Marion King: On her vision for Open Banking, living with roadmap uncertainty, and why she’s optimistic about the OBIE’s future
The new trustee has high hopes for open banking in the UK, despite the question mark over the Open Banking Implementation Entity’s future.
This is an interview from AltFi Research's 2024: Open Finance’s Moment To Shine report, which is available for free here.
It’s fair to say that eyebrows were raised in January when Marion King was appointed as the new trustee of the UK’s Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE).
Previous trustees had been plucked from industry groups or consultancies, positioned as neutral players able to balance the data demands of the fintech community with the requirements of the banks providing said data.
King, coming straight from NatWest Group where she was formerly director of payments, appeared at first glance to be far less of a ‘unity’ candidate and more a concession to those bankers who’ve long complained that they bear all of the cost of open banking with few of the benefits.
“I think we've moved beyond the big bank having their ‘hooks’ into this type of area,” King told AltFi.
“I represent a level of understanding for the banks, but I'm independent and I can also reach out and connect with trade bodies and other parties. I have a background and I guess a profile that represents understanding and inclusion of all groups.”
Four months on, and it’s fast becoming clear that King’s understanding and insider knowledge of the incumbent banking sector might be exactly what’s needed to navigate this period of uncertainty for open banking.
While the UK government has just published an open banking roadmap for the next two years—containing 29 individual actions which the OBIE and other industry groups will have to implement—the document has left as many questions open as it answered.
Critically the structure, funding and core functions of the ‘future entity’ which will oversee open banking going forward is still under “consultation”. A word that has become all too familiar for many in the open banking sector.
“I think the levels of consultation that the regulators have done have frustrated some, but I personally believe it's absolutely necessary because I'm very mindful of unintended consequences or potential outcomes or issues that we haven't thought through,” says King, who has first-hand experience of exactly that.
In the 2000s she worked as CEO of payments company VocaLink during the period that it built and launched the UK’s Faster Payments service.
“We didn't foresee how real-time [payment] rails would progress, and we certainly didn't foresee the potential of scams. So this time I think we need to try and think through every eventuality, not just for tomorrow, not just through the delivery program, but for the next five and 10 years as this open architecture approach to the ecosystem accelerates, which it clearly will.”
Indeed, the open banking roadmap is already looking to fix or improve on some of the early issues with open banking, from confusing error codes to the lack of consumer protections.
With that in mind, the trustee’s biggest concern going forward is “getting it right” as open banking expands both on a technical level and at a political level, with ‘smart data’ as the all-encompassing buzzword seized upon by the government to cover not just the expansion of open banking into new financial datasets, but also the development of data sharing in entirely new sectors like energy or telecoms.
“If the opportunity for different smart data use cases becomes a reality, then hopefully it will strengthen the case for investment into the UK,” explained King.
“I think it's very real, albeit these things can get hijacked and we have an election in 18 months’ time, but I’m optimistic that we could position this as a reason to invest or a reason to look to invest in the UK.”
Into The Unknown
For now, King’s most immediate priority is rather more short-term, to continue to “deliver the order” (a trustee catchphrase of sorts, meaning don’t be too distracted by the longer-term decisions being made in Whitehall and by regulators, but rather to stay focused on the task at hand).
This in itself will be a change of pace for the OBIE, an organisation that just 18 months ago was flung into crisis and firefighting amid a bullying scandal, the fallout of which took the entire tenure of former trustee Charlotte Crosswell to resolve. With the OBIE’s fires extinguished and an open banking roadmap in place, the new trustee has the gift of focus that her predecessor never had.
“What happens after these two years is a little bit more uncertain, but I think it's great that we've got that sort of roadmap in place,” says King. “It gives everyone that sense of relief, like we know where we're going.”
The industry may have certainty, but that benefit is yet to be shared with the OBIE itself, an organisation which has reached the end of its original purpose but has yet to be given clarity on what role exactly it will play in the ‘future entity’.
King in all likelihood will be the last trustee of what is now the Open Banking Implementation Entity or Open Banking Limited, and the first trustee of the ‘future entity’ which her organisation is earmarked to evolve into.
Not that this uncertainty weighs on the high hopes of the new trustee, whose optimism and excitement about the future are plain to see.
“This is the start of the next phase really, [former trustee] Charlotte Crosswell and her team did a fantastic job delivering against that order, and now it's about saying ‘what more do we need to do to get this really functioning?’” says King.
“That means more work for banks, it means more work for Open Banking Limited, more work for regulators. We've all got a lot more work to do.”
Want more? Read this interview and more in AltFi Research's 2024: Open Finance’s Moment To Shine report, out now!