Program your own bank – the power of APIs

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This week I joined a panel of four experts to discuss Open Banking at Australia’s APIdays conference. Expert API commentator and author Mark Boyd, who recently wrote an extensive market report on emerging API strategies being used by banks around the world, led the panel. You can read his report here.

Joining me on the panel was James Bligh from NAB, who announced a select number of NAB APIs were now available, for the first time, to fintech startups. While the meaty APIs are still pending (transaction history, customer identification details etc), it marks progress in what has been a slow burn in Australia to get APIs from a major institution made publicly accessible to the fintech community. You can check out NAB’s developer portal here.

While the concept (or misnomer) of Open Banking is gaining traction in the UK and Europe thanks to directives from governments, no such mandate exists in Australia. Momentum however is building for a more hard line stance.

In November of last year a parliamentary committee report recommended that deposit product providers ‘be forced to open access to customer and small business data by July 2018’ via APIs.

And in its draft report, issued earlier that same month, the Productivity Commission also indicated that while it is likely to continue to grant ownership of data to private companies (like banks), it will look to increase customer access to data. This suggests reforms may be in the works that would allow consumers to authorise third party access without facing recriminations from their bank.

Of course if Australia doesn’t act, it will be left behind. Last week UK challenger bank Starling announced it was “opening the doors on #openbanking” making it, according to a blog post on its website, “the first UK licensed bank to have a public, open API.”

This is extremely exciting stuff and great for consumers. You could argue secure, consumer facing banking innovation lags even further behind small business banking innovation. Thanks to proxy banking aggregators like Xero, fintech startups in markets like Australia and the UK have been able to securely access account data without requiring a direct connection to the bank.

Finally, if you’re after something a little more on the fringe of banking API land, I’d highly recommend you check out teller.io. It promises to allow an application to connect to a user’s multiple bank accounts via one API. Aggregation providers and APIs like this are interesting as they could help a fintech service connect a consumer’s fragmented banking world. In the UK one report suggests as many as 1 in 4 consumers hold current accounts with more than one bank, making them prime targets for aggregated account management tools.

When I sit back and think about the power of APIs, then what strikes me is the ability for a business owner or a consumer to program their own bank. That is, instead of choosing an institution first, in the future we’ll choose a number of banking ‘components’, for a truly tailored banking experience – not just a marketing pitch. If like me you’re already part of the 1 in 4 stat above, then you’re already trying to achieve exactly that, just in a clunky, and hard to manage way.

The programmable bank era is here to stay. And personally I can’t wait till I get to build mine!

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.

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