Open banking is a game-changer for the API economy. For the finance and banking industries, as well as payments, insurance and marketing, open banking represents a new frontier in the digital economy. Its potential for innovation, creative disruption and greater efficiency inspires optimism, but challenges remain. Customer messaging and audience education will be a priority as new ideas take time to permeate the public consciousness.
Open banking deserves to be the way of the future, but fintech companies and their partners must work hard to see its promise come to fruition. Onboarding, data privacy and security are the three pillars that will allow open banking to continue to change the world.
The present landscape
Open banking means that banks must allow fintech companies access to individual customer accounts and transaction details when the customer actively requests it. This can reduce friction, increase customer choice, kick-start innovation and spur competition.
The use cases are many and range from easier small business lending to new payment options like cryptocurrency to more lucrative savings accounts. In the UK, the Payment Services Directive, or PSD2, has jump-started sector growth. Similar initiatives are underway around the world, with countries like Japan, Singapore and Australia all participating in open banking initiatives.
Given its novelty and the fact that some countries, like the U.S., have been less forthcoming in passing pro-opening legislation, much remains to be done around open banking. It’s possible that the most transformative companies in the space don’t exist yet. Open banking is as full of potential as social media was 15 years ago or e-commerce was 20 years ago.
While few deny that open banking has the potential to transform financial enterprises around the world, its novelty and the fact that it involves highly personal and sensitive data has some people worried. If you’re giving the keys to your bank account to someone, it’s absolutely vital that you know without a shadow of a doubt that you can trust the other party. How can you simultaneously guarantee security and ensure that open banking remains, in fact, open?
Winning consumer trust
Fintech companies in the open banking space must convince their potential customers that they are original and innovative while also demonstrating that they are acting responsibly with customers’ data. For many firms, winning consumer trust will be the greatest barrier to growth. This is as it should be; customers who are wary are customers who are informed.
But how can fintech innovators win the open banking game? Simply put, open banking pioneers should follow the lead of traditional banking businesses. Over decades, banks have earned customer trust by emphasizing security, safeguarding privacy and performing rigorous due diligence.
Customers must know that their financial services providers take security and privacy just as seriously (if not more seriously) than the customers themselves. It’s not just about adhering to local Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) provisions; they must feel a deep obligation to provide the best to the people they serve.
The centrality of identity
Proof of identity has always been at the core of financial services — you can’t open a bank account without one. Unfortunately, much of the world continues to operate with analog tools in today’s digital environment. If you have a driver’s license or a passport, it was intended for in-person use, not online verification. So, proving you are who you say you are remains a challenge. And roughly a billion people around the world don’t have identification at all. How can they be expected to travel, engage in commerce and receive medical care or government benefits in a connected world?
What might have worked yesterday may not work today and almost certainly won’t function tomorrow. We need new tools, not just variations of old ones. For some use cases, simple validation is enough: Identity checks that prove a person, not a machine, is behind an interaction. Other frameworks require more robust validation checks — proving that a specific person is behind an identity — or deep-dive reputation checks, which show what an identity has done or possesses.
Varied circumstances have varied requirements, but the need for digital identity confirmation will only grow more pressing as the decade continues.
Tomorrow’s digital IDs
New technologies and services can accelerate the identity verification process and make it easier for customers and financial providers to connect. The benefits for both sides are obvious. The customer is relieved that there are no extra hoops to jump through or documents to locate. The business rests assured that it has completed all the legally mandated checks without which it cannot operate — but that’s not the only advantage. When setting up a new account, each customer should undergo an appropriate process that balances the level of risk and user experience.
The decade ahead
The 2020s deserve to be the decade of open banking. It fosters new ideas, gives consumers greater and more granular control of their financial lives, and creates new opportunities for small businesses. But this bright future is not yet guaranteed. For open banking to reach its full potential, fintech companies and banks must solve the problems of security, privacy and onboarding. They must work to reduce barriers to entry, like unwieldy user verification, while also educating the public about how they maintain absolute security for the data they access.
We’re on the cusp of an epochal transformation in financial services. The map of the financial landscape is being redrawn, and it’s essential that we stay flexible as we prepare for the changes to come.
This article first appeared on Forbes.