Open Banking and PSD2 — groundbreaking regulation from the U.K. and European Union, respectively — set out to fix what politicians and civil servants perceived as a malfunctioning financial services market, evidenced most prominently by the banking crisis in 2008. It is also closely linked to the EU’s privacy directive GDPR, which aims to ensure citizens are given better access and use of their own personal data.
Central to Open Banking is a requirement that banks open up the data they hold and offer an API to let customers optionally share financial information with third-party providers. The idea, amongst other more innovate use-cases, is to make it easier to shop around for financial services or to switch banks accounts entirely.
In addition, a second aspect of Open Banking, which arguably targets the Visa-Mastercard duopoly, stipulates that banks offer an API to let customers authorise payments directly from their bank account as an alternative to other types of payments, such as card payments or manual bank transfers.
Enter TrueLayer, the London startup that’s built a developer platform to make it easy for fintech and other adjacent companies, such as retailers, to access bank APIs and in turn ride the Open Banking and PSD2 gravy train. Today, the young company is launching a beta of its own Open Banking-based Payments API to enable businesses to start accepting payments through Open Banking.
By using the payment initiation process created by PSD2, TrueLayer says its new API offers a number of benefits over other payments options:
First is immediate settlement whereby cleared funds are received in just few minutes, as with any bank to bank transfer that uses “Faster Payments”.
Second is security, since the API requires active bank authentication before any money can leave the account. “This means high security and extremely low fraud rates,” claims TrueLayer. That’s not pure hyperbole: the nature of the payment initiation process, as stipulated by Open Banking, means the customer is required to sanction any payment request within their own bank’s app or website. The user journey (shown in the video below) goes something like, “hey my bank, please make this one-off transfer on my behalf to X”. The person or business receiving the payment never sees your bank details (or card details, for that matter).
Third is that it is cheaper as payments do not have the high fees of card transactions.
Lastly, the user experience is arguably more streamlined than some other payments options, including traditional bank transfers. For example, customers do not need to manually type in a business’ bank account number to transfer money to a business.
“Both businesses and consumers will benefit substantially, but I think the biggest winner will be merchants, application providers, and SMBs,” TrueLayer co-founder Francesco Simoneschi tells me when I ask him who the biggest benefactors will be.
“Faster Payments cuts the time it takes for a payment to come through from days to few seconds. This is a crucial factor for a lot of businesses where instant settlement and transaction risk are big concerns. Add to that the minimal costs involved to process a payment and our API will make a big difference in a short period of time. We think that many businesses will end up sharing these savings with their customers”.
Simoneschi won’t be drawn into saying who the biggest loser will be under the new payments directive, arguing that it isn’t a “zero-sum game”. “However, we do believe that payment initiation is disrupting the four-party model of the existing card networks,” he adds.
That’s because payment initiation is serviced via a direct relationship between the merchant and the customer’s bank. And although Simoneschi doesn’t think it will happen overnight, he believes that as merchants start to incentivise Open Banking payments for their customers, it is likely to quickly gain traction. One way for credit card companies to remain competitive, he says, is to embrace and enhance Open Banking payment initiation by adding services such as dispute management.
“It’s also worth noting that banks generate a substantial amount of revenue from the fees involved in credit and debit card transactions,” says Simoneschi. “These fees are paid for by merchants, and indirectly, by consumers. Reducing these transactions could sting the bottom line of some of the major banks. Another factor is how a few banks make money as the ‘acquirer bank’ — a bank that merchants use to receive and clear funds. PSD2 and Open Banking removes both parts of this equation, essentially making that role obsolete”.
Meanwhile, asked what use cases are initially best-suited to this new payment method, Simoneschi says the most obvious is any scenario where payment is normally done via manual bank transfer. For example, services that require you to top up your account, such as international money transfer apps, cryptocurrency exchanges (or even a pre-paid mobile phone account) are ideal candidates. He also thinks managing or facilitating B2B payments, such as payments requested by suppliers, is another extremely good fit.
Longterm, however, that’s barely scratching the surface. It’s not hard to see large merchants, such as Amazon, embracing Open Banking in a big way so that they bypass Visa and Mastercard as much as possible. For those merchants with less deep pockets, services like TrueLayer over time will likely help them do the same. In other words, the payments space is about to get interesting — again.