For accountants still unsure of Open Banking, audit expert Dudley Gould explains how the next stage, open finance, will help reduce compliance and focus more on advisory.
While open banking is a relatively new concept (first mandated in the UK in 2018), putting current account banking data in the hands of businesses and consumers, this is just the tip of the iceberg compared to open finance.
Open finance has the potential to give consumers and businesses unparalleled control over their data, across the whole financial services ecosystem, rather than just the banks mandated under Open Banking.
It creates the opportunity for accountants, both in business and in practice, to generate more value for their employers and clients by using insights to ensure competitive procurement pricing and complete jobs more efficiently by validating data.
What is open finance?
Open finance goes one step beyond open banking, which uses third-party APIs to pull together banking data across a range of different providers.
By comparison, open finance allows users to fully take control of their finances by using APIs to centralise all of their financial information in one place. This pulls in data from across the broader financial services ecosystem including pensions, insurance and investments.
The initiative is being spearheaded by fintechs that securely connect a number of data sources, to give users visibility of all of their financial data in one place.
Open finance gives users full control of their finances by giving them complete visibility on their spending and supporting data (ie contracts and volume usage of services). This empowers them to make smarter decisions around whether the merchants and suppliers they are dealing with provide them with the best value for money or provide adequate coverage for their needs.
Examples include accessing both financial and non-financial information related to mortgages, savings accounts, pension funds, insurance, credit, and investments.
In practical terms, open finance can allow businesses and consumers to do the following:
- Price comparison – compare the rest of the market to ensure the most competitive prices are being paid for the likes of energy and broadband services.
- Reduce prices for recurring bills – give users the ability to identify direct debit payments for subscription services that may have their prices reduced further by paying upfront or combining payments. Similarly, reviewing direct debit payments alongside supporting data for suppliers may help earmark services with ongoing payments that are rarely used.
- Lending – open finance has the potential to make it easier than ever to access loans, at the most competitive prices, by using APIs to run instant credit checks, review historical financial data, and return would-be borrowers with the most competitively priced debt facilities.
- Sweeping – automating the movement of funds from one bank account to another which yields a higher interest rate so that returns are maximised.
How will open finance impact accountants?
Open finance will help accountants perform a more value-adding role, rather than just focusing on compliance.
Having complete visibility of finance through open finance tools will allow accountants to switch suppliers so that businesses are making cost-effective and relevant purchases. For example, this could include renegotiating business insurance so that it provides adequate coverage.
Additionally, accountants in practice will be able to continue their shift to advisory services by making it fast and easy for clients to access loans by using open finance to automate data collection and generate funding options at the click of the button.
The centralising of data collection will also save significant time when completing self-assessment returns for clients. These tasks typically require collecting financial data from a number of different sources (ie pensions, personal savings accounts, and share trading platforms) but being able to pull in all of this information from one data source will help speed up the time it takes to complete tax returns and ease client relationships by not having to chase them.
Similarly, auditors will be able to validate transactional and supporting data instead of relying on paper audit trails and frequent requests to busy clients. One particular use case is crypto wallets.
Coinbase’s API means that it is now possible for auditors to use tools to validate clients’ digital assets directly from the exchange. It will likely serve the needs of a growing number of businesses that are now accepting bitcoin as a payment method. This is similar to how auditors are using Open Banking to confirm clients’ bank balances directly from the bank.
We are still very early in the rollout of open finance services, but policymakers and regulators are in listening mode (the FCA recently published feedback on their call related to input on open finance), and a UK wide Pensions Dashboard (centralising information from providers) is due to be introduced from 2023.
However, certain sectors are already pushing ahead with a number of open finance initiatives to give their users greater control of their data, so there are already opportunities for accountants to take advantage of