API-First Culture: The Future of Banking

  • Posted by: Kenneth Ogada
  • Category: Blog

As technology continues to advance rapidly, the banking industry is facing a critical decision: adapt or become obsolete. The solution? Embrace an API-first culture. In this blog post, we explore why financial institutions (FIs) must prioritize APIs in order to stay relevant and competitive in today’s digital age. From enhancing customer experiences to streamlining operations, the benefits of an API-first culture are undeniable. Don’t get left behind – read on to discover how your bank, sacco or microfinance can thrive by putting APIs at the forefront of innovation.

What is an api-first culture and how does it relate to the banking industry?

In recent years, there has been a shift in the way businesses operate. More and more businesses are adopting an “API-first” approach to their business models. This means that instead of building monolithic applications with a single user interface, they are breaking down their applications into smaller, independent components that can communicate with each other via APIs.

API-first is the new wave of banking. What does that mean, exactly? It means that financial institutions must prioritize their APIs in all aspects of their business. That is, from product development and customer experience to internal processes and partner integrations.

The Shift from Legacy Culture in Banking

Legacy systems have been the foundation of many banks for decades. However, these systems are becoming increasingly obsolete and unable to adapt to the changing needs of the market. The following factors have contributed to the rise of the API-first culture in the banking industry:


  • Digital Transformation

Financial institutions are undergoing digital transformation to improve customer experiences and streamline operations. And the API-first approach provides a means to integrate new technologies and services seamlessly with existing systems.

  • Open Banking

Open banking initiatives, driven by regulations like PSD2 in Europe, have encouraged FIs to expose their APIs. This allows third-party developers to build innovative financial products and services on top of their platforms.

  • Fintech Collaboration

The rise of fintech has created opportunities for FIs to collaborate with startups and leverage their innovative solutions. APIs facilitate seamless integration between these institutions and fintechs, thereby creating a mutually beneficial ecosystem.

  • Cloud Adoption

Moreover, the rise of cloud computing has encouraged FIs to adopt a more flexible and scalable infrastructure. APIs play a critical role in building cloud-native applications and services, making it easier for FIs to leverage the benefits of the cloud.

The open banking revolution is sweeping across Africa

The adoption of an API-first culture in the African banking industry has led to the development of innovative products and services that enhance customer experiences and improve operational efficiency. Some examples include:

  • M-Pesa API

M-Pesa is a mobile money service launched by Safaricom in Kenya that has revolutionized financial services in the region. The M-Pesa API enables third-party developers to integrate M-Pesa’s payment processing capabilities into their applications, facilitating seamless transactions and expanding financial access to previously under-served populations.

  • Flutter-wave API

Flutter-wave is a Nigerian-based payment technology company that provides APIs for businesses and developers to accept and manage payments across Africa. Their API supports various payment channels, including mobile money, cards, and bank transfers, simplifying the process of accepting payments for businesses operating in multiple African countries.

  • Bank Integration APIs

Several African banks, such as Equity Bank, NCBA, Coop-bank in Kenya, have developed APIs that enable third-party developers to integrate various banking services into their applications. This allows for the creation of innovative financial products and services that cater to the unique needs of the African market.

  • Savings and Lending APIs

Fintech startups like Paga in Nigeria and Tala in Kenya offer APIs that enable third-party developers to build applications that support savings, lending, and credit scoring services. This helps to bridge the financial inclusion gap by providing access to credit and other financial services for under-served populations.

In a world where consumers expect instant gratification and constant innovation, FIs can no longer afford to rely on legacy systems and manual processes. They must embrace APIs as the foundation of their business to stay agile, efficient, and connected.

Examples of API-First Culture in Banking

The adoption of an API-first culture in the banking industry has led to the development of innovative products and services, enhancing customer experiences and improving operational efficiency. Some examples include:

  • Payment APIs

Many FIs have developed payment APIs that enable third-party developers to integrate seamless payment processing into their applications. For instance, Stripe and Square provide APIs that allow businesses to accept payments online or in-person without the need to build complex payment infrastructure.

  • Account Aggregation APIs

APIs like Plaid and Yodlee allow customers to connect their bank accounts to third-party applications, providing a consolidated view of their financial data. This enables the development of budgeting, investment, and personal finance management applications that empower customers to make better financial decisions.

  • Lending APIs

Financial institutions and lending platforms are using APIs to streamline the loan application and approval process. LendingClub, for example, offers an API that allows developers to build applications that connect borrowers with investors, automating the lending process and improving the customer experience.

  • Foreign Exchange APIs

Financial institutions and fintech companies are using APIs to offer real-time foreign exchange data and currency conversion services. For example, TransferWise provides an API that allows businesses to integrate its currency conversion and international payment services into their applications, enabling customers to make cross-border transactions with ease.

Why FIs must adapt to stay competitive and relevant in a rapidly changing industry.

To stay relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing industry, financial institutions must adapt to an API-first approach. This means that instead of relying on legacy systems and manual processes, banks, saccos and microfinance should make their data and services available through APIs that can be easily integrated into new and innovative applications.

There are many reasons this shift is necessary, but perhaps the most important one is that customers are increasingly demanding more convenient and personalized experiences. They expect to be able to do everything from their mobile devices, and they don’t want to have to jump through hoops to get the information or service they need.

To meet these expectations, FIs should make their data and services available through APIs. This will allow third-party developers to build innovative applications on top of the financial institution’s existing infrastructure, creating a better experience for the customer. And since APIs can be easily integrated into existing systems, the transition doesn’t have to be costly or disruptive.

Benefits of API-First Culture in Banking

The adoption of an API-first culture has numerous benefits for the banking industry, including:

  • Improved Customer Experience

APIs enable banks to develop innovative products and services tailored to their customers’ needs, resulting in a more personalized and satisfying banking experience.

  • Operational Efficiency

By streamlining processes and automating manual tasks, APIs help banks reduce operational costs and improve efficiency.

  • Enhanced Security

APIs allow banks to implement robust security measures, ensuring that data is exchanged securely between different applications and services while complying with industry regulations.

  • Collaboration and Innovation

API-first culture encourages collaboration between banks, fintechs, and third-party developers, fostering a more innovative and dynamic financial ecosystem.

  • Scalability and Flexibility

APIs enable banks to scale their applications and services easily, as they can be designed to accommodate growth without major architectural changes.

  • Faster delivery of services

APIs can help banks to speed up the delivery of new services and features. By using APIs, banks can quickly launch new products and services without having to rebuild their infrastructure from scratch.

  • Cost savings

APIs can help banks to save money by reducing the need for duplicate systems and manual processes. They can also automate tasks that would otherwise require human intervention, such as account opening and customer onboarding.

  • More efficient operations

In addition to cost savings, APIs can also help banks to improve operational efficiency. By automating processes and integrating with third-party applications, banks can streamline their operations and free up staff to focus on more value-added tasks.

Why haven’t financial institutions embraced Open Banking?

Financial institutions have been slow to adopt APIs. Perhaps the biggest challenge is cultural. Many financial institutions have been operating in the same way for decades, and changing the way they do things can be difficult. But if they want to stay ahead of the curve, they need to start thinking about how they can become more API-centric in their operations.

There are several challenges financial institutions may face when adopting APIs:

Security concerns: One of the main reasons why FIs have been hesitant to adopt APIs is due to security concerns. With APIs, there is a greater risk of data breaches and cyber-attacks. FIs will need to invest in robust security measures to protect their customers’ data.

Limited resources: Many small and medium-sized banks lack the resources (e.g., manpower, budget) needed to develop and maintain an API strategy. They may need to partner with fintechs or other third parties who can help them with API development and management.

Difficulty keeping up with the pace of change: The financial services industry is undergoing a period of rapid change, and it can be difficult for financial institutions to keep up with the latest trends. This is especially true for FIs that lack dedicated innovation teams.

Here are just a few ways that going API-first can benefit banks:
  1. Increased customer satisfaction: By making your APIs more accessible and easier to use, you’ll make your customers’ lives easier – which will inevitably lead to increased satisfaction levels.
  2. Improved internal efficiency: Streamlining your internal processes with APIs will save your team time and hassle in the long run.
  3. Greater partner integration: Leveraging APIs will allow you to more easily integrate with third-party partners – opening up a whole world of new possibilities for collaboration and growth.
Here’s is What the Financial Institutions Can do

Adapt and evolve in the face of rapid technological advancements. By embracing the API-first approach, FIs should leave behind the legacy culture, unlock the full potential of their software applications, and better position themselves for success in the digital era. As more FIs adopt this approach, the API-first culture will continue to shape the future of the banking industry, driving innovation and creating new opportunities for both banks and their customers.

The future is API-first – there’s no doubt about it. Financial institutions that don’t adapt will be left behind.


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Topic: Creating an API-First Culture to Drive Digital Transformation