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Episode 5: Accelerating FinTech Innovation through Open APIs

9 June 2021
Episode 5: Accelerating FinTech Innovation through Open APIs

In the fifth webinar by FinTech Egypt Dialogue, Open Banking and its importance during the ongoing pandemic was the topic of interest this time, with Mirna Sleiman, Founder of FinTech Galaxy, acting as the moderator for the podcast’s esteemed guests: Akram Abdou, Founder of Egypt-based Underlie Startup, and Mehdi Tazi, Vice President of Saudi-based Lean Technologies.

The conversation kicked off with Mirna giving a brief introduction on what Open Banking and Open APIs mean in the FinTech world, using a good analogy that the most important Chief Digital Officer today is actually COVID-19, due to it forcing the world of finance to direct its efforts towards digital enablers, open API connectivity, and similar approaches. Open banking is the secure way of giving providers like banks and financial institutions access to people’s financial information, achieved by giving customers the ownership of their own information as opposed to FIs handling them in a pre-COVID-19 era.

So how has the ongoing pandemic affected this shift in the financial market? It’s obvious by now that customers are at the center of the whole banking experience, and offering them a seamless digital journey has now become the core of modern banking because they are the primary drivers of open banking as a concept. Add to that the increasing pace of regulatory authorities to keep up with FinTech as an industry, as well as the thriving technological developments in many innovative areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, KYC technologies and much more, and you get a ripe ecosystem for open banking to fully grow its potential.

Many real-world use-cases exist for Open Banking, and Mirna went on to explain five of them during the webinar. She started off with talking about Account Aggregation, the practice of offering customers the option to consolidate all their financial information on one platform for their convenience. Personal finance management tools are also important today so that third-party providers can provide customers with easy-to-use and fast tools to manage their finances, including but not limited to investments, automated savings, and product switching. Seamless payments is also an important cornerstone of Open Banking, allowing simple and direct account-to-account transfers. Product comparison and lending & credit risk are also critical aspects of Open Banking, where financial data offers the required insights to make an informed decision and therefore minimize risk.

The conversation moved on to Akram Abdou when he was asked about the standards that govern the Open Banking API scene, and the importance of having a global framework for standards in Open Banking today. Akram introduced Underlie as vertical-centric startup that has been focusing on the Egyptian market since it launched about a year ago, offering tailored products to Egyptian consumers. Underlie took a top-down approach and started talking with regulators followed by FinTech companies, banks and other FIs to try and understand their needs and pain points, as well as what gaps exist and how they can be filled using the customized products and services offered by the young startup. They have had good success so far in understanding the FIs’ infrastructures and providing them with new proposed revenue streams that can benefit these institutions, said Akram.

He said that Egypt having a total of 39 banks nationwide presents an opportunity for fast-tracking the implementation of Open API standards, and he feels optimistic about the willingness of FIs to implement such standards to get them potential revenue streams. Akram also said that FinTech companies also need to go through a rigorous compliance checklist in order to determine just how exactly consumer data will be shared, among other things, so that the consumer-centric model is clear and transparent to customers that are willingly authorizing their data to be used for whatever purpose.

Mehdi then took other to introduce Lean Technologies, which he said I similar to Underlie in the sense that they also aim to bridge existing gaps between FIs and FinTech companies, and also aim to provide a universal API that lowers entry barriers for developers to venture into FinTech products & services.  Mehdi stated that this is one of the standout differences between Lean Technologies and Underlie because they are taking a more horizontal, pan-regional approach by creating this global API for any interested entity to use.

Mirna then proceeded to ask Mehdi about how Open Banking can transform finance as we know it, to which he replied that Open Banking is already in the process of taking over the finance scene, referring to the FinTech market in the United States that already has a bigger market cap than incumbent banks currently. He elaborated on what APIs mean by taking himself as an example; as the owner of 3 bank accounts in 3 different countries, Mehdi previously needed to keep an Excel sheet with all his financial data to have it all in one place. Today with Open APIs, he can easily use a third-party application, much like Lean Technologies does, to connect all his accounts and consolidate all his data in one mobile app that he can access at anytime and anywhere.

Check out the full 5th episode to better understand the world of Open Banking and APIs. 

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