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Banking

NO SAFE HARBOUR FOR DIGITAL BANKING

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by Konstantin Bodragin, Business Analyst and Digital Marketing Officer at Bruc Bond

 

At the beginning of 2020, the future of digital banking was pretty clear. Between Open Banking initiatives, regulatory frameworks like the PSD2, and growing customer demand for more advanced digital services, bank-watchers the world over felt confident in their predictions. The course was set for full digitisation, likely brought about by victorious challenger banks replacing stuffy and lumbering traditional banks. Then the winds changed and ongoing disasters shook the world’s seemingly endless confidence in fintech and the bright future it promised to the core.

COVID-19 dropped on us like a sudden thunderstorm on a birthday party. Sure, experts, analysts, prognosticators (and perhaps even meteorologists) all warned of an inevitable pandemic event. But the rest of us, including most leaders and financial giants, were taken almost entirely by surprise. A majority of us managed to get drenched, even though the forecast predicted stormy weathers. Now, leaders and investors are scrambling to reach high ground and keep whatever they can from being swept away in the torrential floods.

Konstantin Bodragin

In practice this means redirecting funds from aspirational projects towards more immediate goals, and shedding as much unnecessary weight as possible, in case the water rises higher. In the year of COVID, who gets what is not so much a question of wants, but of pure necessity. Unless you’re a government with bottomless pockets, superb credit rating, and a deep desire to stave off a Great Depression-style downturn by means of public works, chances are you too are cutting costs. Big Business is doing the same. Autonomous car projects will be put on hold (if they haven’t been frozen yet), status symbol product launches will be postponed until customers feel confident to spend their extra cash again, and ambitious digitisation projects will be slowed unless their worth can be demonstrated even for the current times.

As they say, when it rains it pours, and this year is particularly wet for fintech. Even if Hurricane Covid hadn’t battered the shores of the global economy quite to so hard, the void left by the sinking of the titanic WireCard would suck much of the industry down beneath the water with it. Just last month, WireCard served as the main provider of banking infrastructure for much of Europe’s Non-Bank Financial Institution industry. NBFIs, tautologically, are not banks. As a rule, until they grow large enough to acquire a bank or banking licence of their own, NBFIs rely on financial and banking facilities provided by another. This is by design, with frameworks like PSD2 regulating access and relationships between various institutions.

Such relationships, under the watchful eyes of local and international regulators, are meant to best serve the interests of customers and consumers. And for the most part they do. Failing or unscrupulous institutions get sidestepped and the system heals around them. Unless, of course, the problem actor is too large. WireCard is one such giant dud, and the sinking of this fintech suppliers will have repercussions that will be hard to mitigate.

WireCard served so many financial institutions that many millions of customers have been affected. Many of these institutions will not be able to survive, and one can only hope that end consumers will be protected from the fallout. On the business end, such hopes for salvation could be too optimistic. Many companies don’t have the resources to withstand several weeks or months of inactivity while they work to replace their financial infrastructure, especially not with extremely depleted budgets due to the ravages of COVID-19.

Those institutions that do survive will face a new reality of confused and likely higher costs, which will almost necessarily have to be passed on to consumers. The more savvy of WireCard’s survivors will try to shore up their defences against the recurrence of such a disaster by spreading the risk and their activity between several providers. This will hopefully lead to a normalisation of costs and a reduction in fees, but by then consumers could once again be too wary to take the risk with digital services whose fees could seemingly spike at any moment.

Loss of confidence won’t be limited to the consumer side, either. Regulators, wary of being made the fool again, are likely to treat fintech and the NBFI sector with much harsher gloves than it did so far. Increased scrutiny, stricter regulatory requirements, and a general lack of cooperation from regulators could sink any hopes of quick recovery for the battered industry. Not to mention the increased costs from such requirements, that are, again, liable to be passed down to the consumers.

Regulators and authorities are not the only power brokers digital banking suppliers will have to contend with. Partners in the banking industry were already eyeing fintechs with suspicion, not least thanks to the egregious claims of the latter to replace the former. Little wonder then, now that the seemingly unbeatable leviathan of WireCard has sunk to the bottom of the deep, that banks will loath to lend a helping hand to NBFIs struggling to find replacement providers.

So what will happen? In this climate, with demands for justice at their peak, some funds will surely be diverted from risky digitisation projects to PR-friendly investment in diversity. Behind the scenes, certain players will carry on their digitisation projects, but their approach is bound to change. The three Ss – slow, steady, stable – are likely to reign supreme, at least until Hurricane Covid passes, and the economic seas are calm once again.

 

Banking

TO ENABLE BETTER LENDING FOR PEOPLE AND BUSINESSES, WE HAVE TO LOOK TO OPEN BANKING

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By Iain McDougall, CCO of Yapily

 

A recent FCA study found over 14 million people were grappling with financial issues at the end of 2020, representing more than a quarter of the UK adult population. The picture is similarly tough for SMEs, too, which have been impacted hugely by lockdowns, loss of earnings and more; it’s estimated the pandemic will cost SMEs an extra £173,000 in debt per year.

This is resulting in a lack of lending options for both consumers and businesses, as well as expensive or high interest loans, or worse, rejection from lenders all together. This in turn is driving unaffordable lending, and penning consumers and businesses in an ongoing and irresolvable debt cycle – at a time when they need the most support.

One of the biggest causes of this lies in lenders relying on credit scores and credit bureau data to inform their decisions, which simply aren’t accurate enough to truly get the full picture of a borrower’s financial situation.

The case for using Open Banking data in lending decisions has never been stronger.

Data accessed through Open Banking permits lenders to retrieve accurate information about the borrower’s financial history. This can provide more accurate assessments, and therefore enable fairer lending decisions.

 

Credit scores aren’t helping consumers

Take NHS workers as an example. Despite working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, NHS workers make up a sizable portion of the UK adult population currently struggling with debt.

Iain McDougall

An independent report from the University of Edinburgh Business School, in partnership with Salad Projects, found NHS workers are heavily reliant on long-term overdrafts and high-cost credit, where APR is as high as 1,333%. Almost all (93%) respondents said they use one or more types of credit or loan, compared with 75% in the wider UK population (according to the Financial Lives Survey). More than half (58%) use up to three loan providers and 68% use up to four loan providers.

This situation is the result of relying solely on credit scores. While these are the near-universally accepted method of determining credit terms, each credit reference agency has a different method for calculating a credit score. They rely solely on financial history, whether they’ve previously defaulted, or failed to get credit, and not a consumer’s actual financial position, whether they’ve recently got a pay rise or new income, to see how likely it is they will pay back any money borrowed. This can mean, no matter if a consumer’s financial position has changed, they can’t get a better loan because of a previous discrepancy.

 

The challenges facing SMEs

These issues are not just limited to consumers. SMEs, particularly those in the hardest hit industries like hospitality and travel, have struggled to access credit throughout the pandemic.

While many may have been thriving pre-pandemic, their lack of ability to turn a profit during lockdowns, meant they needed extra support. In an effort to keep these industries alive, we saw numerous government backed loan schemes launched, such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, to help struggling businesses survive. In total, these schemes have provided almost £180 billion worth of lending to date, supporting over a quarter of businesses in the UK.

However, the soaring demand from businesses in need of these vital funds meant lenders were unable to keep up and many businesses did not receive support quickly enough. What’s more, providers may register these types of loans with credit reference agencies, which means companies that previously had strong credit ratings may see their credit scores negatively affected by any delayed or missed repayments.

This is why it’s vital for lenders to get lending limits right the first time round, so SMEs can avoid potentially adding to their already growing list of debt and thrive in a post-pandemic world.

 

Enhancing lending with Open Banking 

Using Open Banking can add a much-needed layer of trust and loan personalisation for businesses and individuals. By basing credit decisioning on real-time financial data, lenders will be able to create a more accurate picture of their financial situation; and so make fairer credit offers.

Through adopting Open Banking principles, lenders will be able to onboard new customers and grant loans more efficiently, providing businesses with the cashflow required to maintain their workforce and support the economy.

With the borrowers’ consent, it will also give lenders oversight into how the economy is recovering, and enable them to monitor the rate at which the individual or business can expect the loan to be repaid. Meaning they can step in and provide extra support if and when required.

Open Banking provides what credit scores alone simply cannot – real-time insight into an individual’s or a businesses financial position right now, not three to six months ago. By leveraging the data that is readily available to them, lenders could achieve far better and more responsible outcomes. This will reduce the risk of loan default – for both businesses and individuals – and lead to more responsible lending decisions that can help people and businesses bounce back after what has been a difficult year.

 

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Banking

BRAND CONFIDENCE: HOW HAS OPEN BANKING EVOLVED AND DO CUSTOMERS TRUST IT?

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By Geoff Boudin, Director at Revive Management

 

The open banking industry is growing by 24% year-on-year, and is expected to be worth more than £31 billion by 2026. The implementation of the 2018 Payment Services Directive known as PSD2, was intended to boost competition in the name of open banking. The directive, which set out to make payments more secure, by requiring banks to share the data of customers who authorise it with third parties. This allows customers to share their financial information with authorised service providers such as budgeting apps and other third-party money management tools. It was initially called for by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to level the financial playing field and empower consumers by giving them more ownership over their financial data.  So, two years on, what impact is open banking having on consumers? Do they trust it? If so, how can brands build on this trust to offer more a more personalised yet non-intrusive experience that delivers the data to further improve their service offering.

 

What difference has open banking made?

Prior to PSD2, which came into force on 13 January 2018, banks had full authority and jurisdiction over their customers’ financial data. The idea of a bank giving up some of that data to a third party for the benefit of their customers was unheard of. This closed ecosystem, however, runs against the drive towards digital openness, connectivity and convenience. Our digital worlds were opening up and data was becoming democratised, and banks were being left behind. Challenger banks such as Monzo and Atom, which embraced innovative new apps and features, had been making headway for years, and there was a sense that third-party customer-focused innovation was rumbling away under the surface. However, that innovation was stifled until PSD2 laid a path for it, requiring banks to open up access to customers’ data at their behest.

It’s thanks to PS2D and open banking that customers are now able to connect their bank account to a third-party app that can help them better manage their money or sign up to a platform that allows them to access all of their accounts and credit facilities in one place. This allows customers to control their finances as never before.

 

Driving innovation

Empowering and improving the customer experience is one great achievement of open banking. Another is the innovation it has prompted across the entire financial sector. Even traditional banks like HSBC prepared for PSD2 by rolling out its own ‘Connected Money’ app, which allowed its customers to view data from all of their bank accounts – as well as mortgages, loans and credit cards – all in one place. This value-add to the customer experience probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day if not for the competition spurred by PSD2 and open banking. Many other banks and financial services providers have followed suit, offering new customer-centric features based around convenience, visibility and control.

Open banking is a huge step forward in the financial world. So why do some still liken it to a sleeping giant? What’s holding it back?

 

Managing trust and data security

More than 2.5 million consumers in the UK are now happy to connect their accounts to trusted third parties in exchange for some value-added benefit. That’s up from 1.5 million in 2020, no doubt driven by the competitive innovation brought about by PS2D. However, open banking adoption across the rest of Europe seems to have been much slower, and even growth here in the UK is beginning to plateau. While some might blame this on Brexit-induced regulatory changes, such as UK firms no longer being able to use the EU’s certification standards to share customer data after June 2021, there is much more at play.

A Europe-wide survey by thinktank ING polled 13 countries – including the UK – and found that only around 30% of consumers were happy for companies to share their data even after they had given consent. What’s more, only 35% of those polled had even heard of open banking capabilities. This points to issues surrounding data security, trust and awareness – all hurdles that can be overcome by banks, financial services providers and fintech innovators.

To make the most of open banking, banks will have to innovate and forge fintech partnerships with companies using their data sets. That will enable them to enhance existing products and leverage new fintech products being created with their data which will, in turn, benefit their customers.

This process of innovation has already largely begun, but if brands are to take full advantage of all that open banking has to offer, they still need to bridge the trust gap with consumers. We see consumer education, especially in the field of security, as having a key role to play in building confidence and consequently optimising uptake of open banking.

 

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