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Open Platform’s head of product advocates for stronger collaboration between banks and fintechs


Susan French
Susan French, head of product for BBVA Open Platform

In the constantly evolving world of finance, success is about more than dollars and cents, and relationships are more complex than lines of code that financial consumers will never see.

In early May, Susan French, head of product for BBVA Open Platform, a New Digital Businesses portfolio company, took part in a panel discussion at FinovateSpring’s Customer Experience Summit in San Francisco.

The discussion, titled “Fintechs And Financial Institutions on the Journey Toward a Productive Partnership in CX,” featured several other professionals from financial institutions and fintechs:

  • Lara Druyan, managing director and head of innovation at Royal Bank of Canada
  • Mike Sigal, partner at 500 Startups
  • Anatoly Kvitnitsky, VP of growth at Trulioo

French, who is responsible for defining and building Open Platform’s API-based services on its banking-as-a-service (BaaS) platform, brought a nuanced perspective to the table: Open Platform is unique in its efforts to streamline and simplify the relationship between banks and fintechs.

“In a lot of bank-sponsored APIs, sometimes your customer experience has to look more like what the bank wants it to look like, because that’s how their system works,” French said. “My team and I decide what capabilities we’re going to give third-party clients for white-labeled banking services, and we want to give fintechs as much flexibility as possible.”

Banks attempting to dictate customer experience on behalf of fintechs (whose business models and customer bases they may not understand) can create friction between these institutions. These two types of institutions operate at a fundamentally different level and don’t “speak the same language,” according to French.

This friction — and how to address it — was a major topic of discussion during the panel. “Part of a good collaboration is coming to a shared understanding of the space and each other’s challenges,” she said. “Banks have to be more comfortable and empathize with the goals and objectives of startups, and startups need to understand that banks live in a regulated environment.”

Open Platform tries to limit the amount of personal data it requires from fintechs’ end consumers, for instance, but regulatory requirements dictate that those customers go through a standard KYC process — and Open Platform tries to make it clear exactly why they need that data to move forward with initiating a new account.

“Other more traditional banks will send you a list of 42 things you have to do for compliance,” she said. “They’ll also send you a very one-sided contract proposal, because they just don’t ‘get it’ from the startup point of view.”

Open Platform benefits from employees with deep background in startups, and they have also invested significant time and energy in understanding the way startups operate: with limited budgets and skeleton staffs that don’t typically include “an army of compliance officers.”

Though the need for better understanding goes both ways, French says, the changing overall landscape of financial services puts the onus on banks to adapt.

“Millennials have come into their own in terms of money, and they have different expectations around financial services, and their expectations are giving rise to new companies trying to meet them,” French said. “It will be interesting to see how the world of banking evolves and responds to the market in the next five to 10 years.”

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