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2016 insights: escaping the walled garden – 5 ways an open fintech ecosystem will revolutionize finance

Albert Lojko

15 Dec 2015

A pedestrian holding a mobile phone walks on a street at a business district in Tokyo, Japan, December 14, 2015. Japanese business confidence held steady and companies maintained their bullish spending plans, a quarterly central bank survey showed on Monday, offering some relief to policymakers worried that global headwinds could upset a fragile economic recovery. REUTERS/Yuya Shino - RTX1YK8I
REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Today’s financial trading environment looks remarkably like the world of mobile phones in 2005 or 2006.  The hardware is sophisticated enough, but the systems they run are, on the whole, closed and proprietary.

This leads to a great deal of manual intervention, redundant cost, wasted time, gaps in data (particularly where proprietary or niche data sets are involved) and, potentially, human error.

Examples of this have made their way in to mainstream media – such as the recent $6bn accidental payment by a Deutsche Bank employee to a customer, which was widely attributed to human error as a result of using an outdated technology system.

A few weeks later, the Deutsche CEO lamented his firm’s aging and overly-complicated IT, promising to rip out much of the company’s existing tech infrastructure.

The paradigm shift

The situation in many banks today is analogous to the mobile world roughly a decade ago – a state of affairs known as the ‘walled garden’.

In around 2007, smartphone makers shifted the paradigm entirely – creating touchscreen canvases – opening them up to an ecosystem of thousands of independent developers for them to produce and publish their own apps.

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The rest of the story is well-known – and the average smartphone user today routinely uses dozens of apps, compared with just a handful in the days of the walled garden.

Driving effective innovation

It’s time for financial systems to follow suit. Here are five ways we think open technology will drive effective innovation in financial services:

1. Bottom-up innovation – Openness encourages people to think about doing things differently, and empowers users or customers to drive the innovation process from the bottom up.

Retail banking has been transformed by using digital and mobile apps to present information the way customers want to see it. This should also be the case in wholesale financial markets, giving traders, asset managers and all other financial services professionals the tools they need to work efficiently.

2. Empowered ecosystems – True bottom-up innovation will require all players within the ecosystem to create apps, not just the raw data providers. Tech firms from Amazon to Apple know this is how their markets work, and the financial services industry is no different.

The data providers may continue to provide the familiar platform which end-users see and interact with, but within lies a whole range of app providers who create choice on the platform. That’s how ‘killer apps’ come about.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at a news conference during the launch of Amazon's new tablets in New York, September 28, 2011. Amazon.com Inc unveiled its long-awaited tablet computer on Wednesday with a $199 price tag, potentially cheap enough to give Apple Inc's iPad some serious competition for the first time. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR2RYC0
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

3. Trust me – providing an open platform on which people can innovate is only half of the solution, having a trusted distribution channel is the other. Apple’s App Store, for example, imposes tight restrictions on developers, and the benefit to end users is total trustworthiness.

The same goes for the new ecosystem of apps for institutions – but here, compliance will be the critical factor.

This can only be assured if it is baked into the supporting platform, and it is here where existing big players in the sector have a crucial role to play, bringing trusted expertise and ability to ensure all regulatory requirements are met.

4. Flexibility – Decisions on which technology platforms a workforce uses can no longer be mandated from above. In the 1980s and 90s, as technology entered the office, it was the IT which determined how people worked.

A tablet to customise sneakers is pictured in an Adidas pop-up store in Berlin December 2, 2014. Big consumer brands have latched on to personalised products because they seem to have a particular appeal to consumers known as
REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Today, with the range of high-powered personal devices available to us, it is the workforce which increasingly demands how it will use technology at work.

Today’s end users expect choice. This need for flexibility is something that will only increase as Millennials, in particular, enter management positions and generation Z begin to enter the workforce calling for greater choice, mobility and autonomy.

5. Ubiquity matters – while few institutions would countenance trading on the move there are innumerable ways they can use a whole range of devices, particularly tablets, to work smarter and add greater value to interactions with clients and counter parties.

Mobility is increasingly important for businesses in most industries; however the ability to use smartphones and tablets to access genuinely useful information (such as the latest share price news), and to communicate with colleagues and counter parties, relies on the availability of adequate applications to deliver information, chat and other data, often in real-time.

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For FinTech innovation to really take off, and deliver the impact it promises, the financial services sector needs a departure from the closed and proprietary IT systems on which it still relies.

This can be achieved by opening up trusted platforms and allowing innovation to flourish, providing a balance between creativity and compliance.

A version of this post first appeared in Tech Week Europe and Global Banking & Finance Review.

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