Finance

Open Banking boss quits over bullying and sexism allegations

The head of the UK’s open banking oversight organisation is stepping down after an investigation found a culture of bullying, intimidation and poor governance at the body.

The Open Banking Implementation Entity is a temporary group established by the UK’s nine largest banks to manage the rollout of open banking regulation. The body and its trustee Imran Gulamhuseinwala were jointly accused of fostering a toxic workplace environment in a complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority last year.

The conclusion of the investigation, led by independent government adviser Alison White and law firm Mishcon de Reya, comes as authorities consider whether to replace the OBIE with a new regulator or bring its work inside another watchdog.

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“Inaction and failures by the leadership of the OBIE allowed a culture of bullying and intimidation to prevail,” the CMA said in a statement on 1 October.

It also found that “there was a failure properly to manage conflicts of interest at the organisation and though it did not find any evidence that this was exploited for private gain, there was an unacceptable risk that it might have done so.”

Almost 30 people made allegations of sexism, bullying and intimidation at the OBIE, White reported.

The OBIE has struggled to drive adoption of open banking since it was founded amid complaints of high costs and lengthy implementation periods.

The group said some 4 million UK consumers are now using open banking, which is designed to allow people to securely share their financial data with various lenders or other service providers. Over a third of UK firms expect it to take at least a decade to complete their open banking plans, according to Swedish company Tink.

Charlotte Crosswell, former head of fintech lobby group Innovate Finance, has been nominated to replace Gulamhuseinwala in leading the OBIE’s planned transition once the CMA’s consultation is completed.

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The CMA said the manner in which the OBIE was set up in 2016 had directly contributed to the events of the investigation, including very little detail on ensuring proper governance and investing too much power in Gulamhuseinwala’s role.

It added that there were failings in the body’s risk management systems and internal controls, with no steps taken to improve the OBIE’s governance structure when its mandate was extended in 2018.

CMA chair Jonathan Scott said the blame did not fall solely at the OBIE’s feet, and that “everyone involved needs to accept their share of the responsibility for this and act on the lessons learned”.

He added that as a result of the investigation, the CMA will also reconsider its own approach to designing, implementing and monitoring remedies in market investigations.

Following the investigation, Crosswell said she hopes the body can “implement fully the kind of leadership, governance, structure and culture that is important for a progressive and permanent organisation.”

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Emily Nicolle

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