Roberto Villani is the head of igaming at TrueLayer. He has over a decade’s experience in the industry, having previously occupied commercial roles at Trustly and Microgaming.
While safeguarding regulations vary across different markets, the direction of travel is clear: operators must introduce tighter controls, monitor for perceived signs of gambling harm and intervene when necessary.
The challenge for operators is this: how can you deliver safeguarding seamlessly?
Roberto Villani explains that safeguarding checks are increasingly impacting the player experience. “Players are expected to search for bank statements, wage slips, P60s (often on their mobiles) and email back and forth with an operator,” he says. “ It can take days, it’s unsafe and it’s error-prone.”
However, gambling is still a form of entertainment, and ensuring players can enjoy it safely and sustainably remains key. Playtech senior regulatory affairs and compliance manager Richard Bayliss describes safer gambling as “vital” for the industry. This in turn puts the onus on the industry to maintain a balancing act.
“[We] need a position where operators can meet policy expectations while providing an entertaining service,” Bayliss says.
Understanding what regulators want
In the UK, the Gambling Commission has ruled on the thresholds for triggering an interaction with an at-risk player through three key steps: identify the problem, interact with the player and evaluate the risk. Understanding a customer’s affordability and stepping in when it is threatened have become key tenets of the regulator’s narrative.
But imposing blanket restrictions on deposit and spending limits doesn’t take into account individual financial circumstances.
What’s more, the information that can determine someone’s level of disposable income is not always readily available. Even when it is, players can be sensitive about sharing it, fearing it may fall into the wrong hands.
As Jason Chess, co-head of betting and gaming at Wiggin LLP, points out: “We need to be asking what is a sufficient amount of data to satisfy that a customer’s behaviour is in line with their income. The answer is not the blunt instrument of disclosure, but in the use of AI and rich data to target and help the tiny proportion of people who are at risk.”
He adds: “Anything that automates, streamlines and makes more sophisticated the holistic view that gambling operators can develop about the financial background of the people whom they’re transacting with, is good news.” This is where emerging solutions such as open banking can play a key role.
How open banking can help
Villani explains that open banking “gives users an easy and safe way to provide their financial information as well as giving operators the information they need to safeguard their customers, while reducing the risk of losing them”.
It enables operators to connect to customers’ bank accounts (with their consent) to read financial data or make a payment through secure APIs.
This, in turn, helps operators verify identity at signup by checking the player’s name with what’s on file at the bank, Villani continues. By doing so, the operator can analyse transaction history to determine income sources, without needing to request payslips or wade through incomplete bank statements.
As Gabriele Griesbacher, global director of payments and compliance at Entain, notes: “New regulations, especially around affordability, are creating such a painful and intrusive experience for users.
“That is putting huge pressure on customer service teams to reassure and guide people through the process. This is a brilliant use case for open banking.”
Helping customers appreciate the benefits
While open banking makes safeguarding easier for operators and players alike, it is also relatively new – so making sure players feel comfortable using it is key.
“As long as sites properly explain what data is going to be shared, and that the customer always has the means to revoke access, I can’t see any reason why people wouldn’t want to take advantage of open banking,” Griesbacher says.
Bayliss agrees: “Operators need to be clear with their customers that they are asking for information to help them stay safe while they’re gambling, and not because they’re nosy. Get the timing of those messages correct – not leaving it until the last moment; keep them up to date with how you use their information; and use the right tone.
“Here at TrueLayer, we’ve seen a rapid takeup of open banking payments,” he says. “Our igaming partners typically find that when they offer open banking as a deposit option, it quickly makes up around 40% of total player deposits.”
Operators can also make instant payouts to players, which can help with customer retention. Research from YouGov commissioned by TrueLayer in 2020 found that more than half the players surveyed in Europe were likely to switch to a different igaming brand if that brand offered them instant payouts.
What’s the picture in different countries?
While open banking APIs are pan-European, the maturity of open banking user experience varies by market, which presents challenges for brands operating across multiple jurisdictions.
In the UK banks have consistently supported new features which provide the best open banking experience for users, such as app-to-app payments and biometric authentication. As such, takeup for open banking services has been strong – there are now more than five million active open banking users in the UK, with roughly one million new users joining every few months.
“The experience of open banking is improving rapidly in countries like Spain and Germany too, but there is still work to do user journeys in countries such as Italy,” Villani says.
TrueLayer works closely with clients to advise them when to launch in which markets, he adds. “We also give plenty of feedback to banks and regulators where journeys need to be improved.
“It’s important to build your open banking strategy with a trusted partner to help you navigate the opportunities and challenges, and support you with implementation on a global scale.”
This article was drawn from a panel discussion hosted by TrueLayer, featuring: Gabriele Griesbacher (Entain), Jason Chess (Wiggin), Richard Bayliss (Playtech), Max Emilson (TrueLayer) and Jeshua Maxey (TrueLayer).