Open banking – Keep calm and saddle up for a five year run

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A year on – and that’s a big milestone for many. But in the legacy banking world, nothing gets done in a year. And it’s not surprising that open banking has been more of an introvert than we expected. Eventful or not, open banking is one of the best things that could have happened to consumers, and will eventually turn out to be a case study for other global economies to learn from.

Open banking is not just a movement to get banks to relinquish their ownership of consumer data. It is more of a data revolution to identify consumer behaviour and use data analytics to provide personalised services – not just banking services.

There are multiple stakeholders involved in the process of making the most of this data revolution. Getting a consolidated view of a customer’s financial products is perhaps a low hanging fruit.

For a consumer focused data driven use case, that is more integrated into their lifestyle, more work needs to be done on open banking data.

  • Downstream apps need to build their interfaces with banks that have opened up their APIs.
  • That will be followed by proprietary intelligence that these downstream apps will add.
  • Proprietary intelligence using machine learning, predictive analytics etc., need critical mass of data – which only builds over time. For this these firms will also need to onboard customers.
  • Customer onboarding is easily said than done – comes with serious cost of acquisition for a small firm – that happens when they have backing such initiatives from Venture capital.

Every step above takes time. It would be a few years before a real data driven use case can reach the customer and for us to start seeing some success stories. But where are banks largely, and where are the startups in the journey?

A year ago the Competitions and Market Authority (CMA) set the pace for a bunch of banks (9 of them) to open up customer data through APIs. And 12 months on, there is more noise about a lack of noise in this space. I don’t believe there is any action missing, and this is why.

Banks had to open up customer transaction data through APIs – but CMA only came up with this idea in 2016. For banks to get it, plan it, and execute the APIs within even 24 months was always an aggressive timeline. HSBC’s Connected Money app was perhaps an exception to the usual pace of banks. Barclays seems to have a similar capability as well.

However, the integration that legacy Banks have provided to downstream systems are not the most intuitive. APIs exposed by banks use apps like Yodlee (who create the plumbing for the data) who then integrate to downstream customer facing apps like Money Dashboard for example.

One quick look at the apps show that the the experience offered by legacy banks to integrate into a customer facing app are so outdated. Especially for a customer segment that are used to a frictionless Monzo like experience. That is an area where banks can definitely do better. However, most Millennials and Generation Z customers directly bank with neo-banks, so this will be less of an issue with that customer segment.

Startups are still building the intelligence to make the most of the data revolution. However, most firms that I know of that are looking to provide PFM services, lending (underwriting, brokering or credit scoring), SME loyalty, or simply cleverer product switching, are all focused on growing their customer base in search of more data volumes.

Most of the clever applications need machine learning algorithms to feed on a lot of high quality customer data. That is when their results get accurate as the machine learns from continuous feedback. Releasing half trained machine learning apps to consumers can actually result in poor customer experience and churn.

Most firms I speak to, are focused on identifying product market fit for their data driven use case this year.

Customer acquisition has to be cleverly managed to ensure there is growth in data volumes, but also the predictive analytics is accurate enough to cut down churn. Its a hard game to play.

In a recent interview Tom Blomfield, CEO of Monzo mentioned that he wasn’t afraid of legacy banks or even the Neo-banks. But he was wary of new open banking powered apps just bringing clever capabilities and acquiring customers to dwarf the likes of Monzo. Open banking will be a slow burner, it would have failed if we didn’t see some success stories in the next 5 years.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

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