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Opinion

Open banking to transform East Africa’s digital financial services

Myriad Connect

Open banking is revolutionising the financial services landscape across the world, and presents opportunities for transformation and financial inclusion throughout East Africa.

However, the region should learn from the experiences of other markets and leapfrog directly to the next era of open banking, says International mobile technology specialist at Myriad Connect.

Open banking, in which banks share certain data via secure application programming interfaces (APIs), allows for the development of a range of digital financial services that can be used by customers to more easily transact, manage their finances and have full access to all their data.

 It paves the way for improved customer experience and greater transparency in banking. Because financial service providers are authorised to use this data without having to build new data stores of their own, they can quickly adapt to changing trends and offer new and unique services to customers.

“In developed nations, fintech is helping transform the existing financial services landscape, where in Africa it is about bringing financial services to large sectors of the population who have never had access to financial services before. Open Banking can play a unique role in this,” says Willie Kanyeki, Myriad Connect Business Development Director – Africa.

“Open Banking will drive transformation in digital financial services by simultaneously empowering consumers to own and share their data and enabling financial service providers to leverage this data to deliver enhanced capabilities to the marketplace.”

Willie believes that many banks and fintechs already have a closer working relationship in East Africa than those in Europe, for example, positioning them to move quickly to an Open Banking environment across the East African financial services ecosystem.

“East Africa now has an opportunity to build on the experience of other markets that are already embracing Open Banking, and move directly to a more effective model in the region,” according to Willie.

He notes that regulation of the environment is necessary: “If the market is left to its own devices with no regulation, the region could find itself in a position where there is a dominant player and regulators or the financial services ecosystem are, as a result, limited in how they can introduce regulation or control Open Banking initiatives in that market.”

In the European Union, on the other hand, Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) legislation was introduced last year to obligate banks to provide third-party Account Information Service Providers and Payment Initiation Service Providers with access to their customers’ accounts through open APIs in order to build financial services. The legislation ends banks’ monopoly over financial services, bringing new competition, new urgency to innovate, and potentially – additional costs. For customers, it brings the freedom to manage their finances with the app or service provider of their choice. However, one shortcoming of PSD2 has been the lack of a clear standard for secure authentication.

“East Africa can manage its own Open Banking initiative to avoid the pitfalls already experienced in other markets. Choice and a level playing field are desirable outcomes of Open Banking, but the emergence of a monopoly, or the erosion of banks, may not be,” says Michael Muturi, Solutions Consultant, Myriad Connect.

“As East Africa prepares to embrace Open Banking, this is an opportune time for banks and financial services providers to work together to approach regulators to put in place mutually beneficial regulations across the ecosystem. It is also important to consider uniform standards for APIs, security and authentication ahead of mainstream adoption of Open Banking.”

Security and authentication are essential components of Open Banking, Myriad Connect notes – both to ensure every digital transaction is properly authenticated to prevent and detect fraud, but also critically, to provide express consent for consumers’ data to be shared in the ecosystem.

Putting standards in place for API formats is also important as it allows Open Banking to deliver on its potential, offering simple integration and development.

 “With significant potential for innovation and development in financial services through the advent of Open Banking, East African stakeholders need to move quickly to pave the way for an environment that is properly governed, beneficial for all, and secure and convenient for consumers,” says Willie.

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