9 Aprile 2024

AI for social impact: 3 ways financial services can influence global challenges

In virtually every customer conversation I have these days, I am inspired by the innovation that generative AI has ignited in the financial services industry. There’s no shortage of creative ideas and impactful use cases for business transformation—with exciting new capabilities to cut costs, boost efficiencies, enhance productivity, and deliver better customer support.

What is equally if not more important, however, is the power of AI to help solve some of the world’s most challenging social problems. This resonates with the work we’re doing with Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services, where we strive to not only empower customers but also help improve the world broadly through responsible AI and cloud computing.

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It’s clear that generative AI opens new doors to create greater value for customers, the benefits of which are already dramatic across industries. In the unique case of financial services, generative AI also opens opportunities to address global problems that have long challenged almost every segment of society.

Three areas of financial services impact

In January, I had the opportunity to participate in the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Naturally, AI was a big topic of conversation, and what was most encouraging to me were the discussions and examples of its potential to impact major social challenges. In the context of social good, I see three key areas where this can happen:

1. Equity and inclusion

I see advanced and generative AI holding tremendous potential to create more inclusive and personalized financial products and experiences for a broader population. This could include the latest natural language capabilities in chatbots, integrating screen reading and narration capabilities like Seeing AI into your banking products for the blind and low vision community, and offering speech-to-text functionality for those with hearing impairments. A powerful example of the transformative potential of AI in coding is the story of Anton Mirhorodchenko, a Ukrainian software developer living with cerebral palsy. By using GitHub Copilot, he dramatically simplified his workflow and improved his productivity and outlook.

2. Poverty and stability

Financial inclusion is also key to stability, as technological innovations unlock new opportunities for data-driven financial tools that can empower a broader range of underserved communities to achieve financial independence. There’s a lot of exciting fintech innovation in this area. For example, CWallet, a fintech company specializing in digital wallet services, is empowering migrant workers in Qatar to access financial services with Microsoft Azure. There are other important fintech initiatives underway in places like Latin America and Kenya using AI and digital innovations to improve lives, reduce poverty, expand access to financial services and credit, and narrow the financial inclusion gap.

And it’s exciting to see how other organizations across industries are already innovating with Azure OpenAI Service to enable inclusive growth with technology. For example, as part of our new ADVANTA(I)GE INDIA initiative and AI skilling efforts, Indian social impact organization, Karya, is using Azure OpenAI to help make technology accessible in under-resourced languages and to more inclusive data—with work that also provides rural citizens with training, fair wages, and education about financial tools to make best use of their earnings.

3. Environment

We all recognize the critical importance of addressing climate change, and this is already an important topic in financial services. But I believe we are just scratching the surface on AI’s potential to tackle common risks and opportunities for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability efforts in FSI due to slow manual processes, siloed data, data quality issues, lack of insights, and reporting. Generative AI advancements can aid in synthesizing structured and unstructured data, creating ESG insights and recommendations, and reporting out to stakeholders. I’m also excited to see examples from financial leaders like Emirates NBD transforming sustainability measurement capabilities with Microsoft Sustainability Manager.

When it comes to achieving these ambitions—and countless others where AI can make a major difference—success requires more than just cutting-edge technology. Microsoft believes that meaningful innovation can only happen when organizations also embrace a set of enabling principles that focus on ethics and human factors.

The critical role of responsible AI

The excitement around this next wave of AI is undeniable, but we must wield it responsibly to avoid perpetuating biases or excluding segments of society. At Microsoft, we are committed to helping our customers use our AI products responsibly, sharing our learnings, and building trust-based partnerships.

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To help financial services organizations realize AI’s potential, Microsoft has published the Responsible AI Standard, developed an Impact Assessments template, and created transparency documents for customers using our Azure OpenAI Service and products like the new Bing to share what we’ve learned. The Microsoft open-source Fairlearn toolkit can also help financial services organizations ensure their AI systems are equitable by identifying biases in data. When our partner EY put it to the test with real-world mortgage adjudication data, it improved the fairness of loan decisions, narrowing gender disparities from 7% to less than 0.5%. From Davos, you can also watch my panel discussion on the responsible deployment of AI in financial services.

How inclusive design and diversity unlock potential

Inclusive design hinges on the vast spectrum of human diversity, gleaning insights from varied perspectives. Microsoft champions design principles that recognize exclusion, learn from diversity, and create universally beneficial solutions. Technology that is designed in this way means better access, less friction, and greater emotional connection with more people.

Our commitment to helping others shift to inclusive solutions is found in our Microsoft Inclusive Design toolkit. The tools create large-scale solutions, such as digital experiences that are more responsive and less biased, and cities that are more accessible. In the financial sector, this translates into products and services designed to meet the needs of as many individuals as possible, regardless of their abilities or circumstances.

Likewise, diversity is a proven catalyst for innovation among technology teams. Studies show that greater diversity can help teams focus more on facts, process those facts more carefully, and generate more creativity and innovation.1 Ethnically and gender-diverse management teams are more likely to financially outperform in their industry, and companies with more women in leadership positions tend to be more profitable.2 So, for technology to be truly inclusive, it needs to be built by teams that reflect the diversity of its users.

A mission of empowerment through AI

My transition from the banking industry to Microsoft was driven by the potential for meaningful technological innovation that could create a positive change. Despite the challenges we face, my outlook remains optimistic. I hope this blog has set some ideas in motion for you, and I invite everyone to become involved in efforts to use AI in ways that benefit society broadly.

The Microsoft mission is to empower every individual and organization on the planet to achieve more, and we do that by building technology that we believe will change the world. To accomplish that, we know that we must embrace a set of important responsibilities. Trust, reliability, safety, privacy, security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability—these are the foundational principles that have guided our leadership in AI over the past decade. Along with our partners and many other global stakeholders, we invite you to join us on the important journey ahead.

To learn more about our commitment to trustworthy AI and to find further resources, please visit our Empowering responsible AI practices website.

1Diversity wins. How inclusion matters. McKinsey & Company, May 2020.

2Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter. David Rock and Heidi Grant, Harvard Business Review, Nov 4, 2016.

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Source: Microsoft Industry Blog