The pace of change in financial technologies has quickened due to the rapid advances in technology from the late 1990s through today, exemplified by the advance of handheld devices and applications and the pervasiveness of the Internet in every facet of commerce. New financial technologies--commonly identified by the portmanteau "FinTech" or "fmtech"--have already reshaped many commercial practices that affect businesses and consumers, and they are likely to change many more.

The increasing availability and sophistication of FinTech offers both promises and perils. Artificial intelligence-driven algorithms purport to improve access to credit on "objective" criteria but may sometimes reinforce longstanding discriminatory race and class barriers; online financial services may ease immediate access to banking and credit and to information about price and quality of products, but may also make it easier to saddle oneself with a lemon in an impulse buy; credit reports requested instantaneously online may make it easier to monitor or correct such records, but may lead to reports being used in more contexts to bar individuals with spotty or non-existent credit histories from holding jobs or from participating fully in important aspects of mainstream financial, political, or social life. In other words, a FinTech tool may benefit some set of business or consumer interests and then, applied later or in a different context, threaten those same interests; a tool that harms some group may then lead to development of a tool that favors them.

The point of this essay is not the well-worn one that technology can be misused, or that it can have a "dark side." Rather the point is that, as this essay terms it, FinTech tools have "double edges": the same technological tool may be used in different ways and have different effects, particularly on consumers-and each tool may lead to the development of a new tool that yields yet more sets of ultimate uses and effects. In other words, the development of financial technological tools is unpredictable and pathdependent, contingent both on technological developments as well as the social contexts in which tools are developed and used.

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2018

Notes/Citation Information

Christopher G. Bradley, FinTech's Double Edges, 93 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 61 (2018).



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