Banks that fail to embrace APIs ‘face existential threat’

FinTechs could usurp banks to become the primary providers of consumer and business services if the incumbents fail to embrace Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as a means of reforming and reinvigorating business processes.

This was according to Citi’s Tony McLaughlin, who has responsibility for emerging payments business development and treasury and trade solutions at the bank.

He told delegates at Sibos in London that Open Banking is not a regulation or compliance project, but “a test case as to whether our industry will move into the 21st century”, inviting delegates to “acknowledge the gap between the digital expectations that businesses and consumers have for banking and the reality of banking” and to face up to the fact that financial services will be embedded into digital platforms in future.

He urged banks to embrace Open Banking in full, by creating the APIs that will be used on those technology platforms and collaborating on the development of global standards for API use and security.

McLaughlin’s message was echoed elsewhere at the conference, including during an interesting panel discussion featuring experts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Lloyds Banking Group, BNP Paribas Securities Services and ClearBank, talking about how and why each was using APIs.

BNP Paribas Securities Services global head of digital client experience Paud O’Keefe described the challenges that a long established bank faces in trying to make full use of APIs - “We’ve got legacy systems, we’ve got siloed data” - and stressed the need for banks that have poured money into enhancing data management capabilities in recent years to get the most out of those investments.

But he also insisted on the importance of making the most of APIs. “If you don’t have that real-time access to your data, that ability to communicate with your peers and FinTechs, you’re not going to be at the table,” O’Keefe said. “You’ve got to have API-enabled systems.”

Andrea Melville, managing director and head of commercialisation and propositions for global transaction banking at Lloyds, highlighted the benefit of being able to bring clients into the lab to see the APIs they wanted to use under development – and then to be able to deliver the finished result much more quickly than would ever have been possible in the past.

“We never approached Open Banking like a compliance job,” she said. “We approached it as a way of enabling new customer propositions – there’s still lots of room for differentiation.”

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