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UK moving from 'open banking' to 'open finance'

Businesses and consumers can expect to gain greater control over how their financial data is used, meaning they will be able to access innovative new services as the UK moves to a system of 'open finance', an expert has said.14 Jan 2019

Luke Scanlon of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, who specialises in fintech law, made the prediction after the first anniversary of the introduction of the UK's 'open banking' regime passed on Sunday.

The open banking regime allows third parties to link into the systems of banks to access payments data and provide their own services to businesses and consumers using that information. Third party access is only enabled if strict conditions are met, including where customers have given their consent to the data sharing and if standards on cybersecurity are adhered to.

Nine major banks have been obliged to facilitate open banking in the UK, and an Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE) has been tasked with developing technical standards that enable third party access via open 'application programming interfaces' (APIs).

While the open banking regime officially took effect on 13 January 2018, some banks were given extensions to implement the new framework, while third parties have also faced delays in developing software to access the data and in delivering new services.

According to the OBIE, there are 100 regulated providers of open banking service in the UK, including 67 third party providers and 33 account providers. As of 8 January this year, 17 third parties are live with customers.

Scanlon said the first anniversary is a good time to reflect both on how far industry has come in delivering open banking as well as how far there is to go before there is widespread adoption. A survey of 2,000 consumers by design and technology company Splendid Unlimited found just one in four people in the UK have heard of open banking and just one in five of those people understand what open banking means or entails, according to a Financial Times report.

"While 13 January has some symbolism it really should not be used as a measure of success of open banking as it is just one of a number of significant dates," Scanlon said. "This year will be a significant year as progress is made in understanding when strong customer authentication rules apply, when they will not and how those rules can be effectively implemented."

"The UK is already looking beyond payments data with a future of ‘open finance’ in mind, in the first instance enabled by open access to pensions data. Dispute resolution, however, remains a key issue that needs to be resolved in a consistent way, as does international standardisation," he said.

The open banking reforms were prompted by an order made by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after it identified competition concerns in the retail business and consumer current account markets. The open banking initiative in the UK was subsequently broadened in scope to apply to the same types of payment accounts that the EU's second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) applies to.

Trustee of the OBIE, Imran Gulamhuseinwala, said banks' attitude towards open banking has evolved.

"Banks have very firmly moved from viewing open banking as a compliance exercise to an opportunity to compete and innovate," Gulamhuseinwala said. "They have worked hard to implement the [open banking] standards despite many challenges and an ambitious timescale. Yet already we have seen some impressive early signs of new technologies powered by open banking – even though we are only mid-way through our roadmap with lots more to come."

"It is clear that there are signs of an emerging dynamic, vibrant and developing ecosystem – an ecosystem which is rapidly becoming more sophisticated and expansive in its coverage. But with the line of sight we have into the open banking 'pipeline', this is going to considerably ramp up in 2019… We expect the ecosystem to develop with even greater momentum and pace not least as we see greater conformance with the implementation of the standards as well as greater innovation in the market," he said.

Gulamhuseinwala said the OBIE is focused on delivering "an enhanced user experience" from open banking in 2019.

"What we have today is, for sure, a step in the right direction but it does not yet meet the high standards of conformance and performance we expect," Gulamhuseinwala said. "However, I am confident that 2019 – post March and the implementation of [version three] of our standards – will bring a mobile-enabled and frictionless customer journey."

Bill Roberts, head of open banking at the CMA, said the UK is "the global pioneer in open banking", with Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore among a list of other countries in the process of implementing similar reforms.

"We believe the adoption of open banking technology and processes (specifically, common and open standards for data, security and APIs) has the potential to revolutionise the banking market by allowing new, innovative providers of banking services into the market," Roberts said. "Open banking has already made huge strides over the past 12 months, though it’s still in the initial stages of roll-out."

"We’re delighted that around 200 organisations are now in the process of coming onboard – including some of the major tech companies – and we anticipate this technology will revolutionise how banking operates and people manage their money in the years ahead," he said.

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