Trust troubles: How open is Open Banking?
Open Banking is rapidly changing the way people manage their finances. In the UK between January and September 2020, the number of customers using Open Banking-enabled products rose to over two million. With the pandemic heralding a significant increase in online banking, it’s not hard to see why more customers have embraced Open Banking and the opportunities it offers, including integrated accounts and features made available through the various third-party apps that Open Banking permits unprecedented access to.
However, Open Banking faces a challenge in the form of trust. An ING survey carried out in October 2020 across Europe showed that only 30% of retail banking customers were comfortable with their bank accounts being shared with third-party providers (TPPs), even if they had given said provider prior permission to do so.
So, how open is Open Banking?
A question of trust
When it comes to financial activity, trust is crucial. Open Banking involves allowing TPPs access to bank accounts, so naturally customers will want to feel assured that both the TPPs are trustworthy and that their data can be communicated securely between their bank and the TPP. If trust in either of these contexts isn’t forthcoming, then customers will likely lose faith in Open Banking altogether.
In the UK, there has been a considerable lack of trust in Open Banking services, especially in relation to Big Tech companies. A Duedil and Credit Data Research survey in 2017 found that only 3 in 10 consumers were willing to grant institutions such as Apple and Google access to their accounts for the purpose of integrating and consolidating their finances, while the ING survey of October 2020 showed a reduction in this number in the UK to 23% of respondents.
There could be multiple reasons for this, including the way these companies are occasionally portrayed in the media, yet arguably much of this stems from a lack of awareness about what Open Banking entails. Research conducted by Which? in October 2017 showed that 92% of respondents were unaware of Open Banking. Even by May 2019, over two-thirds of retail banking customers told a Crealogix survey that they had no awareness of what Open Banking was and how it could benefit them.
Awareness is naturally a determinant of whether trust is afforded to something or someone. The onus is on banks and TPPs to better define Open Banking to their customers if they want to sustain the growth seen during 2020.
One of the main drivers behind Open Banking is the fostering of a more competitive environment in financial services. Open Banking was introduced with lofty aims, chief of which was to democratise the industry and implement a level playing field between traditional banks and fintech start-ups. But how far have these aims been achieved in the three years since its introduction in the UK?
On this score, there is still room for improvement. Some TPPs have been shut out of the Open Banking space due to resource deficiencies, with strict regulatory requirements needing to be followed to access Open Banking infrastructure. This includes receiving approval from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) after demonstrating policy, data storage, security and IT practices compliance, a clear business model, as well as possession of professional indemnity insurance. Many TPPs are small, nimble outfits and many were not built to deal with such regulatory hurdles. While regulation is clearly important and necessary in obtaining customer trust, it may reduce the agility that Open Banking promises to financial services – and, subsequently, the competition that exists in Open Banking.
What lies ahead for Open Banking?
While Open Banking faces many challenges, the current climate in financial services is likely to have a positive effect on its development in future. 73% of banking customers in the UK used online banking services weekly in 2020, so there’s clear scope for Open Banking to make their lives easier and enable better management of finances in these testing times.
Growth in adoption rates will lead to more collaboration with traditional banks and payment providers to offer integrated products and services. In the US, J. P. Morgan has launched a partnership with fintech start-up Marqeta, using its technology to offer virtual credit card facilities to corporate customers. In Europe, Visa recently launched its Partner Connect programme, collaborating with fintechs specialising in digital payment solutions to offer more dynamic services to customers.
With digital transformation at the top of every financial institution’s agenda in the wake of the pandemic, the opportunities open to Open Banking have become even more vast.
Zafin: Banking is now in the era of the tech ecosystem
The development of tech ecosystems is placing the future of post-COVID banking in jeopardy. At a time when Big Tech can replicate the functions of traditional financial institutions, what can banks do to retain a grip on the market?
John Smith, EVP Ecosystem at Zafin, has a few ideas. A SaaS cloud-native product and pricing platform for financial institutions, Zafin is preparing the next generation of banks to cope with this precise challenge.
Smith is responsible for the strategic and tactical management of the company’s ecosystem, including the creation of new business models to support growth and differentiation. We asked him four questions:
Q. Have the events of the pandemic caused an irreversible shift in the digitalisation of banks? If so, is COVID the sole cause or are there other factors?
It’s a great question and one that I am asked a lot. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a significant shift in the acceleration of digital. In fact, I’ve seen some estimates show there to have been as much as four to six years of digital adoption growth since the initial lockdown started.
While the pandemic may be the primary reason for this growth, two other drivers include fintech disruption and the high costs of operating a traditional retail bank. Both of these factors have caught the attention of banking executives as they set their minds on accelerating digital transformation with a focus on high return, low risk.
Q. Some commentators believe banks must learn from Big Tech in order to survive. Do you agree? Please expand.
I agree completely; we’re living in the era of the ‘ecosystem’. All the seismic shifts we’re seeing in technology, be it aggregation, embedded finance, DeFi or hyper-personalisation are all enabled by the foundation of an ecosystem.
When financial institutions work with a strategic partner like Zafin, which has made the strategic investments in a best-in-class ecosystem, they’re able to capitalise on opportunities more quickly and safely, and will be better positioned for growth now and at the other side of the pandemic.
Q. What are currently the obstacles to adopting Open Banking? Is it more likely to 'take off' in some regions rather than others?
I would argue that Open Banking has been in the US for some time and will only continue to grow there. By definition, Open Banking is about the secure sharing of financial information that customers are aware of and have authorised. Under that definition, we’re seeing aspects of this well underway even though its full potential remains to be seen.
Third-Party Providers are a natural outcome of Open Banking, whereby they can create propositions beyond what a bank normally does to enable banking functions such as payments, borrowing, saving and so on. Once again, some of these are already present through industry-led initiatives, whereas regions such as the EU have taken the pathway of regulation such as PSD2.
The industry-led initiatives we’ve seen in the US have also had the added advantage of guard-rails that regulatory bodies like FFIEC and CFPB provide. There are also other technology-led initiatives such as API definitions that are set out through the FS-ISAC.
I would argue the future of Open Banking in North America will be through the natural evolution of the guidelines and API definitions that have been published, as well as the natural progression of industry initiatives.
Q. Are there any other bank tech trends you'd like to discuss?
Coreless banking. Zafin has been pioneering some of the work around externalising functions out of the legacy core to drive a more ‘fintech nimble’ bank, while not having to deliver a ‘heart and lungs’ core bank replacement.
Real life examples of this include moving some of the core functions of a banking system, such as product and pricing to a platform like Zafin. Origination, onboarding, KYC, risk, and compliance are all other examples of externalising banking functions for added agility.