Kris Sharma, Finance Sector Lead at Canonical - the publisher of Ubuntu - offers Finance Monthly his thoughts on  APIs and how firms are already using them to enhance their services.

Cloud computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), distributed ledger technology and process robotics are all playing a key role in reimagining financial services for a digital world. A growing number of financial institutions are drawing plans to adopt these technologies at scale as part of their digital transformation initiatives to accelerate financial data processing, deliver mass personalisation and increase operational efficiencies.

Most organisations currently deploy a complicated mix of technologies, legacy software platforms, applications, and processes to serve customers and business partners. On their digital journey, financial firms will have to integrate data, processes and business functionality from legacy systems of record to this set of new technologies. Many businesses have tried to adopt various transformation approaches such as re-platforming and re-hosting, direct integration between applications, rip and replace, and deploying middleware technology to deal with legacy systems and their integration with new technologies. But each of these approaches have their own drawbacks and can limit the adoption of new solutions within the constraints of legacy technology debt.

An evolutionary approach to digital finance, however, will unify information and data without the need to merge operational systems. Application programming interfaces, or APIs, can overcome the challenges involved with adopting new technologies and more innovative solutions while integrating with legacy run-the-business applications.

Where APIs become a core piece of the puzzle

APIs are increasingly playing a central role in digital finance. They essentially bind different parts of the financial value chain together, even though the underlying components may be based on different systems, technology, or supplied by different vendors. Using APIs, financial firms can securely share digital assets while masking backend complexity, integrating software applications and focusing on maximising their proprietary strengths by sharing data, systems, and functionality with customers, partners and developers. This in turn drives digital transformation without a complete overhaul of existing infrastructure.

Application programming interfaces, or APIs, can overcome the challenges involved with adopting new technologies and more innovative solutions while integrating with legacy run-the-business applications.

Since APIs are self-contained, they can be readily deployed and leveraged for innovation at speed, enabling financial institutions to introduce and integrate new features. When powered by the cloud, firms can develop, test and launch new services to customers quickly and cost-effectively, fuelling business growth. For example, insurance firms can make more timely offers by cross-selling home, auto and life policies. Financial institutions can leverage APIs to connect sources and use cloud computing to handle massive amounts of data, as well as AI and ML services live in the cloud, thereby analysing all this data faster and cheaper than they can on-premises.

Who is successfully using APIs?

Challenger bank Starling was designed and built completely on AWS cloud to deliver and scale infrastructure on demand. Additionally, by building a bank with open APIs from day one, Starling is natively compliant with the European Union’s Payment Services Directive (PSD2) directive.

According to ProgrammableWeb research, financial services is ranked highly in the fastest growing API categories, given the rise in digital forms of payment, an ever-increasing customer demand for connected solutions, and open banking initiatives. APIs are at the heart of the PSD2, the UK’s open banking mandate, as well as the Bank of Japan and the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s open banking initiatives.

Finastra’s Open Banking and collaboration: State of the nation survey 2020 finds that “86% of global banks surveyed are looking to use open APIs to enable Open Banking capabilities in the next 12 months”.

As APIs attract an ecosystem of developers, a financial API provider can encourage participation to fill go-to-market gaps and extend its services and data to new markets and use cases. Barclays is fostering collaboration and generation of new ideas through secure, innovative APIs. The Barclays API exchange has built an API library that is available for use by third parties to develop and test new products. Barclays and third-party developers work together to create, develop and test new product ideas before releasing them to the regular API catalogue. Similarly, Starling Bank provides a marketplace that enables developers to build their own products and integrations using its API.


Unleashing the potential

There is an opportunity for financial firms to leverage the power of APIs by bringing them together with digital technologies to broaden the possibilities for innovation and expand customer experiences. Financial institutions need to reimagine APIs as product offerings that will drive business expansion and increase revenues.

The future of digital finance will be driven by organisations building digital business models, redefining their API strategies and bringing new customer propositions to life using modern web architectures, best-in-class technologies and new ecosystems.