Oh dear. That must be the understated reaction of at least a few people in the industry today with news Origo, the standards organisation, and Webline, the quotes provider, have agreed to a separation over the issue of UNIPASS.
In the words of the joint press statement from the two companies “commercial reasons” dictate that UNIPASS, the digital certificate technology standard for allowing single-password access to password-protected provider networks and online services, will no longer be used by Webline as of midnight tonight.
On the face of it, that should not make a huge difference to Webline users, who will still be able to obtain quotes – albeit by having to type in a different username and password rather than rely on UNIPASS to get them in.
However, in terms of the bigger picture, the incident raises serious questions about provider business models and shines a very, very bright spotlight on the issue of just who should pay for the adoption of new technology and/or standards in the financial services industry.
That, incidentally, means consumers, for it is they who ultimately pay the cost.
Considering this event happens just days after the FSA warned providers in a “Dear CEO” letter that they do not have carte blanche to subsidise IT costs of distributors – whether independent or not – it may seem that the provider-funded model of technology standards development is under threat.
On the other hand, it could be seen by some that while Webline has actually done nothing more than pick up an already exiting ball and run with it, it has done so somewhat faster than others have been willing to match.
While it is true there have been certain rumblings about the costs involved in the use of UNIPASS – it remains free for advisers – these have generally been offset by a view that a standard should be good for everybody involved.
Interestingly, Webline does not damn UNIPASS for all time, instead saying it wants to work towards being able to offer UNIPASS access again in future.
However, the dam has been breeched, and the next question on everybody’s lips must be the following: will Webline’s commercial line in the sand find support from either users or those who have funded the development of UNIPASS?
The answer will undoubtedly force either Webline or Origo to alter their business models suitably to ensure survival in the new reality.
For the record, here follows the full press release from Origo and Webline:
”Following consultation with Origo, Webline will cease to use the UNIPASS® (www.unipass.co.uk) service as of midnight on 30th June 2004.
Webline has been in discussion with Origo for some time regarding the new contractual agreement that has been proposed. At the current time Webline cannot sign up to these terms for a number of commercial reasons. However Webline remains a strong supporter of Origo and its work to promote greater industry standards. Webline and Origo will continue to discuss these issues and hope to be able to offer UNIPASS access to Webline again in the future.
It should be noted that the withdrawal of the UNIPASS service will not impact Webline’s functionality other than the initial logon for the small number of users who use UNIPASS to enter the service. Instead, all users will now be required to revert to their Webline Number and Username.
It should also be noted that cessation of the service at Webline will not affect the UNIPASS service Origo provides to a number of other industry portals."
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