Monday, December 5, 2022

Salt Edge looks to steer digitalization of EU's banking sector

The global financial sector is witnessing an ever-growing change shaping Europe’s banking infrastructure into an increasingly competitive market. Open banking proved to people how it can alter financial services to accommodate their needs; all while fostering a continuing digitalization of modern life as Fintech companies set the stage for simplified yet optimized solutions to deliver reliable economic efficiency.

These changes have brought companies such as UK-based Salt Edge into the limelight as it supports customizable services for customers, by synchronizing banking services with users’ needs. Since customer loyalty and satisfaction sets the main pillars for the financial sector, the merger between technology and finance delivers Salt Edge with the needed tools to comply with consumers’ expectations with the immense rise of digitalization on all fronts.

Inside Telecom dives deeper with Salt Edge’s CEO, Dimitri Barbasura, to highlight the Fintech’s conduct of meeting customer demands in compliance with the regulatory authority. As well as delivering elaborated insights regarding open banking and its role in addressing the needed support for the UK as it embraces a modernized approach in its banking sector.

As one of the big names in the industry, piloting the ever-changing effect of the rise of Fintech on the European Union’s financial sector, the CEO elaborated on how the company is assisting in enhancing consumers’ financial status in the UK and on a global level. In addition to the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) duty in delivering high-quality services in coherence with governmental regulatory footprint.

INSIDE TELECOM: As the financial sector takes a bigger leap into a digital ecosystem, how do you think open banking will affect the European Union’s take on its current financial sectors?

Barbasura: From our position of open banking and open finance, PSD2, which is already two years old, is changing the world for the better. There are new products and solutions occurring, targeted towards the wellbeing of society – in general, individuals and business – in particular. Take, for example, on-the-go carbon emissions calculators based on personal expenses or the fairer credit assessment occurring from unified aggregated data, translated into financial insights. Especially in COVID-19 times, this has proven to be very helpful, allowing creditors to approach their activity more responsibly. Open banking increases security and decreases overall expenses by changing the instruments we use for paying. As these new payment instruments and solutions are being created, economic efficiency rises and makes what was previously accessible to bigger corporate clients – now available for SMEs. What used to be available for SMEs is now accessible for retailers, and so on. Budget planning, financial advising – all these solutions lead to open finance, which we hope will soon be consolidated by payment service directive (PSD3). Thus, data access will involve more than current payment accounts, including investment, lending, mortgage, and unveiling the full potential of the financial sector.

INSIDE TELECOM: The company’s API has been seen as one of the leading banking solutions for over 5 years, can you elaborate on some cases where the company’s API helped in consumers’ financial health and sustainability?

Barbasura: There are plenty of use cases among our clients showing how open banking works for the general well-being. Businesses like Credit Hero and Lendex have turned to Salt Edge for open banking solutions to ensure a wider financial inclusion for their customers. This is probably the domain where open banking has the most noticeable impact, allowing individuals and businesses access to funds otherwise unreachable to them. Using open banking data enables lenders to give a second chance for credit approval to potentially great loan applicants who have initially been rejected simply due to lack of credit history (first-time borrowers, migrants). Besides, open banking cancels potential manipulations in physical bank statements while helping financial institutions save on fraud detection, underwriting, or credit risk-related issues. Lenders see the authentic financial picture of potential borrowers and tailor their offering to the real-time status quo.

Another interesting use case is how open banking-based public financial management (PFMs) contribute to more responsible financial behavior. We live in a consumerist era. And, while most of us don’t even realize it, PFMs like Spendee, Toshl, MoneyWiz, and Planner Bee, manage to comprise all bank data based on open banking capabilities and transform it into a picture detailing the users’ financial behavior and the areas that need adjustments. Thus, end-users can shift from reckless expenses to a more rational, sustainable lifestyle. 

What we’ve carefully observed throughout our clients is that, by leveraging open banking possibilities, their companies become more viable. This is obvious since open banking contributes to preserving ecological balance by:

● Stimulating behavioral changes.

● Cutting down on unjustifiable consumerism.

● Enhancing green finances (green lending & investing).

● Improving financial inclusion for underserved categories by simplifying bank data sharing even across continents, for ex-pats, and introducing alternative reliable data sources for credit analysis for people with thin credit file. 

● Reducing plastic cards and cash use.

INSIDE TELECOM: In August, the company collaborated with software company Finastra. What was the incentive that led to this collaboration?

Barbasura: For most banks, especially those which are not tier 1, the legal and technical requirements concerning opening API’s access to their infrastructure are far from being crystal clear. They need to invest a lot of effort in understanding what vendor suits them best, what legal provisions they must respect in accordance with to become compliant, what assessments they must conduct, and the mechanisms they need to have in place. All this is very costly for businesses to accomplish. Add that to the expenses involved with opening APIs, making them usable, safe, sustainable, and integrable, with high availability and security requirements.

Finastra is a core banking vendor supporting multiple banks in the EU and beyond. They chose our solution as it includes a variety of options banks can choose from when building their digital banking puzzle for becoming PSD2 compliant. Prior to pre-integrating our solution into Finastra’s platform, Salt Edge has successfully passed all due diligence audits, safety systems, and data services checks, so that banks can choose our solution with peace of mind.

Our collaboration with Finastra is that happy situation where there was a market request, we had the perfect solution to answer it, and Finastra is the right partner to scale up the solution’s availability.

INSIDE TELECOM: Currently, the banking sector is enduring immense pressure to heighten its competitiveness to stay in the league. What approach does Salt Edge support to help banks optimize their profitability while reducing businesses’ time to market for new products?

Barbasura: First of all, Salt Edge helps banks become PSD2 compliant, which enables them to save time and effort resources and invest them in creating open banking-based products. In this perspective, our company acts as a technical service provider (TSP) for regulated institutions. Therefore, we cover all the above-mentioned for banks, due to our expertise, knowledge, and experience. Here are some of the ways we help banks and diminish their go-to-market:

●     We know and advise which use cases are viable for payment initiation, how to adjust the merchant proposition to it, what complications may occur on the way and how banks can overcome them and bring their project to realization.

●     We automatize a lot of processes. Out of 6,000 banks across Europe, some of them still require manual onboarding. In these cases, we either automate the process, where dynamic onboarding is supported, or we perform the entire manual onboarding process for the bank thus decreasing the timeframe required for the solution to go live.

●     We cover all the necessary components – technical implementation, connection to thousands of banks, highest security standards, consultancy for PSD2 strategies, and others. This way, we help banks to do everything correctly from the beginning.

Another advantage is that our clients work with one single vendor covering all the EU, which is very critical for payments. Imagine that a merchant works with a bank and sells its products all over the EU. In this case, the bank needs a vendor who will support payments across the EU for a seamless process. In other words, Salt Edge exceeds the notion of “go-to-market”. We literally help clients reach different markets from the EU, thus diminishing their expenses.

I’d also like to mention the value-added services provided by Salt Edge. Being one unique vendor, with one standard security model, one high-quality standard, helps us aggregate and provide all data, from various countries where our client is present, in a unified form to credit bureaus, for example. We use AI, machine learning algorithms, which again, saves lots of money for the client, and we are always adjusting and improving the algorithms upon our clients’ requests and feedback.

INSIDE TELECOM: Where do these approaches stand from a regulatory standpoint?

Barbasura: First, it all revolves around compliance with the open banking regulations from regions around the world: where data is kept, how it is encrypted and transmitted, who has access to this data, or how it gets anonymized. Take for example one of the value-added services provided by Salt Edge – financial insights. One of its components is data categorization. You cannot categorize something if you don’t know what you are categorizing. As a Technical Service Provider, Salt Edge works purely with information. Therefore, our activity is focused on safety. We perform regular penetration testing, vulnerability scannings, cyber security – and data privacy-related audits and certifications. We are always open to showing our clients and regulators our offices, our data centers, and demonstrating the operations and safety systems we have implemented. Maximum transparency and delivering exactly what we promise – this is what governs our relationships with the clients.

INSIDE TELECOM: What additional plans does the company have to enforce the role of small banks in accommodating the market’s needs, as Central Banks are working globally to issue their CBDCs?

Barbasura: We at Salt Edge are agnostic to underlying payment schemes and currencies since we work with any data set that can be presented as an account and set of transactions. As for CBDCs, we see lots of potential in it related to instant payments. It would be way cheaper (or even zero cost), which is directly benefiting small banks, end customers, retailers, and other businesses.

Actually, I believe that not having a stable digital coin in the 21st century, when all the premises for its existence and functionality exist, is rather strange. This is the future. It is safe, controllable, the source of money and the expenses are easily traceable, which is especially important for Anti Money Laundering (AML)/ Counter-terrorist financing (CTF) practices and terrorism-sponsoring prevention. CBDC is something that should have happened yesterday.

INSIDE TELECOM: To what extent will the company go to help these small banks defend themselves from any potential fraudulent scenarios?

Barbasura: We do work with data, but we are not specialized in fighting fraud, however, Salt Edge provides rich information for fighting fraud. We have very limited access to the interaction between the user and the bank. Nevertheless, we always promote strong customer authentication and dynamic linking as critical components of the aforementioned interaction. Besides these two elements, using a combination of security measures like possession, inheritance, and knowledge combined in a user-friendly way enhances security utmost, decreasing risk.

When I say “user-friendly”, I mean that every integrated safety measure must be maximally client-oriented and thoroughly explained, in terms of why it is important, how it protects the end-user and how to use it.

We believe the most effective defense is when the bank and only the bank control authorization of the payment and end-customer pays using the WYSIWYP principle (What You See Is What You Pay).

INSIDE TELECOM: The UK’s historical role in the financial sector could potentially shape the Fintech industry’s future outline in the country. What solutions could the company implement to help heighten the UK’s role in Fintech on a global scale?

Barbasura: In this manner, Salt Edge can promote two things that are already going well in the UK. The first one is the Open Banking standard, which is very well compiled and, with the right support, would diminish the market’s fragmentation. We have developed the payment service directives (PSD2) Compliance Solution at Salt Edge and already tailored it to the particularities of existing open banking standards around the world, like Berlin Group, Open Banking in the UK, or CDR in Australia. We see the financial institutions from different regions struggling with these differences and believe that unifying these standards will simplify a lot of things. Second, we can promote strong customer authentication and dynamic linking – elements that are significantly increasing safety. We’re already doing that through Salt Edge’s mobile Strong Customer Authentication, which considerably enhances the security of the payment experience, minimizes fraud risk, and guarantees customer protection.

Next, the UK has CMA9, the country’s 9 largest banking group. It is constantly introducing progressive initiatives, such as VRPs and we think that, from the UK’s point of view, it would be very useful to have it supported not only by these nine banks but also by all banks that can ensure it technically. This would be an example to the EU and other countries looking at the effectiveness of open banking.

Using fintech solutions for paying, investing, saving, and other operations must become a norm, just like we’re using apps for any other needs. It should be a norm, not a privilege.

Another way that Salt Edge is contributing to the UK consolidating its role in open banking is by opening up markets outside the country for local businesses – offering access to 5000+ banks across the globe. Many companies need various geographies to grow bigger in spite of the UK being one of the most innovative markets.

Therefore, I really hope that regulators from all countries, including the UK, the EU, and others can unify all legal approaches in one unique regulation so that once a business gets licensed in one region, it gets the occasion to passport it in other regions as well. Besides other advantages, it would decrease expenses, and this is the direction all should strive to.

INSIDE TELECOM: Under which regulatory umbrella could Salt Edge implement these solutions to augment the UK’s presence in the industry?

Barbasura: To answer this question narrowly, Salt Edge Limited is regulated in the UK, with an EU entity in the process of becoming regulated in the EU at the moment.

In a broader manner, PSD2 has been transposed into each country’s legal framework with local adjustments which need to be taken into consideration when entering the market. And we always do it. As mentioned above, one of the ways Salt Edge contributes to the UK consolidating its leadership position is by helping UK businesses upscale within the country and further across the globe based on our solutions: Open Banking Gateway and Open Banking Compliance Solution.

From our point of view, we often act as technical service providers for regulated entities. In terms of general data protection regulation (GDPR), these entities act as data controllers, while Salt Edge acts as a data processor – processing data according to their instructions. Now, considering this, Salt Edge solutions are implemented in many regions, including the Middle East, Australia, LatAm. We are agnostic to regulation since we act by generically approved principles of security, data privacy, compliance, and governance of the data. Yes, there are details deferring from one regulation to another related to data storage, for example, but we always find satisfactory compromises with our clients.