FROM the days of marking up bank books and having stern face-to face meetings with the manager, to instantly transferring funds in seconds by mobile phone, we need to feel that banks are looking after our hard-earned money.

As Sean Devaney, Director of Strategy, Banking & Financial Markets at CGI, explains, the message of how we can now open our bank accounts to outside parties needs to be delivered more clearly.

It’s called Open Banking and, as Sean explains, it was developed as the result of a decision by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). It decided that banks didn’t provide a level-enough playing field for competitors to come into the marketplace and innovate. 
So, in conjunction with European legislation, the CMA said banks had to develop a set of services that allowed third parties to access account information. That would mean they could get information on an account and make customer payments on their behalf, obviously with permission.

“People are not familiar with the idea and sometimes there’s a nervousness about it, and that’s understandable,” says Sean. “For the past 10 years, it seems we’ve been told on a daily basis not to reveal our account details to anyone – and now banks are saying it’s safe to let these third parties have access.

“Open Banking is a service that was provided initially by the nine largest banks – by number of account holders – in the UK.

“That allowed fintech providers, so third parties such as your insurance company, your gas company, or the likes of Amazon or PayPal to, with your permission, access account information, download statement information or make payments on your behalf.”
Sean points out that this access is different to something that has been known as “screen scraping”. With access to accounts, these companies would take a picture of the screen and then gather information from that.

“There have been various companies carrying this out. They would require you to provide them with your username and password to one or more accounts and then they would provide you with the service. Even though that service was coming from a legitimate provider, in reality it was providing unfettered access to your bank account. Had there been a security breach it would be a worry because you’d be giving them access across all of your accounts. The only way to stop access would be to change your password.”
There were clearly trust issues with the banking system following the 2008 financial crash, but as Sean points out, the trust that banks can carry out transactions has not been depleted.  

In fact, we are demanding more from banks. From the generation who clung to their bank books and visited a branch to meet the manager, we are now in a position where banking is almost completely faceless and any transaction that can’t happen in real-time is seen as a real inconvenience.

Bank on seismic change

Sean explains how Open Banking formalises that third-party access to our accounts: “To get access to any of your information you have to give explicit permission. You are allowing this particular third party to access this particular account for a particular purpose for this length of time. It’s much more controlled and security around it is much more robust. You can provide access to a very specific amount of data and for a very specific amount of time.
“The idea is the banks can provide much more innovative products to the customers. 
“For example, there are companies who offer mobile services. If you buy a coffee with their app, they will round up the price and then place the extra funds in an ISA for you. They’re providing what could be a valuable and innovative service, but it’s very much done through this open banking process.

“If you look at the largest tech companies in the world at the moment, such as Amazon and Uber, they are all providers of platforms where other services can be added.”
That’s where CGI sees a number of its banking clients moving, using banking as a platform. 
“Banks have never actually made anything – all they were doing was facilitating other people doing things – so banking logically lends itself to being a platform offering. Banks have traditionally always done everything in-house, but what we see is banking looking out for  best-of-breed providers, and then working out how they integrate. 
“For example, rather than developing your own version of Uber, why won’t you connect directly from the bank into that service?”

These services require that connectivity inside the bank, so CGI has developed an offering called Open Finance, which allows banks to have connections into all these external services, in a way that is fully documented with a robust interface.

“The banks themselves don’t have to develop those services,” adds Sean. “They can pull in services from outside the organisation using our Open Finance service and connect into the core transaction process. 

“Our service allows banks to coordinate and manage how they connect to all these other services so they can offer their customers a much more seamless and wide-ranging set of services.”

How CGI’s shareholder scheme and culture as a ‘family organisation’ helps firm to thrive

Although the technology and terminology of banking can be lost on many of us, Sean Devaney has worked on projects that have made our lives so much simpler and can be encapsulated in just two words - ‘faster payments’. He was part of the team that developed the now-everyday technology that allows us to transfer payments in seconds.

He calls himself a “relatively long-termer” at CGI, having been with the organisation since 2005. Since then Sean has noticed a real shift in the workforce culture. “CGI is a very different type of organisation. It feels much more like a family organisation. More than 80 per cent of what we call members rather than staff are actually shareholders in the company.”

CGI’s founder once said that the ownership culture is vitally important as “nobody ever washes a rental car”.

Sean adds that the culture is one that encourages people to stay, whatever their background.


Sean Devaney

“I think CGI is a more interesting company to work for because of its diversity.  
“That involves the people in the organisation, but it’s also the diversity of projects that we become involved in because CGI works across so many sectors, not just financial services.”
Sean believes the fact that CGI works in sectors from health to defence and in the public and private sectors allows them to avoid having too much of an “internal focus”.
The insights that come through working in one sector can be transferred into another sector. 

“That diffusion of ideas is not confined to management either.
Sean said: “I’ve never been made to feel that I can’t talk to a more senior person or bring an idea to the organisation because it’s simply not my place to do it.  
“Every area is open to ideas and new opportunities being brought in, regardless of where the person is sitting in the organisation.
“We run an innovations programme called ICE, where anybody in the organisation can submit an idea to seek funding for development of new services, products, or opportunities. 
“For a 77,000-person company it doesn’t feel like you’re lost in the mass of people or being treated as a number.”