may extend inspections to these entities within the outsourcing framework. Ultimately, the risks associated with ML need to be managed appropriately by the bank, irrespective of its sourcing practices.

In this context, an additional aspect to consider is the emerging systemic risk which occurs when market or banking pool solutions are rolled out on a larger scale. This is not only a fi- nancial stability issue, but is also relevant from the perspective of an individual institution.

AI/ML scenario

Considerations 4 to 6 focus on the relevance of algorithms from a supervisory point of view. When assessing the relevance of ML applications, we propose that these three dimensions, which we call the AI/ML scenario, are considered:

The materiality of the underlying risk of the use case as laid out in Consideration 4. [“What is the ML application used for? What could go wrong?”]

The identification of relevant methodologies against marketing terms presented in Consideration 5, since only real ML applications require a supervisory approach tailored to their challenges [“Is it actually ML? Does it learn/change on its own?”]

ML independent from its sourcing policy (Consideration 6) with supervisors reaching out to Fintechs and service providers [“Who made it and knows how it fundamentally works?”]

Explainability of Machine Learning

Decision-making processes are expected to be based on causality and inherent rationale rules. ML, however, is successful by the exploitation of patterns, hidden in data. It does not necessa- rily require neither rationales. The resulting lack of explainability – to some extent a feature al- ready in classical statistical approaches – is often seen as a main impediment to the use of ML. It requires a thorough approach to balance chances and risks, when utilising these innovative tech- nologies.

Consideration 7 – Black box is not a “no go” if risks remain under control.

A lack of explainability is inherent to ML, often making it impossible to develop ML without ac- cepting this black box characteristic to a certain degree. Thus, banks need to weigh the benefits of the ML application against the benefits of simple models with more transparent underpin-

nings. This problem lies more with the trade-off between the models’ high accuracy or power versus their lack of transparency, which is one of their major downsides. Linear models or basic decision rules are easily explainable, but often fail to reflect reality closely enough.

Supervisors should not discuss the black box characteristic of ML in isolation from specific use cases. First, not every use case requires per- fect explanation. Second, stakeholders naturally require different types of explanation – develo- pers might focus on data bias, while end-users might need an argument to present to their cli- ents. Third, human-driven decision-making is not free of non-linear decisions or discretion eit- her, but compensates for this lack of explainabi- lity by personal responsibility. Fourth, conventi- onal models also show a degree of complexity, resulting in non-obvious results. Even where su- pervisors accept that ML entails black box cha- racteristics to some degree, they should insist on the paradigm that risk management and de- cision-making must ultimately be subject to hu- man discretion and human responsibility (see Consideration 11), as algorithms by definition cannot be held accountable.

Consideration 8 – Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) is a promising answer to the black box characteristic, but the approach is not without its downsides.

XAI is the title of an active research field fo- cused on resolving the black box characteristic of ML, with methods like LIME13 and SHAP14 representing two popular approaches. There is a fundamental conflict between the implementa- tion of ML, with its potentially high non-linear behaviour, and the demand for comprehensible linear explanations. Explanations put forward by XAI seem to be appealing and convenient, but they only show a limited picture of models‘ behaviour, from which it is hard to draw gene- ral conclusions. Thus, ML combined with an XAI approach cannot make the black box fully transparent, merely less opaque. Nonetheless, it seems to be helpful to use XAI to provide more reliable risk metrics for control processes. A balanced approach should be followed and XAI methods should be tailored to the use case and to the stakeholders’ demands.

Further limitations of XAI methods should not be overlooked. In particular, some methods re- quire high computational power or only deliver minor insights into algorithms’ behaviour. XAI methods should support established and used risk control processes and be able to demon- strate effectiveness. If not applying XAI methods, control processes should be in place to com- pensate for limited transparency.

Building the model – from data to re-training

Many risks arising from ML can be mitigated al- ready when it is developed. Thus, as important as looking at implementation and output of ML applications, it is to ensure rigid, robust and re- liable development and maintenance processes.

Consideration 9 – Data quality and pre-processing are decisive factors.

Data quality has always been important for model quality (“garbage in, garbage out”), but becomes a decisive factor since ML is powerful at data exploration during the learning process. A well-trained neural network, for example, will perfectly mirror not only high quality data beha- viour, but also unwarranted data relations. This problem is compounded by the fact that the black box characteristics of ML conceal data quality issues. Therefore, banks should set up dedicated data quality processes to ensure that their ML achieves the targeted accuracy. How- ever, data quality is only the first building block of a potentially well-trained algorithm, as ela- borated further in the following considerations. Pre-processing, in particular, is a challenging and long lasting step that brings data to the model.

Consideration 10 – ML requires rigorous validation procedures that correspond to the use case.

ML requires a comprehensive validation process that has to be applied at different model matu- rity phases with an initial, ongoing and ad-hoc process, covering the entire scope and life cycle of the model. Validation of ML is challenging, because a comprehensive set of parameter choices interact with the model’s quality.15

Standard quality metrics like accuracy, precision, recall or a combination of these (F-measures) need to be tailored to the use case.

Consideration 11 – Data and methodology are important, but supporting processes are even more so.

Responsibility, qualifications, audit safety and documentation are key components of creating a low-risk environment. Since banks cannot hold ML accountable for decisions, algorithmic decision-making must be kept within clear boundaries, and human discretion and judge- ment are required. Human judgement does not mean that all decisions have to be supervised by humans, as they are not necessarily able to under- stand the decision itself. Instead, risk-oriented samples, frequent oversight by developers and well-informed decision analysis should ensure appropriate results of ML.

Use cases determine banks’ acceptance of errors. Ultimately, humans take the responsibility for algorithmic decisions. This must not be a for- malism, but it requires close monitoring by algorithm developers and financial risk experts.

The more complex and less transparent the workings of ML, the more important control processes become. Banks should be able to identify misbehaviour by their ML applications and to control associated risks.

Consideration 12 – Learning frequencies are to be justified. Re-training can change everything overnight.

ML algorithms can be adaptive or dynamic, i.e. a re-parametrisation is planned when new data becomes available. This may even happen auto- nomously during live operation. This feature is a game-changer, since it allows the model to ad- apt swiftly to new relations in the data.

Against this background, for models subject to supervisory approval, these adaptations can change the behaviour of the model significant- ly and represent material changes that result in supervisory actions. Irrespective of the question of whether such adaptive changes might require supervisory approval in the special context of Pillar 1 models, the choice for the frequency of training cycles should be justified by banks. Banks should be able to provide evidence of the advantages of their chosen approach and established processes which enable them to iden- tify, measure and control the risks.

For the example of credit decisions, it is obvious that banks try to reduce credit to customers that will default in the future (precision). Similarly, for the example of early warning systems that identify customers with default risk, it is less important to reduce the number of warnings for customers that do not default. Instead, banks focus on detecting a large number of the defaulting customers (recall).


This paper outlines considerations including po- tential supervisory expectations for ML by the Bundesbank’s Directorate General Banking and Financial Supervision, with a focus on the finan- cial sector. Successful ML applications represent an important building block of digitalisation – they are able to improve analysis depth, reaction times, operating quality and cost efficiency. However, banks must continue to maintain a sound risk management environment, including processes to identify and control relevant and material risks.

The main supervisory focus should be on features of ML which are novel to current regulation and supervisory practices. The black box characteris- tic, potential data quality issues or challenges within the model learning process are among the key issues. Even when ML depends heavily on data and learning algorithms, it seems that the supporting processes become more impor- tant in banks’ control environment. Data prepa- ration, model validation, monitoring and esca- lation procedures become more relevant to maintaining the ability to control model quality.

Several national competent authorities have already published principles and opinions on arti- ficial intelligence, machine learning and big data that have the potential to threaten banks’ level playing field. Regulators and supervisors must not implement different standards for a topic that requires maximum harmonisation within the single market and between jurisdictions.

The next step will be to foster dialogue between users, researchers and authorities to develop a consensus on the key risks and related supervisory expectations. We support the European Commission’s plan to put forward supervisory expectations on the use of AI applications in financial services as stated in the recent digital finance package.


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