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Afinis: Advancing Financial Services Through API Standardization

GeorgeThrockmorton
Oct 30, 2018

Editor’s note: Today we hear from George Throckmorton, managing director, Advanced Payment Solutions at NACHA, who's responsible for leading Afinis Interoperable Standards. Under the NACHA umbrella, Afinis is a membership-based standards organization that brings together diverse collaborators to develop implementable, interoperable, and portable standards across operating environments and platforms. Learn how Afinis uses Apigee to help it produce standardized APIs for the financial services industry.

In the spring of 2017, NACHA (formerly the National Automated Clearing House Association) launched the Payments Innovation Alliance API Standardization Industry Group, which sought to create APIs and educate the financial services industry on the importance of API standardization. What we quickly realized was that in order to be effective and move the needle on standardization, we needed a more formal structure that would enable consensus-led governance, intelligent innovation, and international collaboration. Hence, Afinis was born and launched in September 2018.  

Although we were aware of other efforts to do something similar, typically they're driven by a single party with the viewpoint of, “Well, we've created the standard. Now everybody come and use our standard.” That’s completely opposite to what we know works. For the industry to embrace and to adopt standards, they have to feel like they have a voice. And so Afinis is very much an organization where all our members have a say about which APIs will be created, what the governance and lifecycle of the APIs will be, and what the other specifications should look like.

Supporting collaboration

To help ensure members are heard and to support collaboration, the group recognized the need for a platform to facilitate this and support hosting and promotion of the APIs. The Apigee platform was an ideal fit. Its connection with Google provided credibility, value, and consistency, as many API efforts leverage the Apigee software providing a consistent experience for our members who may leverage other similar platforms. And with the platform, we had the capability of hosting and testing the APIs to support the ultimate goal of standardization.  

Setting industry standards

At the heart of the Afinis story is the standardization of APIs. Most companies today can develop and use APIs., but when it came to the standardization effort, there was no true leader in this space. We decided to take on the challenge and focus on efficiency, safety, and security for users of APIs–from developers down to end user clients who might not even be aware that they're on the other end of an API call. By focusing on efficiency, safety, and security, we can pave the way for industry costs savings, new innovations, and scalability.

Take, for instance, the benefit of scalability. Think about a business-to-consumer company that has written an API specification and is doing something great with that API. To implement that with many different partner companies, each with different processes and programs, is overwhelming. It’s essentially a new and unique implementation with each partner company. That’s not efficient. And this is where standardization really comes in to play, and that's what we're trying to tackle.

Democratizing innovation

When we create an API product like the Afinis Account Validation API, it’s not only available to our membership, it's available to the world. Our APIs are free to use, with the idea being that in creating the standard we offer something that developers have enough confidence in that they will want to build with it. We offer documentation and testing capabilities through the Apigee platform, and this is where we want our developer community to come and discover these APIs.

We have a prioritization process at Afinis that enables us to gain a clear understanding of what the demand is among our members and the industry at large. If there's not a high level of demand and commitment from the industry to test or implement APIs, they won’t be adopted. What we look for are organizations that say, "If you create a standard that solves this particular issue, then we are willing to adopt it, or at least test it."

The API focus

Our prioritization process leverages the agile development method, and program increment (PI) planning sessions are used to determine API priorities. We share these with the entire Afinis membership to ensure a level of consensus and viability of adoption. Detailed feedback and input from members and the industry at large showed us that we should be focusing on corporate APIs.

We started looking at how corporations interface with their banks and what types of APIs can facilitate that. From this, we developed an API standard for account validation, one of the API products currently available for public testing. This API is valuable to all kinds of entities that need to validate accounts quickly for payments.

Another API we're working on is payment origination. Typically, when companies initiate a payment with their bank it goes into a batch process. In this model, a company will accrue payments during business hours and then send them all together to the bank at the end of the day. At that point the bank will confirm receipt and process the payments.

But what we’ve found is that as the industry is modernizing, and payments are getting faster, an API can provide this same functionality in real time. In the API model, the bank is always listening, and taking payment instructions as they come in during the day. This is a win-win, as there are no new processes to implement for companies, but their customers are gaining the benefit real-time payments. And since the API will be a standard, it doesn’t matter if a company banks with one institution or five–the APIs work with all of them.

Keeping up momentum

In Q4 2018, we will be working to launch the payment origination API, as well as two other business-to-business-focused APIs. We expect to keep creating and releasing new APIs to serve the needs of our members and the payments industry at large—and being able to do so through the Apigee platform. We’re pleased with the relationship we’ve built with Apigee—not just as a vendor but as a partner. With the continued support we get from Apigee and Google, we expect to continue to support the industry with standardized APIs, which ultimately will result in better experiences for everyone.

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