AI in Chinese banking and finance

China's banking and finance sector is heavily investing in AI. The country wants to be a global leader in this technology by 2030, but with the five main banking institutions state-owned, is the Chinese government a help or a hindrance?

Spending on artificial intelligence (AI) by China's banking and finance industry increased by 51.2% during 2018. This is according to research by analysts from TechInsight360, which also forecasts that AI spending in this sector is expected to grow from US$956.4m in 2019 to US$3.3bn by 2025.

Investment is consolidated, with China's top five financial institutions and payment firms accounting for the majority of investment alongside start-ups and technology companies says Pankaj Chaubey, principal analyst at TechInsight360. Mid-tier businesses in the sector lag behind with limited and selective AI initiatives.

"This is very different from the US where there is increased participation from mid-tier financial institutions as well," he says. "(Chinese) government focus on developing and implementing AI across sectors is one of the key differentiating factors. This is resulting in increased speed of execution due to collaboration across sectors and initiatives, as well as making funding available to drive projects."

"The government wants to be a global leader in AI by 2030. This is part of the ‘Made in China 2025' blueprint," explains David Peacock, China specialist at business development consultancy Intralink. "China is now the largest investor in AI start-ups, ahead of the US, accounting for 48% of all AI funding in 2017."

What's driving AI investment in China?

China's shift to digital is a big driver behind this growth of AI spending. Over 800m people in China are now online and with widespread adoption of mobile devices Chinese lifestyles are increasingly connected. In banking, the shift to digital is most apparent in the large-scale take-up of mobile payments, such as WeChat Pay.

"Chinese banks are looking to use this data to understand and serve their customers better and, due to the sheer volume of data, the only way to do this is with AI," says Peacock. "Additionally in China, there are fewer regulatory restrictions on what the banks can do with consumer data and, as government-backed entities, the restrictions that do apply in theory can often be discounted."

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