Consumers will be able to grant third party organisations access to all their banking data. In turn, it means apps can centralise money management around the consumer who logs in once and, in theory, switches cash between a current account, savings and credit cards. One stop shop services should mean we have a complete overview of our finances in a snapshot. This is great - if you understand your finances and can work an app in the first place.
Any techie will tell you that most problems are not caused by the tech itself but by the stupid humans who use it. They forget they are human too and the problem can be at their end. If they don't take into account the customer's level of understanding, the greatest innovation is obsolete before it's been put into use.
For people who depend on cash, speaking to a human and visiting a high street branch of their bank, open banking could just mean more division and exclusion.
I was lucky enough to get away to some Winter sun for New Year. As I stood in the queue at Spanish border control, I watched the early morning, tabloid-reading, Easyjet passenger families struggling with the new, efficient, electronic gates. ‘All’ they had to do was coordinate scanning their passports, giving a fingerprint impression and staring at a facial recognition camera. I was glad when those of us at the back were ushered to the manual gates with real people, where we breezed through. As I looked back to count how many we had jumped ahead of, it reminded me of the promises made by technology and, in turn, by the governments mesmerised by it.
I wondered who consulted real people about electronic passport control. And I wonder who has consulted them about open banking. Has anyone ever consulted the millions who are least confident or familiar with it to ask if they agree their lives will be transformed, and the cost of public services minimised, by the introduction of 'digital by default' processes, AI and FinTech? You only have to ask a bunch of Universal Credit claimants – it certainly doesn’t seem like it.
There are three assumptions that policy makers fail to recognise. People fear change, often lack skills and don’t share the motivations of designers. On everything from predicting election and referendum results to the design of Universal Credit, it seems the architects never take into account that not all people think and live the way they do.
'Of course, benefit claimants can operate a PC and access the internet, will be excited about this new way of doing things and will be queuing up to take advantage of all the benefits of managing their claim online,' they seem to have said. You think?
Many of us struggle with change. The fear of the unknown applies to more than sci-fi space adventures and I’ve watched normally quite rational people crumble when a new way of doing things is announced. I’ve known people to demand an end to the status quo and then get upset when they’re given what they ask for. We don’t want to avoid change but we have to build this irrational thinking into transformations. Things will always cost more and take longer to implement before we reap the benefits of efficiencies and cost savings.
Over-estimating the skills of the public seems to be a superpower among policy formers and designers. People are not stupid but mixed with the fear of the new and a media-bred paranoia about scams, people are disinclined to engage. A video on YouTube by the DWP introducing Universal Credit said it would be as easy as using Facebook. Here’s the news: not everyone is on it. Plenty of claimants I’ve seen don’t understand how a password works, don’t have an email and have a deep suspicion about having any online presence. That’s before we get onto IT access, skills and habits. That moment in Daniel Blake when he rolls the mouse over the computer screen. That.
Behavioural psychologists will give you a hundred reasons why people don’t always do what’s in their own best interests: The rewards are too long term, too small or remote, (or something immediate is more attractive), ‘no-one else like us is doing things this way’, or entrenched habits, to name but a few. Motivating people to change might actually come down to forcing them to, with regulation (like wearing seat belts) or ruthless defaults (like with Universal Credit), but these won’t stop costs and timescales slipping out of control.
None of this make me very hopeful about the promises of fintech to deliver added financial capability to people on lower incomes. Instead it just increases the risk of more financial exclusion, a bigger digital divide, and a higher premium for being poor. By the time the government catch on to the fact that the most vulnerable people have been left behind (again), more bank branches will be closed, more free-to-use ATMs will have gone and a chunk of public money to pensioners and benefit claimants will be paying for people to maintain a bank account.