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What is the role of the banking regulator in the current pandemic?

3 August 2020, by Wai Lum Kwok, Senior Executive Director of Capital Markets at ADGM

In a post Covid-19 world, digitization and innovation will be the key to helping the global economy recalibrate to a new normal.  Particularly, Covid-19 has accelerated trends towards digital financial services.  Policy makers and regulators can be an important catalyst in enabling this transformation, bringing together FinTechs and financial institutions to solve common challenges and create new business opportunities and growth areas.

Why is open banking relevant and what does it mean to you as a regulator in UAE?

Open banking is a key component to support digital transformation in the banking sector by facilitating collaboration between financial institutions with FinTechs.  Banks have traditionally relied on in-house development but realised that such an approach may not allow them to keep pace with market demand and needs in a post-Covid era.  Collaboration with FinTechs is critical to advance the agenda of replacing legacy systems.  As open banking is new in the region, ADGM plays a proactive role in championing open banking, taking the approach of voluntary adoption given the clear benefits involved. Through our efforts to create awareness, financial institutions are realising the need to adapt quickly and embrace innovation, or risk being left behind.

A cornerstone of our efforts is the development of the ADGM digital regulatory sandbox (Digital Lab). The investment in this important digital infrastructure aims to provide a platform that fosters innovation and allows effective cooperation between financial institutions and FinTechs in identifying key issues and overcoming challenges.  It serves to mobilise the efforts by FinTechs in a systematic fashion (e.g. through innovation challenges) and allow financial institutions / banks to engage meaningfully in the experimentation and procurement of innovation solutions, thereby providing a support mechanism and platform for open banking.

Why do you think open banking could be an accelerator for digital transformation of banks?

As mentioned, open banking is predicated on collaboration with FinTechs.  Banks benefit from:

  1. the latest technological solution and enhanced customer user experience through harnessing the expertise and know-how of Fintechs; and
  2. utilising the user / customer base of the FinTechs to expand its market.  Faster time-to-market and enlarged customer base / market segment would provide a virtuous innovation cycle for the banks.

What role can FinTechs play here in collaboration with the banks?

FinTechs should recognise that banks form the architectural backbone and trusted custodian of the financial system.  Banking is a highly regulated sector as it involves safeguarding depositors’ money while facilitating the allocation of capital to support economic growth.  Accordingly, a premium is placed on sound governance and robust risk management. 

FinTechs play an important complementary role for financial institutions by acting as an effective distribution amplifier and channel for the banking services, to reach out to the underbanked and unbanked segment in supporting financial inclusion.  Solutions by FinTechs can assist financial institutions in enhancing customer engagement and providing superior customer experience.

What are the next upcoming open banking initiatives led by the ADGM?

As highlighted before, to transform collaboration and innovation in the digital normal, we have invested in the Digital Lab, migrating our successful regulatory sandbox regime from analogue to digital mode.  The Digital Lab, expected to go live end of this year, is not just a testing ground, the Digital Lab is also a marketplace to build the digital community.  Participants can create profiles and showcase key features, seek investors and business opportunities.  Equipped with APIs and digital toolkits to create representations of the FI’s systems and data, the FI may pose problem statements and invite FinTechs and regulators to run and test proofs-of-concept (POCs) as well as seek investors and business opportunities from a like-minded community.

We have published a set of guidance on API standards based on international best practices to facilitate commonality and onboarding of financial institutions and FinTechs onto the Digital Lab. This will assure swift and safe connectivity, promoting collaboration among participants.

Besides the API standards, we are in the midst of developing a comprehensive technology and data risk management guidance for financial services to ensure that new technologies are deployed in a safe and responsible manner.  FinTechs can validate compliance with security standards via certification tools by plugging into the Digital Lab.

In this way, we hope to lay the right foundation, in order for the financial sector and consumer market to have the confidence to embrace technology.

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