The lang cat’s first HomeGames of the year highlighted the theme of Standards for supplying data to advisers to support advice processes. In February, Ian McKenna wrote compellingly in Money Marketing about the value of firms using standards-based technology not just to drive internal efficiencies but to bridge gaps between partners in the financial supply chain.

But the biscuit is absolutely taken by the DWP draft Pension Dashboard regulations. They propose that no lesser authority than the actual Secretary of State will be responsible for approving the integration standards that will underpin the initiative.

When Cabinet ministers start muscling in on your turf, you know that you must be on to something. As a Standards body, Criterion is – perhaps unsurprisingly – a long-standing advocate of standards-based data integration. We have seen how standards can revolutionise financial services processes like quotations and remuneration management. Here, just as with the Pensions Dashboard, Standards make it easier to move critical data from one partner to another in a timely, secure and efficient manner. That in turn helps extend the reach of services and frees up resource and focus for higher-value activities, than downloading spreadsheets or re-keying data. So, it’s great to see so many discussions about standards bubbling up.

Those benefits aren’t limited to any particular sector of our industry. Criterion recently published Standards for implementing ‘real-time’ quotes for Equity Release products; we have a project under way to do the same for Group Risk products; and we expect to launch a project this year to develop Standards for integrating model portfolio management processes between investment platforms and discretionary fund managers. Wherever you find someone repeatedly mapping spreadsheet data or manually updating static rate tables, you find a case for Standards-based integration.

That doesn’t mean that creating integration Standards is easy. First, agreement from a meaningful cross section of a market is needed that there is a problem to solve. Once that is achieved, further agreement is needed on what the problem actually is, necessitating collaboration between not just trading partners but also competitors, to develop a shared understanding of the processes in question. It takes time and commitment to do that spade work; but simply brainstorming data items without it will likely deliver something that doesn’t fit anyone’s needs.

But where there is that commitment to improving things at sector level, the benefits can be transformational. Criterion Standards underpin the delivery of hundreds of millions of protection quotations every year, as well as tens of millions of valuations. Integrated remuneration reconciliation can take half an hour, rather than half a week. Imagine trying to move those processes back to manual working: access to financial services would shrink to almost nothing overnight.

Indeed, the success of Standards-based integration can be measured by how infrequently thought need be given to what’s going on under the hood of, say, requesting a quote or opening a platform account. A bit like your web browser and this article, or Netflix and your TV, the machines ‘just talk to each other’ – right? A successful Standard will simply melt into the background, making it easier for people to get stuff done without having to worry about the how.

So, Criterion look forward to the day when data flows serenely and securely from where it is held, to where it is needed in the financial supply chain. When your phone ‘just talks’ to a pensions dashboard to tell you about your retirement savings, because it will mean that the standards underpinning those integrations are doing the job needed of them. In the meantime, if Therese Coffey needs any pointers with the minutiae of data item cardinality or JSON web tokens as she wades through the Dashboard standards, please just give us a call.