London, June 12 2019 image via ING Media

I am an international hybrid and a long-time journalist with a broad span of intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas to help business work better, with basic human values to underpin the process.


Artificial Intelligence : The Potential For Better Corporate Governance

Artificial Intelligence : The Potential For Better Corporate Governance

There appears to be a strange gap developing in the way in which the business world views and deals with technological transformation.

On the one hand, despite the fact that we are living in a digital economy where the costs of failures in cybersecurity are evident and growing every day, research repeatedly shows that knowledge of the area remains elusive in many boardrooms. On the other, artificial intelligence (AI) powered by technology is gaining ground not only in its hype, but in very real ways with huge potential for better corporate governance.

Sigma Ratings, which describes itself as an MIT-backed non -credit rating agency comprised of business leaders and talented engineers, is this month launching the world's first "business integrity rating agency." It focuses on the conduct of 500 financial groups across 16 emerging markets, and unleashes AI on publicly available data to come up with a zero-to-100 score on conduct risk . Aiming to be the Standard & Poors of anti-money laundering, its scores for business integrity range from AAA down to C, just like the credit rating agencies.

The new rating launches at a time when money laundering is repeatedly in the  business media headlines. Just yesterday the Financial Times covered a growing money laundering scandal around Denmark's biggest bank, Danske Bank, which it said  "is causing its image increasing damage by the day." The bank’s problems are reported to centre on its Estonian branch "where billions of dollars of suspicious transactions are alleged to have taken place between 2007 and 2015 involving money mostly from former Soviet states such as Russia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova."

The Sigma ratings are launching with research on 500 emerging market financial groups, expected to grow rapidly to several thousand, and they include the local branches of global banks. Here is a link to a podcast with their Director of Engineering, Niger Little-Poole, explaining how his company is working with technology-based solutions that assess risk.

Via CNBC, here's Stuart Jones, the Sigma Ratings CEO, discussing the importance of transparency for investors in regions including the Middle East - traditionally an area of considerable focus for regulators and governance experts. But the findings may seem surprising to many - watch it to think about perceptions v reality on risk.

A look at who is behind Sigma Ratings (@SigmaRatings on Twitter) reveals a close relationship with Barclays and its fintech accelerator, which contributed to a $2.4m financing round recently. Antony Jenkins, former CEO of Barclays, is also founder of 10x, a start-up which says it exists "to create a new banking experience - one that is more diverse, open and fair."

Mr Jenkins warned last year that the heyday enjoyed by the big banks in the lead up to the financial crisis would never return as the rise in AI threatened some of their services. This video clip has him talking with Eileen Burbidge of Passion Capital, the UK's Special Envoy on FinTech, about the future of AI in financial services in Europe.

The latest financing round, led by New York-based FinTech Collective also included investment from TechStars and angel investors in New York, Silicon Valley and from high-growth emerging markets.

10x Banking is also known as 10x Future Technologies, but to find it on the internet all you need is 10x in your search engine. While exponential achievement powered by AI remains to be seen, it is widely predicted, even by the sceptics, to have a huge impact on many aspects of our daily lives - most notably in finance, transport and healthcare.

There have been numerous calls for us to ensure that AI is deployed in an ethical manner, to ensure that it does not widen inequality. For that to happen, it requires non-technical people to be curious and questioning about the technology, and for cognitive diversity among those who bring projects to fruition.

A quick look at the team behind Sigma Ratings reveals an interesting mix of individuals, and an approach to better governance from another direction. The business was founded by Stuart Jones, Jr., a former senior US Treasury official with tours in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and Gabrielle Haddad, an international development lawyer. She recently testified before the US House of Representatives’ financial services committee as an expert witness on counterparty risk.

With banks in emerging markets with strong ties to US investments, investors and regulators are interested in these ratings. "Corruption and the erosion of trust in many of these countries are among the biggest challenges banks face doing business there” said Ms Haddad.

"Risk is evolving and credit risk only gives you part of the picture. Risk associated with counterparty illicit finance and conduct risk is equally – if not more – important for companies operating in complex markets. For most responsible boards we talk to, it's a top three issue" said Mr Jones, Sigma CEO.

"What is unique about the Sigma Ratings team is that they saw a growing problem from inside the corridors of government and international development finance, and found an innovative way to marry their unique knowledge with cutting-edge technology," said Gareth Jones, Managing Partner at FinTech Collective.

"We are excited to partner with Sigma Ratings as it changes how financial institutions around the world consume and apply risk information to conduct business" he added, describing the launch as "a game changer in today's environment where illicit finance is directly related to issues of economic development and national security."

All those interested in technology, finance and better corporate governance - including the credit ratings agencies - should be watching with interest. Those who are still way behind on cybersecurity may soon have  a lot of catching up to do.








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