Who is controlling your financial data?

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A decade ago, and even further back, none of us were aware that our personal data was so valuable. Now, we’ve certainly been made aware that companies are busy collecting as much data about each of us as they can, because the more they know about us, the more power they have over our decision making.

We know that social media channels like Facebook re focused on collecting data about our shopping habits and our political views amongst other things, and that has frightened not a few people, and angered them when they discovered the data was being sold to dark actors behind political lobbying. And while the majority of the public may be being guided by the media towards focusing on social media giants, the banks are busy collecting data about each of us as well.

And, like the social media guys, the banks want to hold on to our data; they don’t want to share it with fintech startups. Because these startups are better positioned to use the data and respond to consumer wants in a faster more flexible way. To that end, there is a battle going on by some of the biggest banks, such as JP Morgan Chase and the Silicon Valley fintechs for possession of data.

Big banks plan to stifle fintech access to data

Nizan Geslevich Packin at Forbes suggests that JP Morgan and Capital One actually have a campaign strategy to control, Silicon Valley fintech startups’ access to consumer financial data. She claims that there is a rising behind-the-scenes tension and “some banks have threatened to block fintech companies’ servers from accessing customer data, in order to improve their customer accounts’ safety and increase consumer protection.” The banks claim that this is in the consumer’s best interests because fintechs “often collect more data than they need, store it insecurely, sell it to third parties, and sometimes also get hacked, exposing account numbers and passwords.” It sounds a lot like political arguments these days, especially in countries with a two-party system, like the USA and UK.

Of course regulation and consumer protection are important; they are two of the cornerstone elements of the financial industry. And yes, cybersecurity is an issue these days, and we should be wary of sharing data with third-parties, but if anyone thinks the banks are occupying the higher moral ground and acting entirely for the benefit of the consumer, then they don’t know banks and bankers that well.

Banks claim to act for the consumer

Banks are acting in their own interest: they are afraid of the fintech newcomers who are currently taking a trickle of their customers, but that could become a major flow.

Not if the banks have their way and find a way to stop the sharing of data. As Nizan says, there are companies like Mint that provide consumers with an aggregated snapshot of their accounts from multiple financial institutions. Without access to the bank data, Mint’s business would collapse. Indeed, most fintechs are reliant on gathering traditional bank data; without it they will not be able to innovate.

The fintechs are not leaving things to chance. They are not waiting for the banks to reduces their access to APIs or stop access altogether. They are looking at technological ways to combat the banks’ blocking technology. And they are lobbying for open banking. This works by allowing fintech companies’ apps to ask consumers for permission to access their accounts, and then requiring that banks abide by that consent.

The battle between the banks and the fintechs is not confined to the USA. In Europe Payment Services Directive II encourages technological developments that disrupt existing businesses by collecting data on savings, spending, wealth management and more.

The struggle continues for control of our data, but has anyone ever asked you what you’d like to do with your financial information and who you are prepared to share it with?

Online Lenders vs The Banks

The financial crisis of 2008 has spawned a number of innovations in the world of finance. Cryptocurrency and fintech startups are two of them, but these were preceded by a new wave of online lenders.

The truth is, and it remains so, that the Big Banks failed to respond to the financial crisis in a meaningful way for consumers. They caused the problem, but they remained in denial about the effects on the person in the street who needed access to credit. Furthermore, the banks simply didn’t want to take on more risk. The banks instead of thinking about people, concerned themselves with regulatory challenges and stuck to technology that first saw the light of day in the 1960s.

Online lenders get VC support

Enter the online lenders, supported by venture capitalists who could hear the money dropping into their coffers. Lending money appeared to be an easy and profitable game, however it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Still, online lenders had their customers well figured out: they knew what they wanted and what they didn’t want: they wanted instant access to loans and they didn’t want to visit a physical branch and discuss every detail of their lives with somebody in a suit. That aspect of it all went well.

Online lenders at a disadvantage

However, the economies of lending have been another matter. As fintech expert, Ben Cukier writes, “Loan profitability is driven by the spread (the cost difference between the interest charged on the loan, less the cost of funding those loans), the cost of acquiring the loan, and the default rates of those loans.” From the outset online lenders were at a disadvantage when compared with the traditional banks, because the old-school bankers uses low cost deposits to fund loans. By contrast, the new online lenders had to rely on “raising debt or even more expensive equity,” as Cukier points out..

Enter Big Data

Plus, customers knew the bank brands, whereas the newcomers had to invest a lot in raising brand awareness. But they did have a weapon that the banks did not posses: the newcomers had Big Data. They talked up their Big Data platforms, which use disparate data to better underwrite credit risk in ways common credit scores did not. And, they leveraged this data to target specific consumers on social media, and then used the data they mined from customer behaviour on social media enabled them to dictate borrowing terms.

Fintech is the real financial innovation

This gave the banks a wake-up call, and now bank customers can interact with their banks through apps and even get quick credit approval. Plus the banks offer a range of products, whereas online lenders only offer loans. Then fintech startups came along and offered more help to the big banks. Mark Hookey, CEO of Demyst Data says, “Fintech innovators demonstrated that a data focus matters, however banks can apply that insight at a far greater scale to know their customers and launch new products.”

In the end it is these fintech companies, rather than the online lenders, that offer the promise of a real revolution in lending.

Is Motion Code the answer to card fraud?

On the back of your debit or credit card there is a three-or four-digit number called a ‘card verification value’ or CVV for short. It’s one of the last things you enter when making an online purchase. Its purpose is to act as an added security feature and prevent fraud during ‘card-not-present’ transactions.

However, it isn’t foolproof, because scammers can often discover a CVV, or even guess it, without too many problems. Indeed, researchers have shownthat Web bots making random guesses on legitimate websites can often come up with the appropriate CVV and expiration date to pair with a card number.

Refresh the CVV

Is there an answer to this? Well, the US-based PNC Bank believes there is and it is conducting a pilot test of cards with CVVs that refresh the number every 30 to 60 minutes.

The technology behind what could become an important leap forward for banks and other card issuers, such as neobanks, is something called Motion Code. It has been designed by Idemia and provides an extra layer of security for Card-Not-Present (CNP) transactions and against payment card number theft.

Idemia says: “This technology replaces the static 3-digit security code usually printed on the back of a card, by a mini-screen that displays a code, which is automatically refreshed according to an algorithm, typically every hour.

This solution thus renders copying of card information useless: by the time fraudsters try to use it online, the stolen number will have already changed several times. “

Searching for the ideal refresh rate

PNC began a 90-day trial of cards featuring IDEMIA’s Motion Code technology in November and, according to an Ars Technica report the test run should identify the optimum refresh rate. According to Idemia, “PNC Treasury Management expects to offer Dynamic CVV2 technology to current customers in early 2019, following completion of the pilot.”

Coverage of the story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states, “Card issuers like PNC will be able to customize the refresh interval. The e-ink display is limited by a small lithium battery, so a 60-minute CVV refresh rate offers the card a four-year lifespan, and higher refresh rates will make that lifespan shorter.”

The only downside of using the Motion Code technology is that “motion cards are more expensive than regular chip cards to produce,” the Post-Gazettewrites, adding, “Prices vary, but according to one estimate, they cost about $15 compared with around $2 to $4 for a regular chip card.”

4 trends impacting banks in 2019

Thought leaders ATOS published “Toward next-generation financial service ecosystems”, which analyses mega-trends in financial services and why we should all prepare for a fundamental shift in the next few years.

As its report says, banks are at a crossroads, and the “rise of non-banking platform companies are now disrupting the most profitable parts of the banking value chains. New players could capture up to a third of incumbent banks’ revenues by 2020.”

ATOS has identified four challenges and opportunities that will have the biggest impact on banking, providing they leverage the emerging technology.

1. Faster response to customer demands

Retail banks that adopt digital tech will see a 5% to 20% boost in revenues thanks to an improved service. They will also reduce their network costs by anything from 15% to 35%, and increase customer satisfaction by 10% to 15%. In advanced economies, two-thirds of banking customers execute half their financial transactions online. Customer loyalty is becoming elusive and branches are less relevant as a result. To respond, banks may shift from a product-centric to a platform- centric approach focused on customer-driven strategies.

2. Optimise costs

Fintechs are more agile and have lower operating costs than banks, making for strong competition. Digital banks can enjoy a cost-to-income ratio of below 30%, whereas banks are in 40% to 60%. Banks have some options, including shifting to lower-cost, standardised utility processes for selected administrative activities and using AI to improve customer response times and reduce employee redundancies.

3. New revenue streams

With banking business models changing thanks to neobanks, there is a need for traditional banks to reassess their position. They could position themselves as a hub platform and introduce new services for underserved segments of the community, such as mobile only banking for Gen Z and the unbanked.

4. Develop security and compliance systems

Customer data has now become a ‘product’ for financial institutions and this requires enhanced security and insights, which could be provided by AI. For example, PSD2 requires banks to implement secure application programming interfaces (APIs) to make account transactions and data available to third parties. Developing system using AI-generated insights from civil and military intelligence could dramatically reduce the cost of cybercrime and enhance consumer trust.

There is nothing here that is earth shattering; it is what many have been saying throughout 2018, yet the banks continue to be slow in their response. Perhaps 2019 will the year they wake up and start moving forward.