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From the digital to the algorithmic divide: Power asymmetries in Canada’s fintech sector

Authors: Ana Brandusescu*, McGill University
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Applied Geography
Keywords: fintech, artificial intelligence, startups, banking, power, ethics, politics
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Mirroring other countries in the world, Canadian artificial intelligence (AI) startups are being substantially underwritten by federal and subnational levels of government. This is especially true in the financial sector where financial technology (fintech) promises to improve informational efficiency, credit as well as improve society by ensuring a fairer distribution of wealth. Recently banks have turned to AI startups to imbue their systems and services (e.g., personal finance, and credit scoring/direct lending) with human intelligence. Embedded in this AI adoption is the aspiration of some that the financial sector can adopt disruptions to existing regulatory frameworks and norms similar to other sectors experiencing tech innovations.

Through semi-structured interviews in Canada’s fintech ecosystem and a web content analysis (i.e. employee reviews, examination of social media threads), I explore the political economy of financial institutions, software vendors, AI developers, and researchers. I uncover interdependent relationships, revenue streams, knowledge asymmetries, (internal) governance structures, and “responsible/ethical AI” policy initiatives (e.g., declarations, principles, guidelines). The financial institutions themselves are acquiring AI firms. As the Canadian banking sector is quickly adopting fintech, I find that new geographies may be forming through the adoption of AI in fintech, whereby concentrations of power (over data, technologies, intellectual capital) provide unsurpassed advantages to a handful of companies worldwide and, in Canada, a very small number of cities.

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