Open Up Challenge

Unlocking the power of open banking for small to medium sized businesses in the UK

What was the Open Up 2018 Challenge?

The Open Up Challenge was a £5m prize fund backed by the CMA to inspire the creation of next-generation services, apps and tools designed for the UK’s 5 million small businesses. This Challenge was a global search for organisations seeking to use new open banking technology to transform the way small businesses discover, access and use financial services.

Why did we do this?

Despite the UK-led fintech boom, banking hasn’t changed all that much for most UK small businesses since 1970. Most core business banking services in the UK — current accounts, loans, and other financial services — are still provided by just a handful of large banking groups. 80% of UK small businesses hold a current account with one of five major banks. 

Open banking is a technology infrastructure that enables services provided by different parties to work together to deliver better banking services for customers. In the UK, it will mean rules agreed across the major banks that define how a third party can access and use a customer’s banking data, or access that customer’s account to initiate payments.

Open banking removes huge barriers for third parties looking to engage with and provide services to a bank’s existing customers. It will also enable small businesses to compare banking services from different providers based on their own characteristics. Teams received extensive user-experience support helping them integrate user-centred thinking into their infrastructure, so innovations worked for SMEs from the outset. 

What happened?

  • 20 teams participated in stage one, each receiving a £50,000 development grant and exclusive access to the Open Up Data Sandbox, containing one of the largest anonymised UK banking transaction datasets ever made available for open innovation.
  • In stage two, there was a focus on specific products and market readiness. Ten teams were selected to receive a £100,000 cash award for developing products assessed as most likely to have a positive impact on UK small businesses in 2018 and beyond. 

72% of UK adult population...

will bank via a phone app by 2023

Open banking could boost UK GDP...

by £1 billion annually

In January 2020...

open banking use surpassed the one million customer mark

Impact of the Challenge

  • Over 80% of innovators were able to bring their innovations to market faster because of the Challenge. Legal support led teams through unfamiliar regulations and authorisation processes. 
  • The Challenge ensured that when open banking went live, SMEs of all sizes were able to choose from a diverse mix of tools and equipped teams to compete in this new market.
  • Over 80% of innovators indicated that the Challenge increased their understanding of the open banking standards.
  • The Challenge also created a feedback loop between Open Banking Limited (OBL), the body responsible for developing the open banking standards, and the fintech community.



Coconut is a current account for freelancers and self-employed people that keeps track of expenses and how much tax you owe. It helps manage cashflow by automating accounting. 


Fluidly is an Intelligent Cashflow engine – its technology plugs into accounting packages and bank accounts and uses machine learning to predict and optimise business finances.

Funding Circle

Funding Circle is a global small business loans platform, matching small businesses who want to borrow with investors who want to lend in the UK, US, Germany and the Netherlands.

Funding Options

Funding Options is Europe’s leading online marketplace for business finance, each year raising £100m+ in vital finance, for thousands of UK SMEs, from 50+ active lenders. They’ve helped more than 10,000 businesses get the finance they need, quickly and easily. 


OpenWrks builds the technology that makes Open Banking work. Its toolkit makes it easy for SMEs to access their account and share their data securely with businesses they trust, so those businesses can deliver better, more personalised products and services.


Swoop is a one stop money-shop for businesses. It simplifies and speeds-up access to business loans, grants and equity finance. Swoop has built a simple to use technology platform that enables businesses to apply for multiple sources of funding through one application.


Akoni uses the multiple sources of business data and the power of innovation to deliver personalised prompts and products to SMEs.

Bokio is a proactive assistant for SME companies which automatically takes care of day-to-day administration, invoicing, accounting VAT etc, and helps companies to form better decisions for the future, free of charge.

Bud is the financial network that intelligently connects banks, fintechs and customers together.

Businesses who work with an adviser are 4x more likely to receive funding than those without a trusted adviser. “Adviser-led Capital” helps accountants build a strong advisory service-line in their practice through technology and training.

Credit Data Researchs’ Credit Passport® platform, leverages credit behavioural data through Open Banking, increasing transparency and competition. Credit Passport® accelerates the capital flowing in the SME and consumer segments, facilitating transparency between small businesses, consumers and potential lenders.

Finpoint combines hundreds of finance options with impartial advice in a free online service. SMEs using the platform prepare one finance application and publish it anonymously.

The team

Chris Gorst

Director in Nesta Challenges

Andrea Richardson

Senior Programme Manager

Olivier Usher

Head of Research


Similar Challenges

Affordable Credit Challenge

Supporting tech solutions to increase access to affordable, responsible credit

Legal Access Challenge

Supporting digital technology solutions that help individuals and SMEs to resolve their legal problems

Open Up 2020

Unlocking the power of open banking for UK consumers