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Guarding Against Risks in AI-Based Investment
Problems in this sector may affect the stability and sound development of the financial system
By Zhou Lin | NO. 36 SEPTEMBER 7, 2017

Visitors at the 10th Zhejiang Finance Exposition in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, on May 22, 2015 (XINHUA)

Recently, stricter regulation over artificial intelligence (AI)-based investment consultancy has attracted public attention. The supervising authority banned a number of local financial asset exchanges operating under the pretext of AI-based investment consultancy; some so-called intelligent wealth management platforms lacking qualification as public funds were ordered to stop business; and some peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms using so-called intelligent wealth management to woo investors were outlawed. Incomplete figures show that tens of so-called AI-based wealth management platforms and intelligent investment consultancy platforms have been banned since July, when the supervising authority issued a ban on related illegal investment activities by online platforms and exchanges.

In China, there are currently no uniform standards and supervision rules on AI-based investment, except that the license for securities investment consultancy covers the business of intelligent wealth management.

There are mainly three types of intelligent investment platforms: First, wealth management mobile applications or software developed by traditional financial institutions with their existing financial business licenses, which are essentially securities investment consultancy services; second, intelligent fund investment portfolio services provided by third-party Internet platforms licensed for investment funds, trusts and insurance, which are essentially sales channels for financial products; third, so-called financial technology (Fintech)-based wealth management, robot investment and big-data wealth management services provided by P2P lending companies, local financial asset exchanges and so-called Fintech firms without corresponding licenses to offer such services.

AI technologies, with deep-learning capabilities, can make up for human weaknesses and improve investment efficiency, but there are huge risks behind "robot wealth management," or the AI-based investment business.

On the one hand, it is not yet clearly defined whether robot wealth management belongs to the business of asset management, financial consultancy or investment consultancy. This thus gives an opportunity to those who aim to collect funds illegally under the pretext of AI-based investment. For instance, some so-called intelligent wealth management platforms try to attract funds by lying about investment returns and exaggerating the strength of AI technologies, but actually they are engaging in Ponzi schemes and other fraud activities; and some platforms misappropriate investors' funds, which may cause liquidity crises.

On the other hand, even in licensed institutions, AI-based investment activities may also lead to many problems: Is robot investment compliant with regulations? How will investment returns be divided? Who will bear the losses? Who are the actual controllers of investment accounts in mobile phone applications? How to deal with the legal risks of "persons acting in concert" in the stock market when investors hire the same excellent robot to invest in the market? And how to deal with the ethical risks once investment robots damage the interests of others in order to maximize investment returns?

These problems involve not only legal and ethical risks, but also the stability and sound development of the financial system. For instance, since AI-based investment is closely connected with Internet companies, it involves much more investors than traditional investment methods. The risks will therefore be much more widely spread via the Internet, and more likely to cause systemic financial risks. Moreover, AI-based investment itself is vulnerable to risks such as attacks from hackers, Internet breakdown, algorithm defects, technology risks, unauthorized operations and the leakage of personal information.

The National Financial Work Conference, which convened in Beijing on July 14-15, vowed to resolutely punish behaviors severely disturbing the financial market order, strictly regulate transaction behaviors in the financial markets, enhance supervision of Internet-based finance and strengthen the responsibility of financial institutions in preventing risks.

This requires related government departments and institutions to actively prevent potential financial risks arising from AI-based investment, discover and dispose of those risks as early as possible and guide such investment to better serve the real economy and investors.

This is an edited excerpt of an article first published in the Economic Daily. The author is an economic commentator

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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