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Banks, fintech startups clash over ‘the new oil’ — your data

Politico | Victoria Guida | Feb 7, 2020

JP Morgan - Banks, fintech startups clash over 'the new oil' — your dataFintech companies argue that giving banks a tight grip over the flow of information will allow the big lenders to snuff out new competitors.

The nation’s banks are locked in a bitter fight with upstart technology companies over the control of their customers' financial data — and the consumers whose personal information is at stake are mostly spectators.

JPMorgan Chase, PNC and other major lenders are threatening to limit the access of middlemen that are hired by financial apps like Venmo and Betterment to grab customers' account information from the banks' websites. The banks warn that financial information is less secure in the hands of these data aggregators, a worry shared by federal investigators, and that there are few controls over the sale of the information to third parties like hedge funds.

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For their part, financial technology companies argue that giving banks a tight grip over the flow of information will allow the big lenders to snuff out new competitors and make it harder for customers to compare rates and prices for different services.

The ability to maintain access to that data is so valuable that the powerful middlemen, which work on behalf of thousands of financial apps, are doing something that companies almost never do: asking the government for more oversight to prove that they are responsible handlers of sensitive data.

“Data is the new oil,” said Linda Jeng, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Institute of International Economic Law and a former Federal Reserve official.

“If you have access to data, then you have the ingredients to build better services.”

The conflict is part of the existential challenge that the fintech upstarts are posing to banks and their record profits as they increase the speed and convenience of transferring money or getting mortgages approved. Much of the battle is over information, and it has escalated in the absence of government rules establishing that customers themselves control their own personal data, as in the European Union.

The dispute, brewing for some time, is now spilling out in the open. JPMorgan Chase is making moves to cut off the ability of data aggregators to obtain customer data without the bank’s consent.

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The middlemen — called “screen-scrapers” because of the way they get the data — include Plaid and Yodlee, which most payment app users might not even know exist. They use a consumer’s bank username and password to pull account information, a right that people sign over to the digital payments companies when they do business with them, giving the aggregators the ability to grab more data whenever they like.

The aggregators have access to any data that the customer can see when they log on to their bank's website — account balances, transaction data, mortgage information.

JPMorgan wants to require companies to negotiate a standardized set of data fields that they can request. In December, it reached a deal with Yodlee to that end and has previously struck agreements with other aggregators.

"We want to protect our customers’ financial data while giving them more visibility and control when using the financial apps," said Paul LaRusso, managing director of digital platforms at JPMorgan Chase.

Meanwhile, PNC has already started restricting the information that aggregators like Plaid can get using customer-provided login information.

“PNC’s goal is to accommodate our customers’ choice to connect to the fintech apps they want to use while also ensuring that those connections are made safely and securely,” said Karen Larrimer, PNC’s head of retail banking.

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