US gears up for open banking revolution but why should wealth managers care?

US gears up for open banking revolution but why should wealth managers care?

With the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposed changes to personal financial data rights, open banking could soon make its way to the US As firms in the country get excited about the development, should wealth managers be taking note?  

Open banking is a practice that provides third-party financial services with consumer-permissioned access to financial data from banks and non-bank financial institutions through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Its goal is to give consumers more control over their data as well as to enable them to benefit from more personalised financial services. The European Union was the first regulatory body to spearhead open banking back in 2015, and since then, regulators around the world have explored similar frameworks. The U.K., Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, Brazil, Nigeria and Turkey are some of the countries with regulations in place. The open banking market is expected to have significant growth over the next decade, in part due to the regulatory certainty provided by the CFPB rulemaking. The global open banking market was estimated to be worth $20bn in 2022 and could reach $122bn by 2032.

Despite open banking having opportunities across the whole consumer financial ecosystem, a lot of attention has been focused on its benefits to streamlining payments. However, wealth management is a space that can drastically improve in scale and quality through open banking, particularly as more retail investors seek better engagement from providers to drive returns via personalized investing. It is no secret the digital world has increased the demand for personalisation and consumers now expect a tailored experience, something that was reserved for wealthier clients.

Brian Costello – head of data strategy and governance, ByAllAccounts, at Morningstar Wealth – explained that financial advisors, whether tax, financial planning, retirement planning, broker-dealer or RIA, require a complete view of a client’s financial historical, current and projected situations to provide personalised, effective and compliant advice. Traditionally, advisors needed to review printed statements and collate information, however, technology has made data more widely available. Leveraging open banking can reduce this process even further, allowing an advisor to spend more time focusing on portfolio curation.

He added, “Today, as the authoritative records are conveniently available digitally, clients want to provide access to these records for their advisors under the umbrella of the services and agreements that govern their relationships. Open banking is essential for wealth management activities to empower these professionals to deliver personalised, timely and scalable advice.”

The question is: why should firms care about this development and the rising presence of open banking?  Costello said, “Wealth management firms should care about open banking because it is essential to their operations. Done right, it will greatly improve their business operations and advisory services.  Financial data aggregators enable clients to safely provide their advisors with secure access to data about accounts that are not under the advisor’s management—giving advisors a complete view of the client’s financial situation.”

Consumer expectation

As mentioned, one of the biggest driving forces behind the use of open banking is to keep up with consumer demand. Not only are consumers demanding personalisation but they are also willing to pay more for it. A report from Refinitiv found that 64% of millennials and 51% of investors aged 35 to 54 were willing to pay extra for personalised investing products and services.

Costello highlighted that open banking is vital to give personalised and timely advice. “The ability to see more detailed transaction data on both income and expenses enables a view of a client’s financial health and preferences that goes far beyond the traditional demographic-based financial profiles. At the same time, open banking could provide a means for advisors to view the impact their recommendations and allocations have on client portfolios and goals—and whether they need to suggest strategy adjustments.”

However, just because a firm has access to this open banking data, it does not mean they will be able to effectively use it. He said, “Investment products have complex data flows and data elements that require a deep understanding by data aggregation partners to normalise and enrich the data, so it can be translated into the insights that advisors and investors seek.

“For example, in order to conduct performance reporting, the data needs to not only be available, but also reconciliation ready. An experienced wealth management data partner, like ByAllAccounts, can ensure that data from across the spectrum of financial institutions is interoperable through processing that normalises and then enriches the data elements across providers, which is critical for analysis when providing personalised financial guidance and servicing complex back-office reporting systems.”

Costello explained there is an adoption curve and the majority of wealth management firms and advisors leveraging open banking are doing so to varying degrees and many are still at the start of their open banking journeys.

Open banking in the US

Being the largest economy and housing the world’s biggest FinTech sector, it would be understandable to think the US would already have open banking standards implemented. However, the country has lagged. This is about to change with the CFPB’s proposed changes to personal financial data. Dodd-Frank Section 1033 Rule is expected to go live in 2024 and will give consumers the right to share the data their financial institutions  .

While Costello applauded the CFPB’s actions as taking an important step in the process, he was cautious on whether the new guidelines will go far enough to support the investment data ecosystem. “As a result, the joining of investment data and open banking will be an imperfect union to start,” he added.

The CFPB has outlined the new rule will be the first in a series and later rules will expand the benefits of open banking to all consumers by boosting the scope to include more institutions and account types. However, this initial rule does not include accounts designed for investment, education and retirement, leaving a sizable gap.

Secondly, Costello believes the CFPB should more explicitly define “consumer” to include the consumer’s legally appointed advisors and agents for applicable use cases. “The current data sharing consent mechanisms enacted by financial institutions and their service providers are designed almost exclusively to handle sole account owners. The realities of the ecosystem are much more complex, ranging from joint accounts and guardianship arrangements to retirement planners. Regulations and standards must provide for the rights and needs of all US consumers, not just single account holders.”

He added, “Until these challenges are fully resolved, the industry will continue to develop solutions for data access requirements for non-covered accounts on its own.”

A global standard

There are still many countries around the world either currently working on an open banking framework or have yet to start. With the opportunities it presents consumers and companies, it raises the question if there should be a global standard to help its widespread adoption.

Costello noted that there are instances where global financial standards could work well for consumers, institutions and regulators, particularly for cross-border payments, asset transfers, fraud detection and enforcement. However, he is less confident it would be the right option for open banking. “Despite the complexities of a global standard, open banking is primarily a consumer-focused initiative, so cross-border standardisation would benefit a very small number of consumers in specific situations – e.g., high-net-worth individuals and families or wage earners who cross borders for their job.”

However, he believes there is a need for a global standard for open banking interoperability. He concluded. “It’s already developing with technical and user experience standards, but we also need to enact governance mechanisms to improve safeguards for all.”

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