The added risk brought on by the complexity of machine-learning models can be mitigated by making well-targeted modifications to existing validation frameworks.

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Machine learning and artificial intelligence are set to transform the banking industry, using vast amounts of data to build models that improve decision making, tailor services, and improve risk management. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, this could generate value of more than $250 billion in the banking industry.

But there is a downside, since machine-learning models amplify some elements of model risk. And although many banks, particularly those operating in jurisdictions with stringent regulatory requirements, have validation frameworks and practices in place to assess and mitigate the risks associated with traditional models, these are often insufficient to deal with the risks associated with machine-learning models.

Conscious of the problem, many banks are proceeding cautiously, restricting the use of machine-learning models to low-risk applications, such as digital marketing. Their caution is understandable given the potential financial, reputational, and regulatory risks. Banks could, for example, find themselves in violation of antidiscrimination laws, and incur significant fines–a concern that pushed one bank to ban its HR department from using a machine-learning résumé screener. A better approach, however, and ultimately the only sustainable one if banks are to reap the full benefits of machine-learning models, is to enhance model-risk management.

Regulators have not issued specific instructions on how to do this. In the United States, they have stipulated that banks are responsible for ensuring that risks associated with machine-learning models are appropriately managed, while stating that existing regulatory guidelines, such as the Federal Reserve’s “Guidance on Model Risk Management” (SR11-7), are broad enough to serve as a guide.

Enhancing model-risk management to address the risks of machine-learning models will require policy decisions on what to include in a model inventory, as well as determining risk appetite, risk tiering, roles and responsibilities, and model life-cycle controls, not to mention the associated model-validation practices. The good news is that many banks will not need entirely new model-validation frameworks. Existing ones can be fitted for purpose with some well-targeted enhancements.