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Following the rollout of Open Banking regulations in the UK and the launch this year of the EU’s Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2), countries across the Asia-Pacific region are following suit to establish their own frameworks to enable banks to share select customer data with third-party providers (TPPs), and TPPs to run transactions on customer accounts.
Singapore’s approach has matured rapidly to make the city one of the leading jurisdictions for Open Banking in the region. The groundwork was done as early as 2014, under the government’s Smart Nation Singapore initiative to drive the adoption of new digital technologies, starting with open data and payments.
In November 2016 the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), in collaboration with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), published a comprehensive roadmap—Finance-as-a-Service: API Playbook—which, in effect, set the gold standard for regulatory advice on the topic in Asia. The playbook set out a comprehensive framework that introduced governance, implementation, use cases and design principles for application programming interfaces (APIs), together with a list of over 400 recommended APIs and over 5,600 processes for their development.
In May 2017 MAS, the International Finance Corporation and the ASEAN Bankers Association launched the ASEAN Fintech Innovation Network. AFIN aims to accelerate financial sector development, boost access to finance, improve the customisability of products and reduce banking costs in the region. AFIN is scheduled to launch their Industry Sandbox, which will sit between banks and fintechs, in late 2018. This interoperable and scalable infrastructure will act as a method to standardise banking infrastructure and data while also allowing institutions to test applications.
The launch in September 2017 of the Network for Electronic Transfers (NETS) nationwide payments service, including the NETSPay eWallet, was another major milestone. Also in late 2017, the government built an API Exchange (APEX) to serve as a centralised data-sharing platform, which allows government agencies across the city to share data securely through APIs. It has also established a Financial Industry API Register, updated semi-annually, which tracks APIs by functional category as they are launched.
The approach of Singapore’s authorities to Open Banking has been characterised by a willingness to shape innovation with a comprehensive, non-mandatory regulation and governance framework; to lead by example by opening their own data for APIs, and to establish scalable data practices and a payments infrastructure that underpin innovation in the area. MAS officials have preferred not to force the issue and to approach the development of Open Banking services in an organic fashion, according to comments made in recent media interviews. There is no specific timeline mandated for compliance or adoption.
Key initiatives, opportunities & risks
The reason for the regulatory light touch is principally because banks in Singapore see the opportunities of the technology and are already keenly pursuing them, with competition driving innovation.
DBS, for instance, launched an Innovation Plan in mid-2015 that had over 1,000 experiments in APIs, cloud computing, microservice architecture and Machine Learning. In May 2016, OCBC Bank launched the first open API developer platform in Asia, Connect2OCBC. CitiBank’s Global Developer Hub opened its first platform in Singapore in late 2016; Standard Chartered did so in early 2017, and DBS in November that year launched an API platform with more than 20 categories and 155 functions. More recently UOB announced plans to launch an open, digital-only bank.
So far these efforts have been characterised by a focus on retail opportunities, with competition driving banks to move quickly and establish large API platforms while also releasing novel products that showcase Open Banking capabilities.
Many banks in Singapore, unlike elsewhere in the region, have partnered with fintechs and developers to launch applications that use their publicly available APIs. One example is Standard Chartered’s The Good Life service, which provides its Singapore customers with an ecosystem of merchants that offer deals, alternative payment methods and reward-point options. UOB, by contrast, has been more selective: instead of launching a public developer platform, it has selected specific fintechs and launched applications that leverage their APIs.
Banks in Singapore have monetised their APIs through a combination of private partnerships with third-party platforms, predetermined pricing models (including subscriptions, per-call and flat-rate charges) and also pricing models determined by sales functions.
There are risks in Singapore’s approach: Without enforced compliance, API standardisation across the country is difficult. There is also uncertainty around when the MAS will impose regulation.
Nevertheless, further opportunities will present themselves to drive retail and SME customer adoption with additional services and reduce the cost of servicing banks’ customer bases. Ecosystem platforms for real-time data sharing between banks and regulators will enable new use cases and shared revenue models—and, ultimately, enable banks to build their own TPP services using their competitors’ APIs.
Accenture at Sibos
We’ll be discussing Open Banking and other topics at Sibos. Come see us at our booth and join us in the conversation around enabling the digital economy. Keep up to date on all the latest from us around Sibos right here on the blog.