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ClearBank: Third of fintechs face regulatory scrutiny due to agency banking partners

ClearBank: Third of fintechs face regulatory scrutiny due to agency banking partners

Based on an independent survey of 100 fintechs across the Netherlands, Lithuania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK, a report by ClearBank reveals a multitude of challenges fintechs experience at the hands of their agency bank’s shortcomings.

The UK clearing bank’s report, ‘How well are fintechs served by banks? The state of agency banking across the UK and Europe’ outlines the ways agency banks have inhibited the ability of fintech business to thrive. These include intervention from the regulator, delayed launch of a product, unforeseen increase in costs, caused a loss of revenue, caused a service to go down or be unavailable.

CEO Charles McManus explains in the report’s introduction, ‘agency banking’ is the process of a fintech offering its customers a service that is provided and managed by an authorised bank as the ‘agent’ of that service. The provision of customer accounts, access to payment rails (such as CHAPS) are the most common services agency banks tend to provide to fintechs.

While most fintechs access these agency banking services through traditional high street banks, McManus adds that “the outdated technology architecture of incumbents creates problems for tech savvy fintechs. Integrations are complicated due to a lack of APIs or payments are process in batches rather than real-time. This adds up to a poor user experience for the customers of fintechs who see fast, flexible and real time interaction as ‘table stakes.’”

Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) models emerged to address such issues, but traditional banks still struggle to satisfy their fintech clients, with 48% of respondents stating that they don’t believe they’re getting BaaS from their bank.

The report predicts that despite Brexit and Covid-19, agency banking will only increase in importance for fintechs to drive innovation and technology. This importance is driven in part by increased regulatory scrutiny which has resulted in greater use of agency banking providers by 33% of larger fintechs, and 38% of mid-sized fintechs.

Despite this increasing reliance, the report found that nearly half of respondents (49%) don’t believe their agency bank has helped their business. Rather, 12% believe that their bank inhibited their business.

With one in 20 fintechs reported to have experienced an outage because of an issue with their agency bank, the loss of revenue and reputational impact this could inflict on a fintech underscores the seriousness of these factors. 33% of fintechs surveyed stated that they have faced intervention from the regulator due to a fault of their agency banking partner.

The report states that “it is no coincidence that fintechs are seeing more intervention from regulators given that one in 20 fintechs are seeing outages - caused by the agency banking partner - that prevent them from delivering on their promise to customers.”

With the investigation and testing of operational resilience becoming a priority for regulators such as the FCA, the report comments that fintechs are being failed by the agency banks when they need to most help. “This is particularly true for smaller fintechs who effectively ‘outsource’ compliance to their banking partners.”

The report lists a series of requests that fintechs want or expect from their agency banks including:

  • single API access (49%)
  • transparency around use of funds held (42%)
  • better use of Open Banking infrastructure (39%)
  • agency bank to not compete with the fintech they are serving (34%)

Notwithstanding these challenges, 44% of the survey’s respondents said a key reason for choosing to stick with an agency banking provider is because ‘switching looks painful.’

Comments: (2)

Bob Lyddon
Bob Lyddon - Lyddon Consulting Services - Thames Ditton 23 March, 2021, 19:501 like 1 like

I am baffled by the issuance of this report. It’s like Rishi Sunak endorsing a document to lobby for UK corporation tax to be reduced, just after he himself increased it. Clearbank set itself up with the self-awarded mandate to bank second-tier financial institutions (which includes all types of Fintech that handle customer monies) and offer them a one-stop UK agency banking service. If there is still a problem in the UK, it is within Clearbank’s gift to solve it. Instead it implemented a straightforward deterrent to smaller actors in the shape of a £7,000-per-month fee for so-called AML Due Diligence (I know this from several Payment Institutions who approached Clearbank when BFC pulled the plug in Q2 2020, during the time when I was chair of the sector trade body). The total cost of using Clearbank is prohibitive for smaller and medium-sized market actors: that’s fine, hope it works for you, but don’t come out bemoaning a market problem that you could have solved but of which you have instead elected to become part.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 24 March, 2021, 10:57Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

First, fintechs decry banks for dinosaur mindset, legacy systems, slow decision making, and so on. Then, fintechs claim they'd use technology, customer-centric approach, innovation, blah blah blah to disrupt banks. When that doesn't work out, fintechs go back and partner with the same banks.

Obviously, fintechs will face the same problems that customers have faced for ages from traditional banks.  It's extremely lame for fintechs to complain about that.  

This is surreal.