Is open banking key to enabling banks and other financial institutions to keep up with ever-evolving customer needs and expectations? With trend drivers as unpredictable as technological innovation on one hand and a once-in-a-generation pandemic on the other, what strategies and tactics can financial institutions embrace in order to best serve their customers now and in the future?
We caught up with Clayton Weir, co-founder of business banking solution provider FI.SPAN, to answer these questions and more. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and founded in 2016, FI.SPAN turns banking services into branded banking experiences that are embedded within the ERP and accounting systems of the bank’s business customers.
A recent report indicated that almost 90% of innovation managers fear that integration challenges themselves are an obstacle to digital transformation. Are they right?
Clayton Weir: Yes, I believe they have a valid argument for considering this an obstacle to digital transformation. Forrester and Avoka published a great study on how many large IT projects at enterprise banking and financial services firms get delayed, overrun, and even more disappointingly fail to deliver all of the business value promised.
When you look at the biggest drivers of a failed software project, a disproportionate amount of blame tends to fall on some failure to properly scope the mission in terms of vision, customer needs, and potential constraints.
In addition to the inability to properly staff the program with the right skill mix, I believe those risks become heightened in a domain area like embedded/ERP banking. A team has to understand the nuances of client ERP systems, bank legacy systems, treasury banking, accounting workflows, banking workflows and deliver a program that can exist and add value within all of those different constraints. Not only will most banks and contracted build partners be unlikely to have some of those perspectives sitting on the bench, it also will be hard to deploy the right mix of people to the initiative concurrently.
Technology has moved too far too fast for the banks to build those capabilities themselves. Buying companies that can bring those services to market is not impossible, but well outside the purview of most commercial banks. The best way to go for B2B banks to manage the impact of rapidly evolving customer expectations is to partner with agile, innovative fintech services that not simply meet expectations, but exceed them.
Why do you believe that open banking is the missing link in helping banks make digital transformations?
Weir: Over the next few years, it’s likely that governments will force financial institutions to become more transparent with their data and share information of the client’s choosing with their peers because of open banking. By having a freer flow of information between these parties, both banks and fintechs could develop new apps and services to better serve the needs of their customers. Open banking will make it easier for customers to access fintech products or even open accounts with other financial institutions, but they’ll transact with others through their main bank’s platforms. Rather than getting frustrated with their bank’s limitations, customers will be grateful for how much easier it is to work with their institution.
What do you see when you look at the prospects for open banking in the U.S.? What will drive it forward?
Weir: Many businesses are feeling neglected by banks, when we look into some of the niches that are cropping up; fintechs can come in and support this happening, starting to find ways to serve small niches across the board.
Open banking is a big part of this conversation, and there is market-based momentum around open banking. Open banking is showing up as a direct response to the market opportunity. Meaning, the demand from consumers to use third party apps is increasing. If your bank doesn’t work with those apps, it’s a massive disadvantage for you. If a customer can’t use a certain app because you don’t offer it, they’re going to find a different bank that can offer them a better experience.
Effectively, there is going to be more and more momentum in the marketplace, so as the European and Australian open banking regimes mature, the scope will go above and and beyond what the U.S. has done. As multinational banks, fintechs and developers start to develop other offerings around open banking infrastructure in those other markets, it’s going to dial up the customer expectations in North America. Even if open banking is slow to adopt in the U.S. and Canada, the best things that come out of open banking will undoubtedly surface North America. Multinational banks are going to bring the best of their open banking infrastructure to their North American banks and use it in competitive and interesting ways.
What is the environment for open banking in Canada – where FI.SPAN is based?
Weir: Canada is lagging somewhat behind some other countries, such as Europe and Australia, where governments have mandated open banking and the sharing of customer information. However, adoption in these locales has been slow, while technical issues have made open banking difficult to implement. At some point, the Canadian government will follow suit and mandate open banking, but the sooner banks come on board – and some may get ahead of legislation and create better user experiences now – the better. Everyone should want to see open banking succeed, as it will make it easier for a bank’s business clients to operate, which then further increases economic innovation and competitiveness.
If Canada’s banks are going to become global financial innovators, they need to be more open-minded when it comes to working with fintechs and embrace key trends which include open banking, authentication and digital identification, payments modernization, and embedding financial services within other applications.
Why does the global health crisis – and its economic fallout – represent a special opportunity to embrace open banking? Has COVID-19 made it harder in some ways to advance open banking?
Weir: Quite the opposite, we see it as having brought about digitization and innovation at a quicker pace than pre-pandemic. I think what has essentially happened was that businesses suddenly needed to eliminate manual and paper-based processes, they looked to their banks for help implementing digital solutions quickly. This has pushed banks to start rethinking their innovation goals, and they’ve started asking what efforts will have an immediate impact on the client experience. The fact that embedded banking has suddenly become ubiquitous means that FI.SPAN is now positioned to bring about a huge shift in how businesses consume banking products.
How does FI.SPAN fit into this effort with regard to open banking? How is your company making a difference?
Weir: We make it easy for banks to extend their service offering to their business clients by embedding commercial banking applications within the organization’s ERP or accounting software. The most innovative banks are partnering with fintechs to deliver better payment services they believe will make their customers happier, their relationships stronger, and drive revenue.