Canada’s government will name digital banking consultant Abraham Tachjian as its open banking lead on Tuesday, filling a long-awaited new role that is intended to spearhead the design of a new system for sharing financial data in Canada, sources say.
Mr. Tachjian is currently director of digital banking at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and will take on responsibility for creating and launching a Canadian-made framework to introduce open banking, according to four sources with knowledge of the appointment.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they are not authorized to discuss the appointment before it is announced.
Open banking is a concept that enables consumers to securely share their banking records with financial-services providers, including other banks, and financial technology startups, or “fintechs.” It aims to give users greater control of their data and stoke competition and innovation by making it easier to switch providers, open accounts and use financial-advice tools that compile data from different accounts.
Millions of Canadians already share their financial data by linking apps to their bank accounts, usually through a patchwork of technologies that rely on getting permission to use the customer’s online login credentials.
An expert panel urged the federal government to act quickly to craft an open banking regime and recommended appointing an official to steer the process in a report released last year. A key suggestion from that report is that, when a user requests it, financial institutions be compelled to securely share all data that the customer could access through their online banking page with another financial services provider.
The appointment of Mr. Tachjian is the first significant step since then toward creating an open banking regime. The expert panel said the open banking lead should be accountable to the federal Finance Department, and be tasked with convening stakeholders to determine how to create such a system in Canada. It also said the lead should then hand control to a new, purpose-built entity to administer open banking on an ongoing basis, including overseeing an accreditation process to control which companies can access data.
Mr. Tachjian did not respond to requests for comment. Spokespeople for Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault, who is leading the open banking file in Ottawa, and for PwC, declined to comment.
Mr. Tachjian is a lawyer who served as legal counsel for RBC Dominion Securities Inc., then spent nearly three years in Singapore as director of digital banking for British-based Standard Chartered Bank. He worked in Hong Kong for Mox Bank, a virtual start-up backed by Standard Chartered, and joined PwC’s Canadian arm early in 2020. In that role, he played a key part in convening consultations that contributed to the expert panel’s report.
“We really like the job that [Mr. Tachjian] did during the consultations,” said Dominique Samson, chief operating officer of Flinks, a Montreal-based fintech that aggregates financial data that is owned by National Bank of Canada.
Mr. Tachjian’s mix of legal expertise, international experience in digital banking and his relative neutrality as a consultant appear to position him well to navigate competing interests among established banks and newer fintech rivals that have not always seen eye to eye on the issue.
“I’ve seen him in action. He’s quick on his feet, he’s eager to impress, and he’s good at cutting through the positional bargaining and getting to the crux of issues,” said Alex Vronces, executive director of Paytechs of Canada. But “to deliver the advisory committee’s recommendations, the government can’t be passive,” even now that it has chosen an open banking lead, he added.
By most accounts, Ottawa has been slow to embrace open banking, which is more advanced in other countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom. The expert panel’s report was submitted to Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland last April after multiple rounds of consultations that date back to 2018. The Liberal government released the report to the public in August, then promised to implement the recommendations during a federal election campaign later last year.
The panel recommended launching an open banking framework within 18 months, by early 2023. But that timeline now seems hard to meet. Last week, a group of CEOs and senior figures from the fintech sector published an open letter distributed by the Council of Canadian Innovators calling on Mr. Boissonnault to move forward with open banking and warning “Canada has already fallen behind our peers.”
The appointment of an open banking lead by itself is “still not tangible progress,” Mr. Samson said. “This person will need to start implementing the final report of the advisory committee as soon as possible and in full.”
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