Caroline Hermon, Head of Adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at SAS UK & Ireland
Banks see open source as a hotbed of innovation – and a governance nightmare. Do the rewards outweigh the risks? Open source software used to be treated almost as a joke in the financial services sector. If you wanted to build a new system, you bought tried and tested, enterprise-grade software from a large, reputable vendor. You didn’t gamble with your customers’ trust by adopting tools written by small groups of independent programmers. Especially with no formal support contracts and no guarantees that they would continue to be maintained in the future.
Fast-forward to today, and the received wisdom seems to have turned on its head. Why invest in expensive proprietary software when you can use an open source equivalent for free? Why wait months for the official release of a new feature when you can edit the source code and add it yourself? And why lock yourself into a vendor relationship when you can create your own version of the tool and control your own destiny?
Enthusiasm for open source software is especially prevalent in business domains where innovation is the top priority. Data science is probably the most notable example. In recent years, open source languages such as R and Python have built an increasingly dominant position in the spheres of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
As a result, open source is now firmly on the agenda for decision makers at the world’s leading financial institutions. The thinking is that to drive digital transformation, their businesses need real-time insight. To gain that insight, they need AI. And to deliver AI, they need to be able to harness open source tools.
The open source trend encompasses more than just the IT department. It’s spreading to the front office too. Notably, Barclays recently revealed that it is pushing all its equities traders to learn Python. At SAS, we’ve seen numerous examples of similar initiatives across banking domains from risk management to customer intelligence. For example, we’re seeing many of our clients building their models in R rather than using traditional proprietary languages.
A fool’s paradise?
However, despite its current popularity, the open source software model is not a panacea. Banks should still have legitimate concerns about support, governance and traceability.
The code of an open source project may be available for anyone to review. But tracing the complex web of dependencies between packages can quickly become extremely complex. This poses significant risks for any financial institution that wants to build on open source software.
Essentially, if you build a credit risk model or a customer analytics application that depends on an open source package, your systems also depend on all the dependencies of that package. Each of those dependencies may be maintained by a different individual or group of developers. If they make changes to their package, and those changes introduce a bug, or break compatibility with a package further up the dependency tree, or include malicious code, there could be an impact on the functionality or integrity of your model or application.
As a result, when a bank opts for an open source approach, it either needs to put trust in a lot of people or spend a lot of time reviewing, testing and auditing changes in each package before it puts any new code into production. This can be a very significant trade-off compared to the safety of a well-tested enterprise solution from a trusted vendor. Especially because banking is a highly regulated industry, and the penalties for running insecure or noncompliant systems in production are significant.
What use is power without control?
When it comes to enterprise-scale deployment, open source analytics software also often poses governance problems of a different kind for banks.
Open source projects are typically tightly focused on solving a specific set of problems. Each project is a powerful tool designed for a specific purpose: manipulating and refining large data sets, visualising data, designing machine learning models, running distributed calculations on a cluster of servers, and so on.
This “do one thing well” philosophy aids rapid development and innovation. But it also puts the responsibility on the end user – in this case, the bank – to integrate different tools into a controlled, secure and transparent workflow.
As a result, unless banks are prepared to invest in building a robust end-to-end data science platform from the ground up, they can easily end up with a tangled string of cobbled-together tools, with manual processes filling the gaps.
This quickly becomes a nightmare when banks try to move models into production because it is almost impossible to provide the levels of traceability and auditability that regulators expect.
Language doesn’t matter
The good news is that there’s a way for banks to benefit from the key advantages of open source analytics software – its flexibility and rapid innovation – without exposing themselves to unnecessary governance-related risks.
The language a bank’s data scientists choose to write their code in shouldn’t matter. By making a clean logical separation between model design and production deployment, banks can exploit all the benefits of the latest AI tools and frameworks. At the same time, they can keep their business-critical systems under tight control.
SAS plus open source
One SAS client, a large financial services provider in the UK, recently took this exact approach. The client uses open source languages to develop machine learning models for more accurate pricing. Then it uses the SAS Platform to train and deploy models into full-scale production. As a result, model training times dropped from over an hour to just two and a half minutes. And the company now has a complete audit trail for model deployment and governance. Crucially, the ability to innovate by moving from traditional regression models to a more accurate machine learning-based approach is estimated to deliver up to £16 million in financial benefits over the next three years.
HOW IDENTITY IS SECURELY UNLOCKING THE SME BANKING MARKET
By Mike Kiser, senior identity strategist at SailPoint
Have an identification card in your wallet? With a selfie and a few short minutes, you could have access to a business bank account.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have long been the fuel that drives the global economy, representing around 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. Over the last few years, a range of financial services and platforms have arisen over the last few years to support the banking needs of these organisations. They are often digital natives and are innovating to meet the needs of their clientele.
This innovation provides great ease-of-use and rapid access to credit but also demands a careful consideration of their assumed security approach. The aforementioned scanning of an identity and a quick photo to establish a bank account demonstrates the rising importance of identity in both the consumer and enterprise arenas.
The blurring of the lines between personal and corporate identities (in this case, an individual acting on behalf of a small business) is still in its infancy. Combined with the ubiquity of mobile devices, individuals will tire of maintaining different accounts, different personas, different lives for each activity. Usability will demand that identity be reusable, portable, and secure.
This has massive implications for enterprises and the financial institutions that serve them if they seek to prevent cyber-attacks; thankfully, the same element that presents the security challenge also offers the solution: identity.
A New Vantagepoint
Just as individuals desire a single identity to unify their interaction with disparate parts of the world, organisations can use identity to grant them a single, holistic view of an individual (attributes, access, and behaviour) rather than seeing only a fragment at a time. This is particularly important for these new financial institutions—much of their technology stack is cloud-based, which often leads to splintered security approaches. An identity-based approach must be cloud-aware, and able to distil these complex environments into simple and easily governed infrastructure.
This collectivisation also allows security to use identities in the aggregate: to see what groups of similar individuals exist, what access these groups have, and what their usage of this access typically is. All of this contributes to the establishment of what normal is, whether it’s attributes, access, or behaviour. Once the “normal” is established, then the outliers—the potential threats—may be quickly triaged.
Adaptability: The New Imperative
The recent wave of change has demonstrated that financial institutions and organisations must be ready to adapt quickly to shifts in the environment. Portions of IT staff and services have been furloughed, and adjustments to new realities are essential. An identity approach that learns from the evolution of changes in the previously established areas of normality can grant enterprises the ability to see what is coming next and invest appropriately. Much like a view from an elevated position grants the ability to see beyond the normal horizon, basing a security strategy on identity makes it inherently adaptable.
Identity: Innovation and Security Intertwined
Identity, then, is a foundational consideration for financial institutions seeking to provide services for the perennially important small and medium enterprise sector. By eradicating barriers to entry that have historically kept financial organisations and enterprises apart, it is driving rapid adoption and a growing market for innovative banking. At the same time, it shows the path forward to securing those new services in a pre-emptive, adaptable way.
Now if you’ll pardon me, I must go open a bank account for my next start-up—from my mobile.
OPEN BANKING: ARE CONSUMERS KEEPING AN OPEN MIND?
Last September, the European Union’s regulatory requirement for banks to open up their payment accounts via application programming interfaces (APIs) came into effect. Since then, open banking has taken centre stage within European retail banking and payments. In this blog, Elina Mattila, Executive Director at Mobey Forum, shares insight into how emerging consumer attitudes may impact open banking services in the coming months.
It has been over six months since the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) came into full effect and with it, required banks to allow third party providers to access payment initiation and account information. While the regulation was designed to facilitate open banking, the market demand was uncertain. Would we, as consumers, choose to embrace the new services enabled by open banking? And if so, under which conditions?
To understand consumer attitudes, Mobey Forum and Aite Group partnered on a pan-European study to determine the appetite for open banking services amongst 1000 consumers in Finland, France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The study, launched in November 2019, revealed many important consumer trends and attitudes, including key priorities and potential barriers for adoption.
Consumer appetite for change
The consumer benefits of open banking are largely perceived to be compelling, yet this counts for little if the providers of those services are not deemed trustworthy. This is an observation reflected in the study, which highlighted consumer confidence in service providers as critical to open banking adoption. People want clear visibility of who is managing their finances, and the overwhelming majority (88%) would prefer their primary source of open banking services to be their main bank, as opposed to other banks or third-party providers (TPPs).
Consumers also indicated high levels of trust in their current bank of choice, reflected by 77% preferring to use a financial product comparison service offered by their main bank. By enabling customers to compare the pricing and conditions of a range of financial products on the market, they feel more comfortable that banks have their best interests at heart. This is a welcome trend, and one which should be celebrated in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. For the banking industry to have rebuilt trust levels in this way bodes well for consumer adoption of future innovations.
With a trusted provider, one third of consumers were then either ‘very interested’ or ‘extremely interested’ in integrating open banking services into their financial routine. This applied to specific use cases: account information services (32%), pay by bank (33%), purchase financing (25%), product comparison (35%) and identity check services (35%). Unsurprisingly, consumer willingness to adopt these services relies heavily on providers continuing to prove that they can be trustworthy stewards of personal data.
For those unwilling to adopt open banking, concerns largely focused on reservations around security and privacy. As open banking becomes more sophisticated, it will be interesting to analyse the nuances around how consumers engage with third parties. Established brands are perhaps more likely to be trusted by consumers than lesser-known online retailers. For this reason, consumers may hesitate to engage newer companies than brands they are already familiar with. In an industry as varied as finance, this creates additional intrigue in the ongoing battle for market share between the newer ‘challenger’ banks and the older, more established European banks.
Consumers might, however, be willing to deprioritise trust and, instead, favour convenience and usability. When questioned over their willingness to adopt a new payment method, for example, 91% of respondents indicated that they could be tempted to switch either by financial incentives or the promise of greater convenience.
The path forward
While open banking is still in the relatively early stages of development, it has made significant progress in a very short period of time. Not only is it allowing consumers to share financial data with authorised providers as they wish, but it is set to spark more competition and innovation within the market.
From a business perspective, open banking is expected to create lucrative new revenue streams, particularly for companies which are able to innovate quickly and react to consumer demand. It is prompting consumers to reconsider how they manage their finances and – most excitingly – it’s not even close to reaching its full potential. It should bring a whole new era of service partnerships between banks and TPPs, which will enable a new generation of innovative financial services.
For the industry to truly fulfil its potential, it is vital that stakeholders are able to explore new business models, innovations and changing customer expectations for open banking in a commercially neutral environment. Mobey Forum’s open banking expert group provides exactly this, and we look forward to supporting our members as they shape the future of digital financial services.
Where to find out more
The opportunity for open banking is explored in more detail in a report by Mobey Forum and Aite Group, entitled Open Banking: Open Minds? Consumer Appetites for New Banking Services. It provides banks and other financial services stakeholders with a market view on consumer appetites toward new open banking services and explores the possible roadblocks to consumer adoption. It is also discussed in a podcast featuring key representatives from Interac, Erste Group Bank and Strands Finance.
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