There are plenty of defining years in the history books, and as 2020 draws to a close, it’s almost certain that the global pandemic will ensure that this year is featured prominently. With events cancelled, launches delayed, and country-wide lockdowns, the way we work has changed forever. Still, for financial technology and surrounding industries, this was also a year of challenge and opportunity.
This December, The Fintech Times is asking industry leaders for their ‘View from the Top’ to gain an insight into the decisions behind the last 12-months. Today, we’re looking at the issue of Open Banking, hearing from Vilve Vene, Sam Seaton, Nicholas Weng Kan and Teodor Blidarus on their 2020 thoughts, plus a look ahead to 2021. Will there be a Happy New Year? Read on…
Since its introduction in 2017, open banking, the secure way to give providers access to your financial information via application programming interfaces (API’s), has changed the financial services industry completely, making it simple and easy for consumers to find new financial products. This has been particularly useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, as with traditional bank branches having to close more and more people are looking to online and apps to cater to their financial needs. In this View from the Top, companies Modularbank, Moneyhub, Yolt and FintechOS outline their own 2020 experience.
Vilve Vene is the CEO and co-founder of Modularbank, a new fintech company from Estonia that provides a flexible banking platform. In her opinion, the rise of digital banking services has been a high point of the year.
“2020 saw a marked acceleration in the adoption of digital banking services by consumers and a surge in the number of new banking apps. The pandemic forced people to engage more digitally with their banks than ever before and as a result, they have become more receptive to new banking services. With this new demand from people for more convenient, digital services, banks have finally had to step up to this challenge and transform themselves, not only digitally but also culturally; reconsidering their entire business models.
“Open Banking is essentially the first step in a process towards a connected business world, we’re still a long way from that, but this year has marked an important step forward towards achieving that goal. In particular, one very important evolution has been how banks’ position on open banking. For years, banks have been reticent to hand over data to third parties which impeded this system to work efficiently. However, this year has seen the beginnings of a shift in mindset amongst forward-thinking banks which acknowledge the many opportunities open banking offers, such as the promise of acquiring new customers or delivering better customer experiences.
“When looking forward to 2021 and beyond, the change in mindset by banks will be increasingly important because banking is changing – with the emergence of embedded finance. Driven by customer demand for easier, more convenient services, companies are beginning to embed financial services within their own offerings. By accepting the reality of this new banking ecosystem, and rethinking their business models to actively collaborate with customer-facing companies to offer improved and innovative embedded services, banks will see long-term gain and growth.”
Sam Seaton is CEO of Moneyhub, the open finance platform for customer-centric organisations, and a player in the field of financial data aggregation, intelligence and payments. She agrees with Vilve, and thinks that the pandemic provided an opportunity for financial services to transform their customer experiences.
“Despite the global turbulence of this year, 2020 has been a transformative year for Open Banking and more widely Open Finance as an industry sector. Covid-19 has presented many challenges for both consumers and businesses alike, particularly in terms of finances. More than ever before, individuals are seeking convenience, digitalisation and innovation. And everyone has had a very decent reminder in terms of expecting the unexpected!
“Open Finance has taken on a new significance during the pandemic, as it has offered businesses powerful technology to support and transform their interaction with their customers. Equally important, the solutions provided by platforms such as Moneyhub offer consumers and businesses a new way to look at, consolidate and make the most of their money, savings and investments. From managing debt, gaining access to credit or making money work harder, deeper insight and automation helps people achieve both short and long term goals.
“For a relatively new field of technology, we are making leaps and bounds. Fintech collaborations in this space have proved the end benefit to consumers and these partnerships enable offerings to get to market faster and with huge impact. In an ever-changing world, this is of paramount importance.
“Looking ahead to 2021, there is still plenty of room for Open Finance to grow and revolutionise not just the financial services industry, but any business. Many of the larger banks have not embraced the innovation offered by this technology and legislative change whereas the wider areas of Wealth and Asset Management have and we are seeing many forward-looking partnerships arising as a result. There is a realm of possibilities once consumers are able to take control over their financial data and providers are able to better engage with their customers using the solutions provided by Open Finance.”
Nicolas Weng Kan is the CEO of Yolt, overseeing the strategic direction of both Yolt – the smart money app with 1.5 million registered users – and Yolt Technology Services, the first open banking provider to build API connections with all of the UK’s CMA-9. Again, he also sees the rapid digital transformation of the financial industry to be a significant aspect of 2020.
“2020 has forced the rapid digitisation of many core services, and as such we’ve seen clearly the advantages that interconnected technologies can bring – none more so than open banking. In most cases, banks haven’t been able to engage with their customers face to face for many months now and with the pressure on them to deliver an accessible, efficient and secure service being heightened during the pandemic – it’s safe to say open banking technology and specifically APIs have stepped in to save the day. The number of UK open banking users leapt to 2 million in September 2020 after being 1 million in January, with an increase of around 160,000 users per month.
“This has just scratched the surface, though, and we need to push to retain this momentum as we move into 2021. Open banking had already made significant strides, and it has now shown the impact it can have, even during such a challenging time for many. Regulation has a role to play in making sure banks offer a standardised, wide range of APIs beyond current accounts giving consumers even more control.
“In 2021 we expect an acceleration in the adoption of Open Banking, with a more significant, strategic embracing of the technology among the businesses which have been given a taste of open banking’s potential in 2020. Growing consumer trust in the technology will be met with an increased range of services. Payment Initiation Services, for example, will be crucial to the recovery of the retail sector, lowering transaction fees and also bringing a more secure and efficient way for consumers to shop online.
“Whatever path open banking takes it will need a helping hand from regulators to lead it along the way. The work being done by fintech firms and financial institutions has been nothing short of remarkable over recent months, but the right conditions need to be created for open banking to thrive. We’ll be watching keenly and working closely with decision-makers to make this happen.”
Teodor Blidarus is the Founder, CEO and Head Product Strategist of FintechOS, a company that works to transform the technology behind customer experience in finance. He believes that 2021 will see institutions taking a new approach to digital transformation.
“2020 has been full of uncertainty. In a matter of months, the Covid-19 pandemic changed our world, resetting and altering the trajectory of the fintech market forever. Global productivity is still in recovery and the economic downturn will impact the financial stability of individuals and businesses for months or even years to come.
“Wherever we look across the financial services spectrum, firms are struggling to adjust to digital-first and remote working environments. Firms are scrambling to plug the gaps needed to operate, and costs are skyrocketing. FitchRatings expect banks return on equity to fall to a low of 4% in 2020 down from a still meagre 10% in 2019
“As a result, in 2021 I expect institutions to take a new approach to digitisation. Digitisation isn’t a journey with a beginning, middle and an end. Digitisation is about lots of small changes, starting small, thinking big, and scaling fast – not a single overhaul. Low-code, Plug’n’Play, self-serve approaches are poised to gain favour.
“As we shift from Open Banking to Open Finance, financial services will increasingly be built, distributed and served in partnership. In 2021, I believe digitisation efforts must be focused on opening up institutions technically, structurally, and culturally to create a borderless environment that simplifies, speeds and secures collaboration in the emerging Open Data Economy.
“With the right approach, 2021 will see banks owning an open future, stepping towards data-led models, open environments, and personalised customer journeys and products.”