Banks often pursue a niche as a way to develop a competitive edge, reaching a defined market that is neither too narrow nor too broad. Lee Wetherington, senior director of corporate strategy at Jack Henry, says a financial institution doesn’t need to overhaul its entire tech stack to successfully bank a particular niche — that is, if it has an open banking platform that eases integration with fintech partners.
Whether banks know it or not, their customers may already be leveraging open banking technology.
If they pay friends using Venmo, transfer money from their account at your bank to websites like Robinhood to purchase stocks or use any other third-party financial applications that require a connection to their financial accounts, they are using open banking. Simply defined, open banking is a system that helps enable fast, innovative, and frictionless digital financial services.
Open banking creates a number of opportunities for consumers and businesses. Customer demand for seamless management of financial experiences has increased as they’ve grown accustomed to the benefits of personalized digital services. Research from Visa’s Open Banking Consumer Survey shows that 87% of U.S. consumers use open banking to link their financial accounts to third parties; however only 43% of U.S. consumers are aware that they are using open banking.
What is Open Banking? Open banking is a system through which consumers or businesses authorize third parties, which can include any financial services organization like mortgage underwriter, banks or budgeting or trading app, to access their financial information or services. The third party may need the customers’ transaction or payment history or make a payment or requesting a loan on their behalf. Aggregators connect third parties to the financial accounts of consumers and businesses. When consumers or businesses share their financial data with third parties, the third parties can provide a number of products and services, including budgeting, credit checks or help initiating payments. Open banking enables consumers to connect financial accounts and share data securely.
How Does Open Banking Work? Open banking is increasingly enabled by application programming interfaces, or APIs. Open banking APIs are specifically designed to link software systems and apps to securely communicate with each other. Financial institutions can establish these APIs to make consumer financial data available to third-party aggregators that serve as the bridge between account providers, like banks, brokerages and credit unions, and third-party applications, such as fintechs, merchants and other banks, that use this bank account data to provide financial services to consumers and businesses.
Open Banking Use Cases A common, early use case is digitizing traditional financial management in a more efficient and secure way. But there is virtually no limit to the products and services that could be enabled by open banking.
Open banking enables financial institutions to improve their consumer experiences, illustrating the value of open access to financial information. Importantly, open banking could be a significant catalyst for financial inclusion and equity. The ability for all parties in the ecosystem to innovate and offer financial products to underserved communities could be considerably increased in a world where access to customer-permissioned information is easily available.
So while open banking is still in its early days, there are many potential opportunities and benefits that financial institutions should explore and consider offering to customers.
On April 19, Netflix reported its first loss in subscribers — 200,000 in the first quarter, with 2 million projected for the second — resulting in a steep decline in its stock price, as well as layoffs and budget cuts. Why the drop? Although the company blames consumers sharing passwords with each other, the legacy streamer also faces increased competition such as HBO Max and Disney Plus. That also creates more choice for the 85% of U.S. households that use a streaming service, according to the U.K. brand consulting firm Kantar. The average household subscribes to 4.7 of them.
Our financial lives are just as complicated — and there’s a lot more at stake when it comes to managing our money. A 2021 survey conducted by Plaid found that 88% of Americans use digital services to help manage their money, representing a 30-point increase from 2020. Americans use a lot of financial apps, and the majority want their bank to connect to these providers. Baby boomers use an average of 2.6 of these apps, which include digital banking and lending, payments, investments, budgeting and financial management. Gen Z consumers average 4.6 financial apps.
“Banks can be material to simplifying the complexity that’s causing everybody to struggle and not have clarity on their financial picture,” said Lee Wetherington, senior director of corporate strategy at the core provider Jack Henry & Associates. He described this fractured competitive landscape as “financial fragmentation,” which formed the focus of his presentation at Experience FinXTech, a tech-focused event that took place May 5 and 6 in Austin, Texas. Successful banks will figure out how to make their app the central hub for their customers, he said in an interview conducted in advance of the conference. “This is where I see the opportunity for community financial institutions to lever open banking rails to bring [those relationships] back home.”
During the event, Wetherington revealed results from a new Jack Henry survey finding that more than 90% of community financial institutions plan to embed fintech — integrating innovative, third-party products and services into banks’ own product offerings and processes — over the next two years.
Put simply, open banking acknowledges today’s fractured banking ecosystem and leverages application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow different applications or systems to exchange data.
Chad Davison, director of client solutions consulting at Fiserv, creates “balance sheet leakage” reports to inform his strategic discussions with bank executives. “We’ve been trying to understand from an organization perspective where the dollars are leaving the bank,” said Davison in a pre-conference interview. Some of these dollars are going to other financial providers outside the bank, including cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinbase Global and investment platforms like Robinhood Markets. This awareness of where customer dollars are going could provide insights on the products and services the bank could offer to keep those deposits in the organization. “[Banks] have to partner and integrate with someone to keep those dollars in house,” said Davison, in advance of a panel discussion focused on technology investment at the Experience FinXTech event.
Increasingly, core providers — which banks rely on to fuel their technological capabilities — are working to provide more choice for their bank clients. Fiserv launched a developer studio in late 2021 to let developers from fintechs and financial institutions access multiple APIs from a single location, said Davison, and recently launched an app market where financial institutions can access solutions. “We want to allow the simple, easy connectivity that our clients are looking for,” he said. “We’re excited about the next evolution of open banking.”
Jack Henry has also responded to its clients’ demand for an open banking ecosystem. Around 850 fintechs and third parties use APIs to integrate with Jack Henry, said Wetherington, who doesn’t view these providers as competitive threats. “It’s a flywheel,” he said. “Competitors actually add value to our ecosystem, and they add value for all the other players in the ecosystem.” That gives banks the choice to partner and integrate with the fintechs that will deliver value to the bank and its customers.
As fractured as the financial landscape may be today for consumers, bank leaders may feel similarly overwhelmed by the number of technologies available for their bank to adopt. In response, bank leaders should rethink their strategy and business opportunities, and then identify “the different fintech partners to help them drive strategy around that,” said Benjamin Wallace, CEO at Summit Technology Group. Wallace joined Davison on the panel at Experience FinXTech and was interviewed before the conference.
The Federal Reserve published a resource guide for partnering with fintech providers in September 2021, and found three broad areas of technology adoption: operational technology to improve back-end processes and infrastructure; customer-oriented partnerships to enhance interactions and experiences with the bank; and front-end fintech partnerships where the provider interacts directly with the customer — otherwise known as banking as a service (BaaS) relationships.
Banks will need to rely on their competitive strengths, honing niches in key areas, Wallace believes. That could be anything from building a BaaS franchise or a niche lending vertical like equipment finance. “Community-oriented banks that do everything for everyone, it’s really difficult to do” because of the competition coming from a handful of large institutions. “Picking a couple of verticals that you can be uniquely good at, and orient[ing] a strategy and then a tech plan and then a team around it — I think that’s always going to be a winning recipe.”
Open banking is bigger in the United States than it is in Europe, says Lee Wetherington, the senior director of corporate strategy for Jack Henry & Associates, one of the banking industry’s largest technology solution providers. For financial technology companies, that means an unlimited potential to access data, and offer products and services that customers would like or will like in the future.
Wetherington answers three questions in this video:
How can fintechs leverage open-banking rails to improve their offerings and reach?
What will the banking industry look like in 10 years?
Looking beyond 10 years, will there be a banking industry as we know it now?
There has been much chatter about open banking over the last couple of years, and for a good reason. If it stays on its current growth trajectory, it could revolutionize the financial services sector worldwide, forcing changes to existing business models.
At this stage, many business bankers, and the small commercial clients they serve, are not ready to move to an open banking system. Banks have traditionally enjoyed a monopoly on their consumers’ financial data — and they do not want to lose it. Small business owners might worry that their data is shared with financial services providers other than their banks.
Open banking can seem risky, but it offers benefits to both lenders and borrowers. 2022 could be an excellent opportunity for this perception to catch up to reality and make open banking the norm in the business lending space.
Open banking is a banking practice that uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to give third-party providers access to consumer financial data. This access allows financial institutions to offer products that are tailor-made to consumers’ needs. This approach is more attractive than other ways that consumers have traditionally aggregated their financial data. For instance, screen scraping transfers screen display data from one application to another but can pose security risks. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology requires substantial human resources to read PDF documents to extract information. And data entry is both time-consuming and has a high likelihood of errors.
Using APIs addresses many of the problems that exist with other data aggregation methods. The data is transmitted directly — no need to share account credentials — eliminating the security risk inherent with screen scraping. And since there is no PDFs or data entry involved, bankers do not need to use many resources to check the accuracy of the data.
Still, bankers may wonder: Why do we need to move to an open banking system?
Business lending works today, but there is significant room for improvement. The main issue is the lack of centralized data. Lenders do not have enough data to approve loans to creditworthy borrowers or identify other products the client could receive. On the other side, small business owners endure a slow and cumbersome process because they must provide their data to each lender, one by one. An open banking system allows lenders to offer borrowers better terms and creates an easier application process for borrowers.
Misconceptions could complicate adoption. In an Axway survey, half of the respondents did not think that open banking was a positive development. They had concerns about the constant monitoring of financial activity (33%), losing control over access to their financial data (47%) and financial institutions using their data against their interests (27%).
But open banking gives consumers more control over their financial data, not less. Since open banking is a new concept, there is a significant gap between perception and reality. There is, understandably, a hesitancy among the public to share their data, which emerges when consumers are directly asked about it. But as services like Personal Capital and Credit Karma clearly show, consumers will overwhelmingly opt for open banking services because they can use their financial data to gain via more straightforward analysis or track their spending.
This is the promise of open banking in the business finance space. Small business owners want to focus their attention on non-administrative tasks and connecting their financial data to services that bring them faster access to capital with less paperwork is a clear benefit they are excited to get.
Services like Plaid and Envestnet Yodlee connect customer data directly with financial institutions and are widespread in the small business lending market. More than half of small business owners already choose to use these services when applying for financing, according to direct data reported by business lending companies.
Banks, on the other hand, will need to make a couple of adjustments to thrive in an open banking ecosystem. They will need to leverage the bevy of consumer financial data they have to offer more customizable financial products, as the system’s open nature will lead to more competition. To analyze all that data and provide those customer-centric products, banks should consider using a digital lending platform, if they aren’t already. Open banking is set to disrupt the financial services sector. Financial institutions can set themselves up for sustainable success by embracing the movement.
Faced with macro-economic pressures, technology adoption decisions and quickly shifting customer expectations, banks are challenged in how to respond. Or if a response is even necessary.
For hundreds of years banks have existed to facilitate commerce, serving as a gateway to exchange and store value. Customers historically have chosen their bank for a combination of two factors: trust and convenience.
Financial institutions thrived by putting themselves at the heart of communities and centers of commerce. Branch networks expanded to be close to their customers, serving communities with products tailored to their customer footprint.
Then came the internet in the 1990s, and banks began launching online banking. By 2006, 80 percent of banks offered internet banking. Many banks believed they could begin to close bank branches, transitioning from fixed-cost distribution centers to low-cost digital channels.
But when it came to financial advice and large transactions, consumers still prefer branch locations. Instead of replacing costly branches with low-cost digital channels, banks are now faced with the upkeep of ever-changing customer expectations across multiple channels.
Pressure From Fintechs The problem right now is traditional revenue from interest rate spreads are being strained by specialist digital providers. Instead of offering a breadth of services to customers, fintechs develop one product and continuously refine the single product to the user’s needs.
But how can a bank compete and offer the services customers want with the specialization fintechs can deliver across multiple channels?
The answer is open banking—a collaborative model in which banking data is shared with third-party services across an ecosystem of trusted providers.
As commentator and consultant Chris Skinner states in his book, “Digital Human,” “A bank that is truly into their digital journey would never build anything, but would curate everything.”
A digital transformation begins with extending bank capabilities through APIs (application programming interfaces), which open up an opportunity for banks and their customers to partner with fintechs.
But customers don’t want to vet hundreds of fintech startups. Instead, they’re looking for trust and convenience in their bank, which is the bank’s biggest advantage. While not immediately visible to customers, an important aspect of trust is the bank’s continuing role in ensuring third-party solutions handle their data securely and are in compliance with regulations.
Financial data is the currency of the next generation of banks, and the value of that currency is unlocked when segments are broken down and replaced with a platform. Only at a platform level can you extract the intelligence to deliver actionable, contextualized experiences for your customer.
In many ways, banks are already platforms, with multiple product lines around deposits, lending and insurance. APIs allow these platforms to interconnect, combining data to provide a complete financial picture of their customer. Even with the rise of technology, consumer surveys have shown they trust their banks more than Google and Amazon combined.
Customers want their bank to be at the center of their financial decisions.
The late Walter Wriston, former chairman and CEO of Citicorp said in the 1970s, “Information about money is as valuable as the money itself.”
Measuring Long-Term Success Long-term success will be measured by the ability to refocus away from transactions in favor of becoming a trusted advisor. Banks that invest in gaining a deeper understanding of their customers’ financial lifestyle through rich data analytics can begin providing personalized, contextual advice to their customers—a valuable service customers will pay for.
Banks don’t have to embark on this journey alone. Institutions should look to technology partners equipped to allow them to think bigger by offering a customizable solution.
The bank of the future looks very similar to the bank of today—focused on core values of trust and convenience.
Open banking is the most prominent response to the strong push from technology, competition, regulation and customer expectations. This begs the questions, why should a private bank’s open banking strategy be individual? What impact does it have on the IT architecture? How does it improve customer service?
The new “ex-custody 2.0” model provides the answers.
Regulation, competition from digital giants, changing client expectations, the rise of open API technology and next generation scalable infrastructure are the forces unbundling the financial industry’s business model. Open banking, or the shift from a monolithic to a distributed business model, is one strategy for banks to harness these forces and generate value.
Four strategies for private banks While banks have traditionally played the role of an integrator, offering products to clients through their own channels and IT infrastructure, open banking provides them with more possibilities.
These include being a producer, or offering products through an application programming interface (API) as white-label to other institutions; a distributor that combines innovative products from third-party providers on their platform; or a platform provider that brings third-party products and third-party clients together.
Private banks may adopt a mix of these roles.
Two Areas of Products The products generated through open banking can be separated into two areas. The first area includes the API data from regulatory requirements such as PSD2 in Europe. These products are dependent on payment account information as well as payment executions over the mandated APIs.
The second area of products is part of the open banking movement and use of APIs in general. The scope of potential products is much wider as they depend on more than just payment account data or payment execution. Many trend products like crowdfunding, event-driven insurance, financial data economy or comparison services are shaped by the open banking movement.
In practice, many products depend on regulatory APIs, but also on data from other sources. This has been developed into a multi-banking product dubbed “ex-custody 2.0.”
Multi-banking – The ex-custody 2.0 model shows how a client’s wealth can look if his bank can aggregate account information and other data. Technology like the automated processing of client statements or enhanced screen scraping allows, upon client consent, to gather and aggregate investment or lending data as well. The client’s full wealth can then be displayed in one place. From the bank’s perspective, what better place can there be than its own online portal? Terms like multi-banking, account aggregation and holistic wealth management have been coined by the market. We want to add another term to those existing ones:
“Ex-custody 2.0.” Ex-custody is not a new term in the industry. It refers to positions of an accounting area not banked by the bank itself, but where the bank takes over administrative custody and reporting tasks for the principal bank. Ex-custody 2.0 for multi-banking is the next step, where the principal bank does not need to compensate the custodian bank for any services. In the case of screen-scraping, it does not necessarily know the other bank.
Contrary to other multi-banking or account aggregation implementations, the ex-custody 2.0 model is not a standalone application or dashboard, but fully integrated into the bank’s core technology and online banking system. Data is sourced from fintech aggregators through APIs and batch files.
Positions are then booked in a separate accounting area before being fed to the online banking system. This allows the bank to offer innovative products to the customer that rely on integration with both a booking and an online system.
New products include:
Multi-banking: the service to manage one’s wealth on one portal
Automated advice suitability based on all connected positions on the platform
Dynamic Lombard lending based on bank and external investments
Cross-selling via direct saving suggestions
Risk profiling and portfolio monitoring across institutions and borders
Balance sweeping across the family wealth or managed trusts and businesses
What-if and scenario simulation through big data modules on the platform.
Conclusion Open banking will change the business model of private banks. It is a great opportunity, but also a great threat to existing business. The opportunities consist mainly of new scalability options for products, new integration possibilities for third-party products and the creation of new products using the data from open banking.
The main threat is the loss of the direct relationship between banks and clients. However, there is no mix of the four strategies that fits every bank’s business model. It is vital for a private bank to define a position according to the four strategies discussed here and to do so in an individual, conscious manner.
In January 2018, the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) takes effect in the European Union, requiring banks there to open their payment infrastructure and data to third parties. The consumer-focused initiative is intended to give individuals control over their financial data while simplifying the payments ecosystem. Belgium, Germany and Italy have had a common protocol for providing third-party access to account information since the 1990s, and Australia is considering measures similar to the EU’s PSD2 initiative, according to a report from McKinsey & Co. With so much momentum behind the concept of open banking, should the United States explore a similar uniform data sharing policy?
Currently, the U.S. sees data sharing between banks and third parties take place through a patchwork of one-off deals. Often, agreements are struck between a financial institution and an intermediary that aggregates data from several institutions and provides that information to third parties, such as personal financial management apps, lending platforms or other consumer-facing service providers. These types of agreements do little to further a holistic national agenda of financial innovation and inclusion.
Many stakeholders—banks and technology companies alike—believe that these one-off data sharing agreements are not enough. For banks, current methods used by technology companies to gather data from their systems can result in security breaches, and carry the potential for brand or reputational risks. These issues illustrate the need for a uniform protocol that addresses both the technical aspects of connecting with third parties and the liability issues that can arise in cases of consumer financial loss.
What’s more, while the demands of secure API implementation are huge expenditures for a financial institution, the shift to open banking can also lead to new opportunities. (An application program interface, or API, controls interactions between software and systems.) As an example, PSD2 requires that banks provide access to data, but it does not prohibit an institution from monetizing its data in ways that go beyond the statute. Banks can capitalize on this mandate by providing more detailed data than is required by PSD2, or by providing insights to accompany the raw data for a fee. In addition, the development of API expertise will move institutions closer to offering many different financial services through a digital platform. Leveraging APIs can allow institutions to efficiently provide advice and services that customers demand today. (For more on this, read “The API Effect” in the May 2017 issue of Bank Director digital magazine.)
For technology companies that require access to bank data to operate, open APIs offer more reliable, accessible data. Without a direct line to bank data, technology companies must often resort to “screen scraping” to gather needed information. This technique requires a bank customer to provide log-in credentials to the third party. Those credentials are then used to collect account information. This method is much less secure for banks than controlling an API interface would be, and it’s a lot less smooth for bank customers that want to provide the technology company with access to their data.
Also, the process of entering into data-sharing agreements with multiple financial institutions is a daunting task for even the most sophisticated technology companies. Connectivity requirements vary from bank to bank, as do security protocols. Add to that a significant price tag for each deal, and the task of building a customer’s financial profile across multiple institutions is a significant barrier to entry that prevents the delivery of innovative financial services to consumers.
While the U.S. has been slow to act on open banking initiatives, there have been some signs of life. In October of 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released its principles on data sharing and aggregation and confirmed its view that individuals, not the companies they work with, own their financial data. While this is only guidance coming from an embattled regulator, it hints at American interest in the open banking movement.
“Innovation, enhanced security and the drive for greater competition are the golden triptychs at the heart of PSD2,” wrote Alisdair Faulkner of the digital identity company ThreatMetrix, based in San Jose, California, in August 2017. Those would seem to be values that every government should strive to uphold, and with benefits for both incumbents and new technologies, perhaps exploration of a PSD2-like initiative can take hold in the U.S.