The dark side of robotics: Mass bank account blocking in Russia

Maria Nikolova

The steep rise in complaints is related to the increased use of automated systems in compliance.

Earlier this year, FinanceFeeds reported about the plans by Russia’s Sberbank, or Sberbank Rossii PAO (MCX:SBER), to replace as many as 3,000 employees with a robot. The announcement came in tune with a stance voiced by Sberbank’s CEO Herman Gref in September 2016, when he forecast that in five years Artificial Intelligence systems will be responsible for 80% of the decisions at the bank.

Such a drastic push into the implementation of robotics in various banking processes seems to have its darker side, as clients of Russian banks have been increasingly complaining of their accounts being blocked due to automated systems checks.

Over the past several days, the forum of banki.ru has been flooded with complaints from people whose accounts were blocked following checks for AML compliance conducted by automated systems. Speaking to “Kommersant”, a representative of Rosfinmonitoring has confirmed that there is a rise in such complaints and that the large majority of them – some 80%, is related to Sberbank.

One possible explanation for Sberbank’s top spot in this not quite glorious ranking is that the bank is a leader in the Russian retail banking market. Another explanation is the bank’s major role in utilization of automated systems in various processes.

Of course, the field of AI should not be considered so narrowly – that is, it should not be limited to the area of simple rule-based systems, which are incapable of learning unlike newer hybrid technologies and neural networks. Hence, we cannot rule out the usefulness of AI in the financial area because traditional automated systems create troubles.

Russian banks, however, are not inclined to abandon the use of automated programs for compliance checks. The reason – the expenses for staff and consultancy fees will surge disproportionately.

Thus, the problem of robots replacing human beings in different job roles resurfaces in full scale. The European Parliament is taking the problem seriously. In February this year, MEPs voted a resolution that urges the European Commission to draft rules for the field of robotics to be applied across the European Union. The set of rules should protect human jobs from being taken over by robots, according to the proposals.

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