Month: June 2016

Building financial data infrastructure through open banking

Notes from a speech at a Thomson Reuters-hosted ODI Futures events on the future of financial data infrastructure. The event also included the launch of an ODI Labs paper on blockchain technology.

Data is infrastructure. Just like roads. Roads help us navigate to a location, data helps us make a decision. In the industrial revolution we learnt how to build good road infrastructure. In the digital revolution we need to learn how to build good data infrastructure.

Our road infrastructure is more than just the roads. It includes road signs that describe a particular piece of road. The highway code that tells us how we should all behave. Organisations that maintain roads and make sure they’re there when we need them. When there are potholes and road blockages, there are people whose job it is to fix those problems. Today, we can help too. Apps like FixMyStreet let us take pictures of potholes and send them to our local councils.

Similarly, our data infrastructure is more than data. The data is important — and that data comes from across the spectrum of closed, shared and open data — but data infrastructure includes the technology, processes and organisations that help us publish, discover, maintain and use that data.

Technology such as blockchains and open APIs. Processes such as data protection legislation or training to help people understand how to use data ethically. Organisations such as the ODI or each of you in the audience today. I suspect that everyone here today either maintains or uses financial data infrastructure. If you have a bank account then your data is in that infrastructure.

Data infrastructure connects multiple sectors. To give some examples from around the financial sector. Economic statistics are used by banks to make decisions about investments. Flood maps are used by insurance companies to set premiums. Property ownership records are used to understand credit risk. Informaton about mortgage products is used by banks, regulators and customers to make decisions.

But we need to learn how to strengthen data infrastructure. There is too much data that is poorly maintained, inaccessible or that costs too much money to access.

When strengthening data infrastructure people, businesses, governments and societies will face choices. These choices might lead us to different data futures.

We might choose a locked-down future. One where organisations misuse data in ways that we find creepy whilst we continue to see hacks and security breaches due to poor security. This leads to people choosing to withdraw their data and reducing how much they interact online. Think of it as a data infrastructure dominated by missing roads and communities with padlocked gates. It creates the least value from data.

Or a paid future. One where everyone expects to pay for access to data and to be paid for access to their data. Imagine the costs of managing all of those transactions and licences. It’s a data infrastructure with toll booths every 100 yards. This may be the future we are heading towards right now. It’s flawed.

At the ODI believe we should choose something else: an open future. One where our data infrastructure is like our road system. The data infrastructure is as open and navigable as possible. Open data will be maximised, while privacy is respected. We believe this future creates the most value. It creates a virtuous circle from which everyone can benefit.

But analogies only go so far. We won’t build better data infrastructure using the same techniques we use for road infrastructure. To give a simple example the M25 was first proposed in 1937 in Sir Charles Bressey’s and Sir Edwin Lutyens’ The Highway Development Survey. It was completed 49 years later in 1986.

None of us can take that long to plan and build better data infrastructure. The web moves too fast. The web has only been around for 25 years and look at what it has delivered. The web of data is the next stage in its evolution.

Lots of people are helping building this open future and the web of data with the open banking standard. Last year about 150 people from a huge range of organisations collaborated and worked in the open. In just 3 months they agreed a way to make retail banking data as open as possible whilst keeping private what should be private.

To implement the framework the community will need to work together to understand the needs of differing stakeholders, develop open standards, publish open data about products and branches, create open APIs for sharing personal data with people in control, develop guidance for compliance, rollout training, to run innovation challenges to test the standard and stimulate the market and communications to make sure everyone knows what’s happening.

The prize for completing this work is big. A data infrastructure which is as open as possible, such as the one developed by the open banking standard, will enable open innovation at web-scale.

The standard will help customers to look for a mortgage more easily, banks to find customers matched to a new product, and businesses to share data with their accountants. The uses won’t be limited to the UK retail banking sector. People have talked about using the data in the UK’s decentralised identity framework; or to help people who move country and need to create a new banking account or rent a flat. The standard will allow these, and many other services, to be built whilst respecting privacy, putting customers in control of their data and creating trust.

People want those services and open innovation creates opportunities for businesses. Good data infrastructure which is as open as possible is a competitive advantage for organisations, cities, sectors and nations.

The open banking standard helps build that infrastructure and is part of that competitive advantage. It’s part of the open future for financial data infrastructure.

The curious silence of Blackpool Council and its leader

Thousands of Blackpool fans are boycotting their football club. Fewer than half of season ticket holders were going to home games at the end of last season and investigations show that about 25% of season tickets have been renewed for the coming season. The fans are boycotting until things change.

Image courtesy of a Blackpool fan — let me know who and I’ll credit 🙂

At most clubs a boycott might be due to bad performances on the pitch, and given their second relegation in a row it is clear that Blackpool are dreadful on the pitch, but in Blackpool’s case the boycott is due to the owners, the Oyston family, and how they treat the fans, the club and the community.

The club’s owners have taken and are still taking legal action against fans. They antagonise and abuse fans. The family paid themselves the largest ever salary for a football club director and transferred money from the club to other businesses. There are even allegations that the club is linked to money-laundering.

Despite this the town council and its leader, Simon Blackburn, stay silent. How curious.

The town marched, the politicians were absent

Over 3000 people marched through Blackpool in protest last month. My family and I were in that march. We marched alongside Blackpool fans, fellow football fans from across the country and fans from abroad.

A Fortuna Dusseldorf fan on the march. Image author’s own.

My sister came on the march. She doesn’t like football. She was there for the town. Blackpool should be proud of that march. It was peaceful, joyous and united in a determination to change the town and club for the better.

But despite the turnout, there was something missing. Local councillors and their leader, Simon Blackburn. Despite the disgrace being heaped on the town he is curiously silent and the council is curiously passive.

After much pressure and lobbying Blackpool Supporters Trust was given time to speak to the council earlier in the year. In his response Simon Blackburn told the fans “we cannot take sides that is not the role of the council”.

Some local councils and politicians choosing sides

Most football fans are used to the times when councils praise their team’s occasional success. Both Leicester and Merton council leaders have rightly praised Leicester for winning the English league and AFC Wimbledon for their promotion.

But local councils also intervene when things are going bad or might go bad. Leeds council spoke up before Massimo Cellino bought the club and asked the FA to check if he was a fit and proper owner. Coventry council have asked questions about the leasing arrangements between the football club and the rugby club. Newcastle council complained about Mike Ashley trying to rename St James Park to Sports Direct Arena. There are many more cases. I expect that in some cases I would agree with the council and some I would not.

Politicians choose sides. It’s what they do. They don’t just display their choice of sides by passing legislation. Politicians also tell us about their choice of sides by speaking out about issues that concern them to try and improve things. Soft power can help make things better.

Politicians from across the political spectrum are tackling the wealthy businessmen behind the collapse of BHS whilst, to give a Blackpool example, Simon Blackburn recently joined the protests against the increase in the cost of bursaries for nurses.

Labour, the political party Simon Blackburn belongs to, intend to pass legislation to give fans more control over football clubs but have not been able to persuade the government to allow them to put the bill forwards. Despite this the local Conservative and Labour MPs as well as the leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool council have spoken out in support of the Blackpool fans that boycott the club and their call for change. It is the council, Simon Blackburn and the local Labour party that stay silent.

But perhaps they know something about Blackpool football club and the Oystons that we don’t? Perhaps there is a good reason for Blackpool council choosing to do nothing?

Blackpool Council know nothing

When the Blackpool Supporters Trust spoke at the council meeting Simon Blackburn said that he would not disclose the details of his meetings with the Oystons. That surprised me as much as the statement about not taking sides. We expect our politicians to be open and transparent. It makes democracy better.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed that, despite his claim to meet Karl and Owen Oyston “from time to time”, that he had only met members of the family twice in the last two years. Curiously the council held no record of the discussions in either meeting.

A snippet from the ICO mail confirming that they had chased Blackpool council for a response.

A follow up FOI request — that only received a response when the Information Commissioners Office intervened — showed that Blackpool Council hold no documents relating to the impact on the town of the relegation of the club from the Premiership. This is despite the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce claiming that Blackpool’s 2010/11 season in the Premier League was “worth about £30m to the local economy”.

It seems strange that the council would not care about such a loss to the economy. With the lack of notes about meetings and lack of research into the club it appears that the council knows nothing.

The curious silence should cause people to ask questions

When Simon Blackburn said that the council could not take sides the local paper supported this stance saying:

can a council leader really go to war with one of the town’s most wealthy business families? Rightly or wrongly, his approach is understandable.

It was a bizarre statement from the council but it was also a strange stance from the local newspaper. It is clear that a council can take sides and it is also clear that politicians can choose to tackle wealthy families. They do this to stand up for the people they represent. Perhaps there is a good reason that Blackpool council and the council leader choose to do nothing. That they choose not to stand up for Blackpool fans or the town. That they chose to not even turn up for that protest march to talk with 3000 people concerned about the club and the town.

People on a protest march to Bloomfield Road. Image author’s own.

Maybe the council are more concerned with supporting the Oyston’s housebuilding plans on the edge of town. Perhaps they are scared of legal action from the Oystons. Or simply disagree with the fans and think the issues are unimportant. I’m a fan of Occam’s razor and suspect that this is a cockup rather than a conspiracy but whatever the reason may be, the council and Simon Blackburn are choosing not to be honest and share it with the rest of us. How curious.

Whilst the legal actions and disputes around Blackpool football club continue, the residents of Blackpool and the newspapers should be asking more questions about the curious silence of Blackpool council and its leader.

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