What’s been going on so far in 2019?

Faith Reynolds, Independent Consumer Finance Expert & Financial Services Consumer Panel |

As the year of Open Banking begins, consumer organisations, academics and even the Church are looking at what it means for consumers.

I kicked off my January writing and presenting an essay for the Vatican on fintech, competition and vulnerability – levelling the playing field was the central theme. It was fascinating to join a mix of industry leaders and clergy to discuss the opportunities on the horizon.

Early in the year, Money & Mental Health announced a new programme of events with the Financial Conduct Authority. They’ll be looking at how firms can overcome the challenges associated with using financial data to support people with mental health problems. Barclays have launched a related report on consumer attitudes to identifying vulnerability through the use of data.

At the University of Pennsylvania, they are using analysis of financial data to spot Alzheimers and other forms of dementia earlier. Nuanced changes in handling money can offer early indicators that something is not right, often before more traditional symptoms manifest.

Innovation for Ageing celebrated the finalists of their almost year-long challenge programme at the end of January. The project was set up by the International Longevity Centre and Just Group to identify solutions to vulnerability in later life. Toucan was the fintech finalist. It’s a money management app that simplifies the interface with an easy-to-understand home-screen and options to set up alerts to be sent to someone you trust when money is low, or spending is higher than usual.

Soon, we hope to be hearing who the winners are of the Open Banking 4 Good initiative. In the meantime, there are a tonne of ‘challenge resources’ on their website offering up insight on consumer issues. Another resource worth looking at is the Money Advice Trust Vulnerability Matters podcasts. They’ve been getting experts together to chat through issues like gambling addiction, suicide prevention, and of course, money.

The Financial Innovation Lab’s 2019 incubation programme is now firmly underway. This year, their fellows are focusing on the responsible use of data. Money management app Elifinity and one of the Lab fellows presented at the latest Open Banking Consumer Forum, alongside OpenWrks and Account Technologies. There was a great vibe as social and commercial organisations discussed how best to increase people’s financial resilience.

There is real appetite to understand how fintech can help. Not long after the Consumer Forum, TechUK held a roundtable on Tech for Good in the Community considering how best to communicate Open Banking, making sure that the people who stand most to gain from it, hear about products that can help them.

Another joint group of consumer and industry reps have published the long-awaited voluntary industry code of good practice to protect people from Authorised Push Payment Scams. It’s an important step forward for consumers but there’s still more work to be done before it goes live at the end of May. One outstanding question to resolve is what the code means for payment initiation service providers.

Ethics and communications were front of mind for fintechs that took part in the Code Collaboration research, looking at the merits of a code of conduct for open banking. A roundtable in March fed back from the research and confirmed that a code or trustmark would be useful for firms to help level the playing field and increase consumer trust. Attendees heard from Women Leading in AI about ethics in algorithms, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) shared findings from research with the Behavioural Insights Team on how best to communicate key terms and conditions. Algorithm Impact Assessments were recommended as a useful tool for firms, alongside training teams to understand new technologies.

Inclusion Signpost has been launched as a way for providers to get accredited for offering the gold standard in financial inclusion. The aim is to drive the market to meet the specific needs of people experiencing financial exclusion. Together with the comparison tool, Signpost Now, it will show people which products are most suitable for them and rated highest by industry leaders. Time to get Signposted!

It has been a busy start to the year of Open Banking. I look forward to the next steps…