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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Fed governor weighs tokenization and AI

Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Federal Reserve Digital Assets Fintech Cryptocurrency Tokens Artificial Intelligence

On April 20, Federal Reserve Governor Christopher J. Waller spoke on innovation and the future of finance during remarks at the Global Interdependence Center. Commenting that “[i]nnovation is a double-edged sword, with costs and benefits, and different effects on different groups of people,” Waller stressed the importance of considering whether innovation is creating new efficiencies and helping to mitigate risks and increase financial inclusion or whether it is creating new or exacerbating existing risks. Waller’s remarks focused on two specific areas of innovation that he believes may have the potential to deliver substantial benefits to the banking industry: tokenization and artificial intelligence (AI).

With respect to tokenization and tokenized assets, Waller flagged several advantages to innovations in this space that use blockchain over traditional transaction approaches, including (i) being able to offer faster or “even near-real time transfers,” which can, among other things, give parties precise control over settlement times and reduce liquidity risks; and (ii) “smart contract” functionalities, which can help mitigate settlement and counterparty credit risks by constructing and executing transactions based on the meeting of specified conditions. He acknowledged, however, that both innovations introduce risks, including potential cyber vulnerabilities and other risks.

Waller also addressed the banking industry’s use of AI to increase the range of marketing possibilities, expand customer service applications, monitor fraud, and refine credit underwriting processes and analysis, but cautioned that AI also presents “novel risks,” as these models rely on high volumes of data, which can complicate efforts to detect problems or biases in datasets. There is also the “black box” problem where it becomes difficult to explain how outputs are derived, where even AI developers have difficulty understanding exactly how the AI technology approach works, Waller stated. “All of these innovations will have their champions, who make claims about how their innovation will change the world; and I think it’s important to view such claims critically,” Waller said. “But it’s equally important to challenge the doubters, who insist that these innovations are much ado about nothing, or that they will end in disaster.”