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Review: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) submission to Advisory Committee on Open Banking

FCAC | March 2021

FCAC review 2nd around of open banking consultation - Review:  Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) submission to Advisory Committee on Open Banking

Overview

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) is a federal financial sector regulator, which oversees federally regulated financial entities’ compliance with consumer protection measures, promotes financial education, and raises consumers’ awareness of their financial rights and responsibilities. In addition, FCAC is responsible for monitoring and evaluating trends and emerging issues that may have an impact on consumers of financial products and services, as well as providing timely and objective information and tools to help consumers navigate financial products and services.

The Advisory Committee on Open Banking (the Committee) shared consultation materials with interested stakeholders, including the FCAC, in fall of 2020.  FCAC welcomes the opportunity to participate in the development of a uniquely Canadian open banking solution that prioritizes the right of the consumer to control their financial data and puts in place safeguards to ensure they are protected from financial and non-financial harm. This submission has been submitted to the Committee for their consideration in the context of their consultations.

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FCAC is broadly supportive of a hybrid model for open banking that carves out specific roles for government and industry and sets out the building blocks outlined in the Committee’s consultation  materials.  FCAC supports the Committee’s advocacy of a framework centred on several core consumer outcomes:

  • Consumer data is protected;
  • Consumers are in control of their data;
  • Consumers receive access to a wider range of useful, competitive and consumer friendly financial services;
  • Consumers have reliable, consistent access to services; and
  • Consumers have recourse and redress when issues arise.

We strongly recommend adding a sixth core consumer outcome: Consumers benefit from consistent consumer protection and market conduct standards. Based on experiences in other jurisdictions, consumer confidence is necessary for the success of open banking. A core outcome related to market conduct and consumer protection should be explicitly stated to provide assurance to consumers and as a signal to the industry.

This would include the following base level requirements: clear, simple, and not misleading language; no coercion or tied-selling; express consent; and a robust complaints-handling system which prioritizes a fast and seamless process for the consumer.

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It is inherent in the Committee’s consultation materials that consumers will have meaningful protection; FCAC recommends that the sixth core consumer outcome be added to reinforce this foundational principle. This central focus on consumer issues is critical to enable adoption of open banking and also needs to be ongoing – consumer protection must be embedded in every stage of accreditation, implementation, and in the governance and maintenance of any open banking system. Consumers should continue to receive at least the same level of protection that they currently enjoy, including in terms of liability protection. For example, today consumers are not held liable for unauthorized transactions on their debit and credit cards, provided that they have taken reasonable care to protect their information. FCAC believes that similar protections should apply in the open banking framework.

FCAC recognizes that the time to act is now and acknowledges the positive role that open banking can play in the future Canadian economy. We agree that the risks of the status quo (i.e., screen scraping) will lead to adverse outcomes for consumers.

FCAC has already warned consumers of these risks through a consumer alert and will continue educating consumers on open banking as implementation moves forward. To that end, FCAC plans to publish additional consumer education web content on open banking and fintechs in early 2021.

Summary of Recommendations

FCAC’s consumer protection mandate is exercised in two principal ways: 1) we oversee regulated entities’ compliance with consumer protection provisions, and 2) we educate consumers to improve their knowledge, skills, and confidence in making financial decisions. As a result, FCAC is well-positioned to contribute to the design and implementation of an open banking framework. The following are the main recommendations and issues that FCAC believes would merit further consideration by the Committee.

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Consumer protection / market conduct standards and consumer recourse

  1. Incorporate legally binding consumer protection and financial inclusion requirements into the accreditation criteria from the outset (e.g., fair access to financial products and services; the requirement and verifiable ability to provide financial redress; policies and procedures related to effective complaint handling; express consent for data sharing and how consumer data will be used; and, communicating product and system disclosures in a manner that is clear, simple and not misleading). These requirements should trigger enforcement actions when non-compliance occurs.
  2. Invest in a national awareness and education campaign focused on open banking to ensure consistent and unbiased messaging to consumers that does not select winners and losers. This campaign should be jointly funded by the industry and government and be coordinated by a respected authority who will employ evidence-based practices. FCAC has the experience and mandate to contribute to and coordinate such a campaign.
  3. Apply stricter accreditation and implementation programs for firms seeking write access. Write access carries greater risks for consumers than read access and therefore should only be allowed when the framework is established and operating effectively.
  4. Apply a liability framework that ensures a single, seamless consumer experience, which does not put the onus on the consumer to navigate the attribution of liability, and provides fast redress / reimbursement for consumers.
  5. Designate a single external complaints body (ECB) for open banking activities and afford the ECB binding resolution authority.

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Oversight

  1. Careful consideration must be given to the delineation of the role, scope and authority of both the accreditation body and the implementation entity.
    1. It may be appropriate for the accreditation body to be industry-led and responsible for technical standards, particularly in relation to accreditation criteria. It will be important to ensure that consumer issues are adequately represented within this body.
    2. The implementation entity should be a regulator or be under the oversight of a regulator or other appropriate government body. The implementation entity needs to be set up in a way that is transparent, prioritizes consumer interests and protection, and manages conflicts of interests.
  2. Appropriate government oversight of both bodies will be fundamental to consumer confidence, particularly if the accreditation or implementation entity is afforded the authority to establish and enforce rules.  Close monitoring will be required to ensure that the rules and their application do not advance business interests at the expense of consumer protection.

Data access

  1. Given that open banking-type activities are already present in Canada (e.g., screen-scraping), immediate direction is required during the interim period while a framework is developed. This direction should include expected commitments/roles for government and industry, guidance on interim liability allocation and access to redress, how consumer protection will be incorporated, and a sunset date for screen-scraping.
  2. The open banking framework should include barriers to prevent firms performing similar functions from operating without accreditation and under different rules (i.e., by continuing to use screen-scraping).
  3. Reciprocity should be driven by consumer consent; firms should not require reciprocal data access in order to provide a product or service.

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