Account Aggregators Are Here. Almost.
A customer makes a payment on his digital wallet, in Bengaluru. (Photographer: Samyukta Lakshmi/Bloomberg)

Account Aggregators Are Here. Almost.

Account aggregators, that promise to consolidate all your financial data in one place, allowing you to access services with a few clicks at a time, are closer to becoming a reality.

At least four banks, including HDFC Bank Ltd., ICICI Bank Ltd., Axis Bank Ltd. and IndusInd Bank Ltd., have started testing account aggregators services for a select set of customers, before they open up these platforms to everyone.

These banks have allowed access to over a few thousand users as part of the beta testing phase, said BG Mahesh, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sahamati—a collective working on popularising the account aggregator framework among financial services providers and users.

The beta testing started last week and is expected to last another few weeks before the framework is launched for all, Mahesh said.

Other banks, including State Bank of India, Federal Bank Ltd., Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd. and IDFC First Bank are set to join the account aggregator framework shortly. Non-bank lenders such as Bajaj Finance Ltd., LendingKart and DMI Finance are also joining, Mahesh said. Sahamati is also in talks with insurers to join the framework.

Account aggregators Finvu, Onemoney, NADL and CAMS are working with these financial institutions, he said.

Why We Need Account Aggregators

Account aggregators are a set of non-banking financial companies, which work as technology intermediaries between companies seeking financial data of customers (financial information users) and those holding that data (financial information providers).

FIPs and FIUs include banks, non-bank lenders, insurance companies and mutual funds, who require financial information and documents from customers.

The account aggregator system hopes to ease data sharing between these various financial services players.

With a customer’s consent, the aggregator can digitally grab documents from your bank (FIP) and share it with another financial service provider (FIU). This, in turn, would mean customers don’t need to run around collecting documents to open accounts, get loans or access other financial products.

In theory, everyone benefits. For customers, it cuts down the time taken in the process of accessing new financial services. For financial service providers, it makes the process of customer acquisition smoother.

What's On Offer

In the testing phase, banks have started with a small set of services that can be accessed if customers have their data available through an account aggregator.

"Some of these lenders have starting offering personal loans and small business loans on the platform," Mahesh said. "Currently, lending and personal finance management are available as use cases for account aggregators."

The financial services providers can come up with multiple use cases over time. This could include broader loan categories, opening bank accounts, investment products such as mutual fund schemes and even insurance plans. Sahamati is working with them through a consultative process, Mahesh said.

Nikhil Kumar, chief evangelist officer at Setu, said the use of a consent-based information framework for financial services, is a global first.

"The number of use cases which can be built on the account aggregator framework are huge," Kumar said. "It will allow for better underwriting of credit for customers and also help financial institutions provide customised financial services and products."

For consumers, the account aggregators can help make a number of financial transactions paperless and reduce the turnaround time. A simple authorisation to the account aggregator to share information from, say, your bank accounts with an asset management company, can help complete a transaction such as a mutual fund investment.

Similarly, you may be able to process a loan within minutes if you authorise your account aggregator to share information, such as your bank account statements, with the entity you are seeking a loan from.

"The information shared is in fully machine-readable format, which their (service provider's) underwriting models can use. So lets say a customer is seeking a loan, the lender can issue the approval within a couple of minutes, as they are able to access a customer's bank account details with their consent," Mahesh said.

Banks are going in, but with caution.

Shalini Warrier, executive director and business head retail at Federal Bank, thinks the account aggregator framework needs to mature.

"We're excited about the possibilities that account aggregation offers. We are well advanced on our certification journey," she said. "This capability will take time to evolve,however, and we need a larger number of financial institutions and customers to be on-boarded before we are able to use the platform to its full potential."

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