How APIs Help The Financial Industry Keep Up With Apple

February 25, 2016
Article by Dan Woods


Silicon Valley companies move fast and have essentially learned how to rebuild a car while going 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, many of the practices that enable this rapid speed violate the core assumptions in industries like financial services. Facebook’s motto: “Move fast, break things” doesn’t really work in a heavily regulated environment that serves as the backbone to our economy.


For example, some of the databases used to serve up your social media or email or other information use a principle called “eventual consistency,” the idea that a database may at times show different information to different users but will eventually be made the same for everyone. This is fine for a free service conveying information about the latest statements of the Doge, but not fine for a bank account.


But at the Apigee FinTech API Summit at the NASDAQ Marketsite in Times Square on February 10, all the presenters agreed on one thing: Both established financial services players and new FinTech unicorns must find a way to move at Silicon Valley speeds while maintaining the financial services perfection demanded by customers, regulators, and shareholders.


fintech apis Forbes

Financial Services companies must learn to operate and Silicon Valley Speeds by using APIS. An employee works on a laptop computer as he talks with a customer near a sheet showing accepted methods of payment, including Apple Pay, top left, at an Apple Store in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. Apple Inc. on Thursday launched its smartphone-based payment system in China where the electronic payments market is already dominated by an arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)


The theme of the conference was that APIs provide a way for the financial services industry to move fast, while not loosening up on critical elements like security. “APIs are one of the most important tools in digital business design,” said Peter Wannemacher, an analyst at Forrester who specializes in digital strategy and the financial services industry. “Financial services providers have been relatively slow to recognize and act on APIs as an opportunity to transform their businesses and, ultimately, better win, serve, and retain customers.”


I have been preaching the gospel of APIs for a while through a book that I co-authored with Dan Jacobson and Greg Brail, “APIs: A Strategy Guide.” While the understanding of the central role of APIs in promoting innovation and rapid but stable evolution has been gospel in Silicon Valley, it has only taken hold selectively in the rest of the business world. But the world of financial services seems like it is ready for a variety of reasons.

  • The financial services industry has long used specialized, purpose-built technology for funds transfer and other interactions. While APIs have been used in all parts of the financial services industry for internal development, Amazon Web Services has shown that highly secure, scalable, and reliable services can be supported by generic, public APIs.
  • Companies like Xignite and Tradier have come to market with entire suites of products based on API infrastructure. Xignite offers a full suite of financial data and Tradier offers a brokerage-as-a-service platform, both through APIs.
  • The role of APIs as a way to speed business transformation and promote rapid product development and innovation across technology layers has become more understood.

To this last point, for example, when Apple came calling to First Data, one of the major payment technology companies, about implementing Apple Pay, the project was moving at Silicon Valley speed. First Data didn’t really have the choice to bow out of the project or out of Android Pay, for that matter, which was also implemented at a rapid pace. It was a choice of go fast or die.


In conversations at the FinTech API Summit, it became clear that the leaders in the financial services industry are making new organizational models and innovative strategies work with the help of the agility and pace layering enabled by clever use of API infrastructure.


“We are not just making a transition from a technology standpoint; our goal is to serve consumers better where they are interacting, and APIs have been crucial to our ability to support new services like Apple Pay and Android Pay, which keep us growing,” said Patrick Howard, Director Product Management, First Data.


In a sense, the massive divergence between the need for security and reliability in the foundational applications in financial services and the breakneck pace of product development in the space shows in a crystal clear way the role that APIs play in accelerating digital transformations...


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