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Cracking the Code: How The Open Finance Appathon Empowered API Innovation

Over the last decade, banks and fintechs have collaborated to create a competitive environment and innovate in order to introduce greater financial solutions for consumers. There’s no doubt that, as we navigate through a global pandemic, digital services and platforms are becoming an increasingly prevalent part of our everyday life, and one that we rely on heavily for every aspect of our personal financial wellbeing. 

Financial businesses are technology-driven in order to stay innovative alongside regulatory changes and help introduce new services to improve the banking ecosystem. Open Finance is a key area being challenged – and one open for discussion amongst businesses and fintechs, in order to give consumers greater access and control over their personal data to make better financial decisions.

The Open Finance Appathon, co-created by Open Banking Excellence (OBE) and Railsbank, in collaboration with Yolt Technology Services (YTS) and Finastra, is designed to provide startups and scale-ups with a unique chance to lead the pack when it comes to finding open finance solutions to be developed across the globe. 

Nigel Verdon, CEO and co-founder, Railsbank expressed that he’d love to see innovation and the world of Fintech and Open Banking through a set of fresh eyes. He said, “We’ve seen amazing innovations from previous events and Hackathons we’ve hosted, and it’s a privilege to see how teams work together to approach a problem and deliver the skills on all aspects to find a solution. For us, it’s not necessarily about coming up with a solution, but the innovation, perseverance and the ability to approach a difficult problem that is well executed is the ultimate wow factor.”

Now recognised as the industry competition that empowers Fintechs to use API’s to build Open Finance Products, The Appathon aims to build a community for businesses looking for valuable information and to provide support and navigation throughout industry changes. 

The previous competition was held during 2020, sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Mastercard. The Appathon allowed start-ups and scale-ups the unique opportunity to launch market-ready solutions using the range of APIs and sandboxes, to shape the future of API-based banking and commerce by enabling new capabilities in related markets, such as savings, pensions, insurance and mortgages. 

Collaboration vs competition

Last year, The Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE), announced that over two million customers are now using open banking-enabled products, representing a significant upswing in the use of innovative banking technologies despite the disruptive effects of COVID-19. 

Furthermore, OBIE figures show open banking user numbers have doubled since January 2020. Chris Michael, Head of Technology at Open Banking Implementation Entity and a judge at the 2020 Appathon commented, “We’ve already seen Open Banking take off and offer real customer value. Currently, over 200 firms are now authorised in the UK offering a variety of services to customers, and we have 400 more customers that are currently in testing mode. There’s vast potential still to come.”

However, although Open Banking is a leading example of innovation, Michael believes that there are important pain points that still need to be resolved going forward. “There’s still a lot of pain points and problems with personal and retail banking and offerings for SMEs. We’ve seen many use cases that can be solved much better with data that spans across additional accounts such as savings, lending and investments. Offering a set of applications that can give people a complete view of their finances would offer great additional value.”

He continues: “There are still limitations, such as real-time transactions and reducing fraud-related to APP scams. However, there’s also real opportunities to move beyond the limitations of Open Banking and PSD2 – particularly around customers having to re-authenticate regularly and around limitations for account data.”

Challenging the norm

The rise of Open Banking fosters greater innovation and collaboration between fintechs and banks to offer smarter market-ready solutions. Over the past few decades, traditional banks have held the power in terms of providing everyday banking solutions; but now fintechs in the mix, the marketplace is far more competitive and has forced businesses to put the consumer at the core of their solutions. 

This has now shifted from competition and extended into a level of collaboration between banks and fintechs. Collaboration enables both parties to offer better solutions, expand into new markets, provide greater digital services without regulatory and outdated backend systems and increase the availability of online services. These topics are regularly discussed as part of the OBE digital Campfires. 

Leon Muis, Chief Business Officer at Yolt Technology Services says: “Open Banking has boundless potential, but it needs the conditions to flourish – that’s why moving towards open finance is so important. Giving both consumers and businesses the control and interconnectivity to use digitised financial information can transform the way financial services are accessed and delivered. 

“The Open Finance Appathon embodies this aim, and YTS is pleased to be part of an initiative which will propel the move towards open finance – working together is key, and partnering with like-minded organisations shows what can be achieved when we pull together.”

Jim Wadsworth, Leading Open Banking at Mastercard says: “Mastercard are proud to support the Open Finance Appathon. This is an opportunity for Fintechs to be inspired, to resolve a problem that delivers true value for the end customer. Empowering innovation and enabling opportunity is at the heart of Mastercard’s Open Banking solutions.“

Changing landscapes 

Nigel Verdon, CEO and Co-Founder of Railsbank believes that an event such as the Appathon is to build a community and create an environment where businesses can work together and gather feedback on relevant problems and issues.

“I’d like to see innovation around challenging use cases that will be useful for fintechs and their consumers. As part of the Appathon, we were very pleased to understand how people use our API, and whether its solving use cases and if there could be improvements for it. The event is created for our community and we’re open for feedback to help us build a better product.”

Verdon continues, “The real landscape change is understanding how Open Banking can be easier.  It’s understanding how Open Banking helps the consumer, and how it helps the industry deliver better products and solve complex areas for businesses such as credit checks and lending.

“Looking at the future, Open Banking is very much about open data. We should be looking at how we can use open data and combine it with other datasets to get meaningful insights. This would be useful to consumers to help with their financial life, credit decisions and financial forecasting. The world of open banking future is all about data.”

The winners of the Appathon 2020

The individual winners were as follows:

Open Finance for good

Winner: Peter Ingram, CTO, Hastee

 

Retail and SME

Winner: Keren Moynihan, CEO, Boss Insights

 

Corporate

Winner: Mike Galvin, Founder and COO, Toqio

The winners were awarded free API consumption up to the value of £5,000/$5,000. 

Helen Child, co-founder, Open Banking Excellence (OBE)  commented, “We collaborated with the leading players in the market to create a competition to inspire start up’s and scale up’s to build Open Finance products using API’s. As the industry’s leading community we’re proud to support its growth trajectory through the creation of new market-ready products and services that will make open finance come alive. As every entrepreneur knows, having an idea, working with a team to build it, live, sleep and dream about it, and then to make happen is phenomenally exciting. It drives you to continually improve. We loved the energy and the innovation from the Appathon. It inspired us too! 

Our feedback was for us to create an environment for a continual conversation, a place to learn with like-minded people. We will be collaborating with our partners to help fill this technical debt.”

Growth plans and looking ahead

While the first Open Finance Appathon showed evidence of interest from all parts of the world, not all countries are at the same stage of the journey in terms of adoption of open banking. For example, Brazil has published a timetable for opening up the data through standard APIs in 2021. They will go through the same journey which the UK started in 2018. 

Likewise, Singapore leads in Asia Pacific. Clearly, lessons learnt from the UK can be applied elsewhere. Hence, Open Finance Appathon 2.0 will be about being ‘Glocal’, based on being a global event with a local focus covering UK/Europe and Brazil. OBE are excited that this will involve local stakeholders and engagement with communities to tap into local innovation.

Author

  • Gina is a fintech journalist (BA, MA) who works across broadcast and print. She has written for most national newspapers and started her career in BBC local radio.

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