How an API-first approach is driving digital transformation in banking

If there is a foundation for digital transformation, it is APIs (application programming interfaces) that provide access to an organisation’s digital assets and services.

An API is a set of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications, and is typically used to expose a specialised function that can be consumed by other applications. APIs enable the level of business agility and interconnectedness demanded by the digital age.

To remain competitive, companies across all industries must come up with creative ways to foster developer ecosystems both inside and outside their organisations. In his book entitled ‘The Digital Enterprise’, Karl-Heinz Streibich states that ‘every business must become a digital business, regardless which industry it operates in'.

>See also: Reimagining the bank: why financial services need digital transformation

Citibank is one such organisation that follows an API-first approach in its path to digital transformation and empowers a developer ecosystem for innovation. Citi's global consumer sank serves 62 million clients in 35 countries and uses APIs to build many of its consumer-facing digital products.

In 2015, after realising there were thousands of ways in which banking could be better, Citi launched the Citi Mobile Challenge, a virtual accelerator that invites developers from around the world to build innovative solutions. Citi is working to give developers the opportunity and tools to solve financial problems and change the way people everywhere bank.

The Citi Mobile Challenge is a great example of how exposing modern APIs to a developer community can enable true innovation. To make the challenge a success, Citibank needed a way to quickly build and expose APIs to programme participants, without affecting customer data or modifying production APIs.

A cloud-based API platform was used to easily create APIs that mimicked Citi production APIs, with similar routes and signatures, and augmented them with sample data and responses.

More than 35 Citi Mobile Challenge APIs were created in less than two weeks, which simulated business logic and sample data to create a ‘virtual banking’ experience.

The solution enabled Citi to enhance the developer environment of the Citi Mobile Challenge without having to modify production APIs, expose customer data, or invest in expensive infrastructure. Once the Citi Mobile Challenge winners were selected, the apps were easily modified to use production APIs.

MasterCard is another example of a financial services institution that has embarked on an API-based approach to digital transformation. With its Developer Zone portal and open APIs, MasterCard has made available to developers some powerful financial and data services, including a mobile wallet, fraud scoring for merchants, and ATM location finder.

The company runs a payment network that handles trillions of dollars of payment transactions a year, and has stringent security protocols that also extends to the open API platform.

To help developers with what could be a daunting and time-consuming effort to consume their APIs in a secure manner, MasterCard partnered with AnyPresence to augment their portal with a solution called ‘App LaunchPad’.

This extension to MasterCard Developer Zone enables developers to browse sample applications that utilise the APIs, so they can understand the context of them and how they work.

Developers can also download the source code for fully-working samples apps across iOS, Android and HTML5, including a sample backend server that demonstrates how to implement secure consumption of the APIs. This solution helps to significantly reduce the time it takes for developers to understand and adopt MasterCard APIs in their mobile projects.

>See also: Digital transformation: how banks are cashing in

These two use cases showcase two important aspects of harnessing developer ecosystem innovation: the ability to quickly simulate production APIs or create new APIs for use during innovation days and hackathons; and the ability to create cross-platform SDKs and app templates that show how to consume APIs, and then easily distribute the source code to developers to reduce the time and effort of creating apps that consume the APIs.

The point of all this is to bring agility and innovation to a decades-old industry, by tapping into an ecosystem of bright developers around the globe.

Citi and MasterCard are just a couple examples of organisations that publish APIs to give developers an opportunity to create solutions that reimagine the digital economy and the way we interact with money.

These examples prove that once APIs are exposed, the possibilities and innovation for developers are endless, and the path to digital transformation becomes that much more attainable. 

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...