May 19, 2022 | Updated: June 6, 2022
Open banking is on the minds of many in the fintech industry, leading to basic questions such as: What does it mean for the future? What should we do today to better serve customers who expect native open banking services? How can we align with open banking standards while they’re still evolving?
In a recent panel discussion, I spoke with experts in the fintech space: Kieran Hines, senior banking analyst at Celent; Toine Van Beusekom, strategy director at Icon Solutions; and Charith Mendis, industry lead for banking at AWS. We discussed open banking standards, what the push to open banking means for innovation, and more. This article provides an overview of that discussion and offers best practices for getting started with open banking.
Watch the panel discussion Open Banking: Future-Proof Your Bank in a World of Changing Data and API Standards to learn how you can future-proof your open banking strategy.
To start, let’s answer the fundamental question: What is open banking? The central tenet of open banking is that banks should make it easy for consumers to share their financial data with third-party service providers and allow those third parties to initiate transactions on their behalf — adding value along the way. But, as many have realized, facilitating open banking is not so easy.
At the heart of the open banking revolution is data — specifically, the infrastructure of databases, data standards, and open APIs that make the free flow of data between banks, third-party service providers, and consumers possible.
What does this practice mean for the banking industry? In the past, banks almost exclusively built their own products, which has always been a huge drain on teams, budgets, and infrastructure. With open banking, financial services institutions are now partnering with third-party vendors to distribute products, and many regulations have already emerged to dictate how data is shared.
Because open banking is uncharted territory, it presents an array of both challenges — mostly regulatory — and opportunities for both established banks and disruptors to the space. Let’s dig into the challenges first.
As open banking, and the technology practices that go along with it, evolve, related compliance standards are emerging and evolving as well. If you search for “open banking API,” you’ll find that nearly every vendor has their own take on open banking and that they are all incompatible to boot. As with any developing standard, open banking standards are not set in stone and will continue to evolve as the space grows. The fast-changing environment will hinder those banks that do not have a flexible data architecture that allows them to quickly adapt to provider standards as needed. An inflexible data architecture becomes an immediate roadblock with unforeseen consequences.
Closely tied to the challenge of maintaining compliance with emerging regulations is the challenge that comes with legacy architecture. Established banks deliver genuine value to customers through time-proven, well-worn processes. In many ways, however, legacy operations and the technology that underpins them are doomed to stand in the way not only of open banking but also operational efficiency goals and the ability to meet the customer experience expectations of a digital-native consumer base. To avoid the slow down of clunky legacy systems, banks need an agile approach to ensure the flexibility to pivot to developing challenges.
The biggest opportunity for institutions transitioning into open banking is the potential for rapid innovation. Banking IP is headed in new and unprecedented directions. Pushing data to the cloud, untangling spaghetti architecture, or decentralizing your data by building a data mesh frees up your development teams to innovate, tap into new revenue streams, and achieve the ultimate goal: Providing greater value to your customers.
As capital becomes scarce in banks, the ability to repeatedly invest in new pilots is limited. Instead of investing months or years worth of capital into an experiment, building new features from scratch, or going to the board to secure funding, banks need to succeed immediately, be able to scale from prototype to global operation within weeks, or fail fast with new technology. Without the limiting factors of legacy software or low levels of capital, experimentation powered by new data solutions is now both free and low risk.
Now that we’ve described the potential that open banking presents for established and emerging industry leaders, let’s look at some open banking best practices, as described in the panel discussion.
Start with your strategy. What’s your open banking strategy in the context of your business strategy? Ask hard questions like: Why do you want to transform? What’s wrong with what’s going on now? How can you fix current operations to better facilitate open banking? What new solutions do you need to make this possible? An entire shift for a business to open banking means an entirely new business strategy, and you need to determine what that strategy entails before you implement sweeping changes.
View standards as accelerators, not inhibitors. Standards can seem like a burden on financial institutions, and in most cases, they do dictate change that can be resource intensive. But you can also view changing regulations as the catalyst needed to modernize. While evolving regulations may be the impetus for change, they can also open up new opportunities once you’re aligned with industry standards.
Simplify and unify your data. Right now, your data likely lives all over the place, especially if you’re an established bank. Legacy architectures and disparate solutions slow down and complicate the flow of data, which in turn inhibits your adoption of open banking standards. Consider how you can simplify your data by reducing the number of places it lives. Migrating to a MongoDB makes it faster and easier to move data from your financial institution to third parties and back again.
Always consider scale. When it comes to open banking, your ability to scale up and scale down is crucial — and is also tied to your ability to experiment, which is also critical. Consider the example of “buy now pay later” service offerings to your clients. On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, financial institutions will do exponentially more business than, say, a regular Tuesday in April. So, to meet consumer demand, your payments architecture needs to be able to scale up to meet the influx of demand on a single, exceptional day and scale back down on a normal day to minimize costs. Without the ability to scale, you may struggle to meet the expectations of customers.
Strive for real time. Today, everyone — from customers to business owners to developers — expect the benefits of real-time data. Customers want to see their exact account balance when they want to see it, which is already challenging enough. If you add the new layer of open banking to the mix, with data constantly flowing from banks to third parties and back, delivering data in real-time to customers is more complex than ever. That said, with the right data platform underpinning operations, the flow of data between systems can be simplified and made even easier when your data is unified on a single platform.
If you can unlock the potential of open banking, you can innovate, tap into new revenue streams, shake off the burden of legacy architecture, and ultimately, achieve a level of differentiation likely to bring in new customers.
Watch the panel discussion to learn more about open banking and what it means for the future of banks.