Why the AI revolution is being led from below

The thoughtful and measured approach that many banking leaders articulate in their corporate AI strategies, which emphasize "guardrails" and risk management, may soon be overthrown by frontline and back office employees whose use of AI tools is both proliferating and invisible.

Revolutions are rarely led by the existing leadership class, and the AI revolution in banking is proving to be no different.

When GenAI first burst on the scene — and its earth-shattering implications became clear — many banks opened their longstanding corporate change management playbooks. They presumed that decisions about AI strategy would be made at the highest levels, as part of an enterprise-wide strategic technology plan. IT departments saw clear opportunities in terms of new money and new leverage. Risk teams focused immediately on the need for controls and rules. Consultants and researchers urged specialized teams and controlled experiments, cognizant of everything from customer wariness to the impact of biased datasets.

And at many institutions today, the official AI strategy work is proceeding this way — following detailed blueprints and defined guardrails.

But, meanwhile, in back offices and on the front lines, a very different AI revolution is racing ahead, one that’s both widespread and largely invisible. The impact of this quiet revolution — and the ability of banks and other institutions to shape or control it — may be both profound and as-yet unknown.


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