Financial Services Ireland

Implementing Strong Customer Authentication under PSD2

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The Revised Payment Services Directive (more commonly known as PSD2) comes into effect across Europe on 13 January 2018. PSD2 mandates a host of changes in the payments ecosystem (summarised well here by Starling Bank), but the game-changer is the concept of Access to Accounts (XS2A), which forces banks to allow regulated third party providers (TPPs) access to customer accounts, in order to initiate payments or to provide account information services.

The security measures governing such access are detailed in the Regulatory Technical Standards on Strong Customer Authentication and Common and Secure Communication (SCA RTS). This RTS has been hotly debated from the outset, with the EBA consultation paper published in August 2016 receiving a record 224 responses. The final draft of the RTS was published on the 23 February 2017 and specifies:

  • The requirements of Strong Customer Authentication (SCA)
  • The exemptions from the application of SCA
  • Requirements to protect the confidentiality and integrity of personalised security
  • The requirements for common and secure open standards of communication (CSC)

The key points of the final draft are summarised well here by Finextra.

The final draft RTS will be submitted to the Commission for adoption, following which they will be subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament and the Council before being published in the Official Journal of the European Union. The RTS will be applicable 18 months after its entry into force; while the final draft suggests an application date of ‘November 2018 at the earliest’, many in the industry believe a date in early 2019 is more likely.

Implementation roadmap

The implementation roadmap for the SCA RTS is not a straightforward one. Banks need to decide how they will manage (and audit) compliance across a variety of existing channels, including key customer touchpoints such as internet banking and mobile app propositions. If (as is likely) responsibility for compliance is devolved to the individual channel owners, banks will need a central design/approval forum for security and authentication patterns, which may be governed under the CISO function. In an increasingly competitive environment, with customers less ‘sticky’ than ever (According to EY’s Global Consumer Banking Survey, 42% of Irish consumers would not hesitate to change financial services provider if they found one with a better online/digital offer/experience), those who cannot find the right balance between security and simplicity will struggle.

We see implementation of the SCA RTS as a three step process:

1. Open API Channel Compliance

For many banks, PSD2 will be their first experience of exposing Open APIs. This exposure carries a fear factor, and ensuring that these APIs are fully secure will in general require new security capabilities. Given that the SCA RTS is the defined standard of security, we believe that banks will be aiming to have their API Channel compliant (for both SCA and CSC) in line with the XS2A deadline of January 2018.

The first instinct of many banks may be to make use of the various exemptions to SCA (low value payments, trusted beneficiaries etc.) to avoid applying strong authentication where possible. However, given the complexity associated with these exemptions (particularly transaction-risk analysis – discussed further below), banks may be better off investing up front in the development of a simple and delightful SCA experience rather than employing an avoidance strategy.

2. Full Channel Compliance

While the API Channel may be the first cab off the rank for SCA RTS compliance, other channels such as internet and mobile banking must follow quickly. Consistency of customer experience when performing strong authentication will be crucial, and will require central oversight. Again, up-front investment in a reusable, customer-friendly SCA solution will be beneficial here.

3. Adoption of Transaction Risk Analysis (TRA)

In arguably the most significant change introduced in the final draft, Article 16 of the RTS allows an exemption from SCA where the transaction is identified as posing a ‘low level of risk’. Reference fraud rates (which must be met in order to avail of the exemption) have been provided by the EBA, as well as a base set of conditions which must be met in order to deem a transaction low risk. While this exemption may allow banks to simplify the customer journey in some cases, there are a number of considerations to be addressed:

  • Determination of, and the governance model for, risk analysis business rules
  • The ability to accurately monitor fraud rates and adherence to reference rates
  • Assessment and audit of the documented fraud rate, methodology, calculation and results
  • Ability to ‘turn off’ transaction-risk analysis when required

Given the complexity involved in making use of this exemption, we feel that many banks will not be ready to make use of the TRA exemption at any stage in 2018; rather, the concept will be developed at a strategic level over the next 2-3 years.

Banks also need to carefully assess the benefits of this exemption. There are those who feel that TRA is of limited use and will confuse rather than clarify the customer journey; the fact that banks must be prepared to revert to full SCA if fraud rates are breached adds weight to the view that a frictionless SCA solution is required regardless of which exemptions are applied. A contrasting view here is that many customers are already familiar with TRA through using tools such Verified by Visa when making Card payments online. If TRA is going to be used, many banks will face a build/buy decision; outsourcing this capability to a trusted ecosystem partner may simplify the execution roadmap considerably.

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Colin Ryan

Ireland Financial Services Country Leader
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