Cocktail Conference: The Intersection of Fintech and Responsible Investing

On September 7th, FSI hosted a cocktail event to kick-off the 2017-2018 program. Our theme for the year, AI and Big Data to the benefit of Responsible Investing was introduced by Amr Addas, Adjunct Professor at the Goodman Institute of Investment Management at John Molson School of Business, Concordia University and independent consultant, who described how fintech was becoming an inevitable part every finance professional’s job and understanding the impact on social, environmental and governance issues was vital to seeing it used to the benefit of responsible investment.


Guest Speaker Jan Arp

Attendees then heard from guest speaker Jan Christopher Arp, Fintech Evangelist and Director of FormFintech (download presentation here). Form Fintech is an not-for-profit dedicated to solving fintech problems by bringing together talented fintech entrepreneurs and matching them with real-world problems described by corporations in the financial industry. Jan introduced the audience to different Montreal companies using AI and big data analytics to create added value in the finance sector. The complexity of the platforms varied: from CoPower, a Montreal firm using a smart but simplified interface to draw more customers toward the green bond market, to Impak Finance which used a more complex initial coin offering (ICO) to launch a new crypto currency as a means of raising capital.

Jan described for the audience the evolution of AI and blockchain technology within the financial sector. He described AI’s transition from established technology, such as automated professional advice and robo-advisors, to trading algorithms and through to the more recent use of machine learning and into the area of deep learning AI currently emerging in the fintech industry. He also mentioned blockchain technology’s evolution that has significant potential to change the way transactions are made around the world. Jan explained how over-the-counter trading markets and electronic markets, such as the TSX or NYSE, have been in use for decades. More recently, companies have been using private blockchain systems to complete global transactions without reliance on a centralised authority. One example Jan gave was Energy Blockchain Labs, who use the technology to manage the trading of carbon credits across country borders. Blockchain systems have also been used to transfer funds where traditional banking systems may not be available, such as in war-torn Syria where the United Nations distributed aid via cryptocurrency vouchers. Jan also noted that widespread use of public blockchain trading would need considerable investment and deployment, and it was not yet apparent from where leadership would emerge.

The innovation taking place in this sector is inspiring and many start-ups are disrupting traditional thinking in the financial sector but Jan pointed out some common challenges encountered by social entrepreneurs. Despite their intent to address a triple bottom line, start-up entrepreneurs often need to focus on being financially viable and sometimes lose sight of their social or environmental mission. Responsible investors have a role to play in underlining the need for good governance at this critical stage.

Jan concluded by urging the audience to get involved in this evolving Montreal ecosystem by participating in the next Form Fintech endeavour: the Desjardins Cooperathon in either of two ways:

  • By building teams: Use your network to help build diverse, cross-functional teams
  • By mentoring teams: Volunteer your time to teach (and learn!) from new entrepreneurs

During the Q&A portion of the event, attendees raised the concern that AI and other technologies could eliminate jobs; meaningful employment and long-term society benefit being important considerations in the Responsible Investing field. In Jan’s perspective, it would be unwise to avoid or try to halt the momentum of technology suggesting that new jobs would emerge. He also believes socially-conscious professionals and companies can contribute by taking a seat at the table to ensure the implementation of AI has a net positive impact on society.

Milla Craig, FSI President and Co-Founder, and President and Founder of Millani, welcomed the audience and thanked our event sponsor, McCarthy Tetrault, represented by Laure Fouin, FSI Board Secretary and Associate Lawyer at the firm.

Photo credits: Wonder Photography