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STRANGE NEW WORLD: WHAT NEXT FOR BANKS?

SOFTWARE

Simon Wilson, Director, Payment Solutions, Icon Solutions

 

What’s next for banks in this strange new world we find ourselves in? Forget the forecasts and predictions, we are in unchartered territory and the only honest answer is that no one truly knows exactly what is coming down the line.

But what we do know is that accelerating payments transformation initiatives to be more cost effective, resilient, innovative and flexible in the face of uncertainty is key to delivering for customers and establishing a leadership position.

 

Build foundations to reduce costs and deliver for customers

An immediate and critical priority for banks is to offset the impact of squeezed revenue streams, which are under pressure from all sides.

The threat of second waves and local lockdowns means that transaction volumes will remain volatile in the short-term. As recessions start to bite, cross-selling opportunities will be limited as overall demand for banking products and services reduces. Margin pressure is compounded by historically low interest rates, and record rises in delinquency and defaults increasing exposure to non-performing loans. The global transaction business is likely to come under added pressure as trade corridors become much more local and additional disruption from US-China relations starts to bite.

Yet at the same time, banks must also be prepared to respond to rapidly changing customer requirements and provide them with greater control. Customers will need to be able to manage their money in different ways, instant access to credit and liquidity will continue to be essential, and instant data-driven decisioning absolutely critical to supporting the specific needs of individual customers at any given time.

But expensive and outdated legacy infrastructure is a roadblock to these requirements, making it hard to reduce operating costs and support innovation. Prioritising and accelerating strategic payments transformation initiatives will mitigate long-term revenue constraints and, if executed correctly, reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) by factors. It will also enable the creation of differentiated, personalised, value-added products and services for customers and protecting profitability and positioning for market share capture as growth returns.

 

Simon Wilson

The time is now to overhaul legacy infrastructure

There is little resource, and indeed appetite, for high-risk, expensive long-term migration projects in such uncertain times. This is understandable, though it is uncertainty that should make payments transformation initiatives a priority.

Consider that many banks have struggled to cope with the increased load on digital banking services, which have pushed the resilience and stability of legacy architectures to breaking point. This has crystallised the importance of an ‘antifragile’ approach to risk, with systemic contingencies and buff­ers to meet demand surges. Ensuring operational resilience will be particularly important given that we can expect renewed regulatory focus on the potentially catastrophic impact of outages during crises.

Banks must also contend with the challenges of enabling secure, efficient remote interactions at a previously unimaginable scale. This includes the huge redistribution of workforces, keeping customers safe from fraud, and enabling effective digital service provision through artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Given the sheer scale and immediacy of the challenges, over-engineered and monolithic solutions cannot deliver the flexibility required. The good news, however, is that banks don’t have to look far for a low-risk, low-cost alternative.

Cloud-native, agnostic challenger banks have been able to move quickly and flexibly through these uncertain times in a way that incumbent banks have not. This should provide a best-practice model and roadmap for the industry. Investing in open-source, Cloud-native infrastructure is how banks secure their place in the digital era, enabling them to operate and deliver in more agile, scalable and innovative ways.

 

Embrace purpose in new look economies

Banks must also prepare for radically altered economies and a new position within them. Governments across the world, regardless of political persuasion, have necessarily embraced socialist policies, with banks facilitating the distribution of massive government stimulus, relief and requisition packages directly to corporates and consumers.

With the risks of relying on global trade for essentials exposed, economies will likely become more autarkical. After many years of industrial decline in some countries, we can expect a significant uptick in investment and output to shore up supply chains. Banks, along with governments, will have a critical role in financing and supporting this domestic growth.

Conversely, there are stark questions about commercial viability. ‘Non-essential’ businesses across the hospitality, travel and beauty industries are being hit the hardest, precisely because they are considered ‘non-essential’. Yet, it is a haircut, a stiff drink and a holiday (not necessarily in that order) that many of us most looked forward to while locked down. Relaxed liquidity buffers and capitalisation requirements provide flexibility for banks to deliver economic stimulus until good times return.

In addition, to a large extent some of the lowest-paid and least-appreciated sections of society are now rightly recognised and valued as key workers. And it is often these same workers who can’t afford a mortgage deposit, for who credit is expensive and whose savings are limited. Calls for fairer, more sustainable economies may push banks to promote financial inclusion and provide access to financial products and services on better terms.

It is clear that banks cannot expect to carry on with business-as-usual approaches. Indeed, there is a generational opportunity for banks to re-shape public opinion towards the industry.

 

Leading in a strange new world

The recession we are entering, and the longer-term ‘new world’, will have nuances not seen before. While defaults on loans will unfortunately rise, unusually banks will enter the situation with rising deposits as customer struggle to spend or are simply unwilling to risk normal levels of spending. This provides opportunity for investment and change in approach. We do not know what will come next. But there are clear steps that banks can take to enhance their ability to effectively respond to the unknown. In the face of significant uncertainty, financial institutions accelerating transformation to reduce costs, deliver innovative new customer experiences, and increased agility and resilience can establish leadership positions in a strange new world.

Icon Solutions’ payments experts have compiled insights from their network to deliver key recommendations and considerations. Download the infographic to find out more.

 

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Banking

WHY BANKS NEED TO EMBRACE OPEN SOURCE COMMUNITIES

Nikolai Stankau, Director Business Development, EMEA Financial Services at Red Hat, the world’s largest enterprise open source solutions provider.

 

Banks and financial services have long been benefiting from using open source software, which is code that is developed in a decentralised and collaborative way. Open source software is cost-effective, flexible, is developed rapidly, and tends to have more longevity than its proprietary peers because it is developed by communities rather than a single author or company.  According to Red Hat’s own research, 93% of IT leaders in financial services state that enterprise open source is important to their organisation.

Alongside adopting open source products, which many banks already do, there’s opportunity for these organisations to have a greater influence in the development of industry software, by engaging in ‘upstream’ open source community projects.

 

The advantages of engaging in upstream communities

In open source projects, code is developed as a shared process by a community of thinkers and developers anywhere in the world. Collaborating directly with these communities – what’s known as ‘upstream’ participation – can give banks a major competitive advantage on their journey to innovate. From there, software can either be downloaded at no cost, or consumed via a trusted open source vendor that secures and stabilises the software to make it suitable for an enterprise to use. This is also known as the ‘downstream’.

A company that contributes its developers’ time and resources to an open source community gets rewarded with the output of hundreds of developers working on the same code. This leads to a magnification effect, by virtue of the fact you’re expanding your team many times over while also benefiting from a much more diverse pool of talent. The result is that organisations can be captains of the product development process and work together with the community to design features and functionalities that meet their needs and keep up with customer demands.

An added benefit for banks engaging in these communities is it provides a great access point for sourcing new talent, as well as helping to retain existing talent. Developers are attracted to organisations that engage in upstream development because it allows them to be at the forefront of open source innovation and new community-led initiatives.

It’s common for multiple organisations in the industry to come together and collaborate on a project, which can drive significant benefits for the community as a whole. A good example is Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS), which is a community set up by banks to promote industry collaboration, by delivering software that addresses common industry challenges and drives faster innovation. The concept had its origins in Symphony, a open sourced messaging and collaboration tool that was adapted and improved upon by developers from other banks, ultimately helping the company to become a major business valued at around $1.4bn.

 

Where to join forces versus compete

Although the benefits of engaging in upstream communities are manifold, some organisations have concerns around intellectual property as well as the productivity of developers contributing to open source projects rather than exclusively working on the bank’s own proprietary software. To this latter point – in reality, the development of new solutions and features built inhouse often requires many months, whereas product ideas shared in a community setting can be executed in much shorter time frames. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.

Regarding the essential consideration of IP and competitiveness: a lot of where banks can differentiate is at the application layer; in the services they develop and offer, rather than at the underlying operating system or middleware foundations – these tend to be common and standard, and are what empowers organizations to get to market as fast as possible. Thus the greatest opportunity for banks lies in platforms such as Linux-based Kubernetes, which is now the industry standard for container orchestration and one of the most important technologies used in the financial services industry. Kubernetes attracts many contributors from diverse organisations all over the world.

Some IT leaders also recognise structural roadblocks: transitioning an organisation to new ways of thinking and operating is a process that isn’t achieved overnight. Not all banks have the legal or tech mechanisms in place to be able to share their code externally, and company policies can prevent their employees from engaging in open source communities. In a heavily regulated industry, it takes time for some organisations to create the necessary changes before they can harness the potential of upstream communities.

 

The future is open

As the software ecosystem expands, and in the face of accelerated digital transformation driven by the ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks and financial services have the opportunity to evaluate how they can get involved in open source. There are many ways to do this: they can invest financially in communities, provide technical leadership and resources, or contribute code. With organisations under more pressure than ever to gain a competitive advantage, playing a role in open source communities will help them create better products, speed up time to market and position themselves at the forefront of financial innovation.

 

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Banking

MORE THAN REGULATION – HOW PSD2 WILL BE A KEY DRIVING FORCE FOR AN OPEN BANKING FUTURE

Ralf Ohlhausen, Executive Advisor, at PPRO

 

Whilst initially seen as simply a regulation exercise, the second Payment Service Directive, also known as PSD2, has been a key driving force behind Open Banking, an initiative that presents a hopeful vision for the future of the financial services sector. Thanks to the advancement of technology, the payments industry is currently seeing disruption to legacy banking systems, and a move towards a world of Open Data. With Open Banking, third-party providers (TPPs) can offer customers a wealth of new and automated services beyond their standard bank offerings, such as what products to buy or even advice on who to bank with.

PSD2 has been created to ensure that banks create mechanisms to enable third-party providers (TPPs) to work securely, reliably and rapidly with the bank’s services and data on behalf of and with the consent of their customers. PSD2 requires EU member banks to give authorised, i.e. licensed TPPs, access to customers’ accounts either via Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) or their user interfaces. It also mandates the use of Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), which requires multiple factors of authentication from a customer to initiate electronic payments and grant access to transaction data.

Despite the progress of PSD2, however, there are still challenges to overcome to achieve widespread adoption and to meet Open Banking objectives. So, what are the current roadblocks that European banks and financial services need to overcome to make Open Banking a beneficial reality for all?

 

Ralf Ohlhausen

Delays to API development

A crucial factor standing in the way of the acceleration towards Open Banking has been the delay to API development. These APIs are the technology that TPPs rely on to migrate their services and customer base to remain PSD2 compliant.

One of the contributing factors was that the RTS, which apply to PSD2, left room for too many different interpretations. This ambiguity caused banks to slip behind and delay the creation of their APIs. This delay hindered European TPPs in migrating their services without losing their customer base, particularly outside the UK, where there has been no regulatory extension and where the API framework is the least advanced.

 

A lack of awareness

Levels of awareness of the new regulations and changes to how customers access bank accounts and make online payments are very low among consumers and merchants. This leads to confusion and distrust of the authentication process in advance of the SCA roll-out. Moreover, because the majority of customers don’t know about Open Banking yet, they aren’t aware of the benefits. Without customer awareness and demand it may be very hard for TPPs to generate interest and uptake for their products.

Recently some regulators and banks, such as the Central Bank of Ireland, have made decent efforts to raise awareness of the changes with PSD2 campaigns. But it isn’t reaching the general public. When it does, it’s often because of scaremongering or fear, uncertainty and doubts around data security fuelled by incumbents to protect their business. This also isn’t the right way to approach the issue as it will lead to people being more afraid, rather than aware. Instead, it is the role of payment service providers to educate their customers about Open Banking requests or opportunities, to ensure the public are aware of the changes to payment authentication procedures when SCA comes into play and are empowered to move their data.

TPPs have a real vested interest in getting customers on board with Open Banking. They should build on their customer relationships to grow trust and raise levels of education around the changes. When customers sign up for a new service, TPPs need to tell them explicitly what to expect before they have to do it, plus what explicit consent is required to access their account information in exchange for value-added services.

 

Outweighing the challenges with opportunities

Although the introduction of the PSD2 regulation hasn’t been seamless for the banking and fintech industry, it is set to offer many benefits and advantages for the end-customer, and the financial industry. In fact, the regulation will create an integrated and frictionless European payments system, that will provide the customer with more choice, control and security over their finances than ever before.

One of PSD2’s primary goals is to provide greater protection against fraud for banking customers, who may have previously been open to risk through weak authentication and unregulated data-sharing practices. The new rules insist on enhanced security requirements, including the use of Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) to protect customers while making electronic payments.

Furthermore, TPPs unencumbered by legacy technology have long been able to innovate faster than traditional banks. Now, this regulation will provide regulated and secure access to customer data, allowing them to develop products even more quickly. The new regulation also promotes technology on a European level and encourages fintechs to do what they do best: innovate.

It’s also important to not forget that PSD2 regulation increases market competition allowing customers to choose a wider range of suppliers for their banking and payment services without having to switch their bank for that. The decoupling of banking services from the underlying account infrastructure will make it easier for customers to opt for the banking services that best fit their needs. It also increases the number of financial providers, services and products which customers will be able to choose from.

 

The future of Open Banking

The financial services landscape is becoming a firmly consumer-centric environment. Across the UK and Europe, we’ll continue to see the rollout of technologies that put control in the hands of consumers. Open Banking will be pivotal in its role, opening up new avenues and opportunities for both banks and payment service providers (PSPs).

Thanks to Open Banking, the ability to share data securely in the retail banking sector has led to a sophisticated ecosystem where the customer is in charge of their payments and choice of banking services. Over the next decade, we should expect to see the same level of transformation in our digital services and data sharing, leading to a complete rebalance of services where customers will be able to actively own their data and use it the way they like.

Europe is currently leading the Open Banking race, so the successful implementation of PSD2 and SCA is extremely important to maintain the lead and build a future with Open Finance and Open Data as well.

 

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