In a revelation, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) has, for the first time, identified artificial intelligence (AI) as a potential risk to the nation’s financial stability. Released in its annual report, the FSOC, comprising key figures such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler, raises concerns over the operational risks introduced by AI systems, particularly their reliance on large datasets and third-party vendors.
As AI technology becomes increasingly integral to the financial sector, the report acknowledges its role in identifying patterns. Yet, the FSOC highlights the inherent risks associated with AI, citing challenges related to explainability, bias, and accuracy. Gensler, in his remarks, warns of the potential misuse of AI by bad actors to deceive market participants, emphasizing the need for caution.
In a notable incident in May, an AI-generated image falsely depicting an explosion near the Pentagon circulated on social media, causing a brief stock market sell-off. This event underscores the real-world implications of AI vulnerabilities in financial markets.
Yellen, in her prepared remarks, envisions a widespread adoption of AI and stresses the importance of managing its usage carefully. While supporting responsible innovation, she emphasizes the application of existing principles and rules for risk management in the face of evolving technological landscapes.
Silicon Valley Bank collapse and ongoing financial risks
The FSOC report also delves into a post-mortem analysis of the March collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history. The collapse triggered a regional banking crisis, leading to the seizure of SVB and New York-based Signature Bank by the FDIC. The report attributes the failure to poor risk management, heavy reliance on uninsured deposits, and vulnerability to rising interest rates.
Despite measures taken by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to contain the fallout, the report recommends banking agencies closely monitor uninsured deposit levels and depositor composition. Yellen acknowledges the swift actions taken but underscores that vulnerabilities persist within the financial system.
Bank delinquencies and 2024 refinancing
The FSOC report identifies another potential threat to financial stability—the significant concentrations of regional and community banks in the commercial real estate sector. With approximately $6 trillion in commercial real estate loans, half of which are held by banks, delinquency rates have surged in the first half of 2023, especially for loans backed by office properties.
The slump in demand for office space since the pandemic has led to challenges for commercial developers in meeting their mortgage obligations. The report signals elevated refinancing risk in 2024, potentially resulting in financial distress that could spill over into other financial institutions and the broader system.
FSOC unveils wider financial risks – Cybersecurity, climate, and cryptocurrencies in Focus
Beyond AI, the FSOC report identifies additional risks to financial stability. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities are deemed pervasive throughout the economy, prompting the council to emphasize the need for enhanced partnerships between state and federal agencies and private firms.
Acknowledging the impact of climate change on financial risks, the FSOC is developing a framework to assess climate risk, urging coordinated efforts among state and federal agencies to procure necessary data.
In the realm of cryptocurrencies, the report highlights the volatility of digital assets and recommends congressional legislation to regulate stablecoins and other crypto assets. This recommendation underscores the council’s proactive approach to addressing potential risks associated with the rapidly evolving crypto landscape.
As the financial sector grapples with evolving risks, the FSOC’s report sheds light on the multifaceted challenges posed by AI, the collapse of major banks, vulnerabilities in the commercial real estate sector, and broader issues in cybersecurity, climate, and cryptocurrencies. The question remains: How will regulators navigate these challenges to ensure the resilience and stability of the financial system in an era of rapid technological advancement?