Is Santander’s 100% Digital Openbank A Template For The Bank Of The Future?

Santander launched its latest product, the “100% digital” OpenBank last week amidst much fanfare and some bold new features and promises. Currently it is only available in Spain, but is expected to be rolled out internationally soon.

So, after 15 months in the making, and having been re-built from scratch, is this re-launched product of Santander’s a blueprint for the way the bank accounts of the future will operate?

Ana Botin, Santander Chairman, commented on the release: “we want to offer personalised financial services, accessible from anywhere, at anytime.” For people who prefer an exclusively digital service that is simple, agile and available via smartphone, with the guarantee of the Santander Group behind it, Openbank is the answer.

Openbank has, in fact, been around for 22 years, as “the digital bank of the Santander Group”. Openbank has 1 million customers and more than 6 billion in euro deposits.

Let’s take a closer look at its credentials.

100% Digital Banking

Santander says that its mobile banking app and website “have undergone a complete overhaul” with the aim of improving the customer experience. They have added a range of new digital features, accessible from both.

  • A brand new digital customer onboarding process that includes videoconference identification, although customers do not have to use it – they can use messenger instead, or the bank’s IBAN.
  • Customers can personalise their accounts with an avatar or self-portrait, to make them more secure, and configure the settings to suit their needs;
  • At a glance account views are available.
  • There is a “virtual branch”, open 24/7 – each customer is assigned their own, permanent and dedicated team of account managers.
  • Spending can be categorised, and compared against the previous month.
  • If lost, cards can be blocked or unblocked from a smartphone.
  • Users can access data about investment trends based on the habits of other users.
  • Consumer credit options are accessible in “just a few steps”.

Extra products and services:

Openbank has “expanded its range of products to offer a complete suite of banking products to all of its customers”,  they say, including;

  • A new investment platform that provides access to 500 domestic and international funds and pension plans from five different asset managers operating in Spain.
  • A new range of personal loans and mortgages that can be arranged digitally, but with an account manager on hand to guide users through the processes.
  • A ‘catalog’ of savings and payroll accounts – including the Open Young card which comes complete with an app designed to help children save, and parental control settings.

AI and Machine Learning

Santander say all of the commercial activity and the risk algorithms for loans and credit cards are “fully based on” AI and machine learning, which will allow Openbank to tailor products and services to individual customers, heighten security, prevent against fraud and make faster and better decisions about credit, from loans to mortgage approvals.

Santander also say their digital marketing will use programmatic purchasing, “which enables the bank to deliver more customised and relevant advertising. It may come as a shock to some to discover that Santander will allow digital advertising onto the Openbank platform at all.


All of Openbank’s data is stored in the cloud as the volume of information would be too great for a mainframe, says Openbank CEO Ezequiel Szafir.

All of the processes and protocols conform to European Central Bank standards, and are also PSD2 compliant.


Like almost all modern financial services providers, Santander will make extensive use of APIs. This means that the app or site will be able integrate with other services, like a mobile wallet, for example, or an overseas money transfer agency – which will offer enhanced flexibility.

When PSD2 comes into effect next year, however, big banks like Santander will be forced to share even more of their data, which means that Openbank will be competing with plenty of rival services that can offer similar advantages – which customers may find more convenient to use.

Tech Credentials

Openbank CEO Ezequiel Szafir had never worked in a bank before joining Santander, having been drafted in by Santander Chairman Ana Botin. He says:

“An entirely redesigned mobile app and website is what the public see; to the outside world what we are launching might well look like a facelift but there is much more going behind scene than meets the eye.”

Szafir has previously held roles at Amazon, Nike, Deloitte and McKinsey. The platform he has built, he told IB Times, is a “holistic” solution, “which services as a secure gateway for banking, expense management, brokerage services and savings – all on one platform.

“What you see is the result of 15 months of beta-testing”, he says. Sazfir is also promising chatbots, and a brokerage platform that will identify shares, by volume or sector, that are proving popular for customers looking to sell or buy. This does not qualify as investment advice, but does “give our customers a glimpse into how bullish or bearish other customers are feeling.”


Although Santander are not reinventing the wheel; it has already been completely reinvented in recent years, after all; what they have done is to integrate many of the best and most recent disruptive technologies and combine them all into one platform – meaning Openbank offers a wide range of interlinked services.

This platform can potentially satisfy all of your personal finance needs without you ever having to look elsewhere. But it’s human nature to want to look elsewhere, and when PSD2 comes into effect in early 2018 there will be many other products and services on the market with a similar range of features.

What Santander does have is a huge existing customer base, which means it has a head start over rival services that will have to try to win new customers from scratch, and more powerful data aggregation drawn from a bigger well of users.

Santander will look to quickly roll out this product internationally, because there is no doubt that this is “bleeding edge” technology, and that Santander has stolen a march on its competitors, if only in Spain, by releasing Openbank.