Allied Irish Bank: Building Digital Foundations with APIs
Allied Irish Bank (AIB) is a leader among European banks in meeting requirements of the new EU open banking regulations, thanks in large part to its visionary API team. We spoke with AIB’s Niall Buckley, Head of Digital Ecosystems, Ivan Jennings, Program Delivery Manager, and John Daly, Digital Development Manager, about how they’re using APIs to lay the digital foundation for current and future bank products and services.
How do your roles at AIB relate to APIs and the Apigee platform?
Niall: As Head of Digital Ecosystems for AIB I have business ownership for our new API channel, and within that everything that’s going on in the regulatory space in terms of open banking. So, I'm responsible for keeping us compliant from a regulatory perspective, and the strategic direction in establishing an ecosystem with digital partners and using our API channel as the tool to do that.
John: As the Digital Development Manager for AIB, I look after the Apigee API management platform and am also responsible for the development of microservices and digital strategy. I’m very much involved in the technical design and development of the APIs and the microservices behind them.
Ivan: As the API Delivery Manager I oversee the delivery of programs leveraging digital technologies like APIs and microservices. I work very closely with John's engineering team to build out those programs.
How does AIB use Apigee?
John: The EU’s open banking regulatory deadline required us to expose APIs by January 2017, so that really drove our initial adoption of Apigee. Now we’re using it for developer app onboarding so that third parties who are regulated entities can register themselves and their apps. We also use Apigee to do authentication and authorization of those apps. The third parties use the developer portal to view our API documentation and to self-register and then they communicate to AIB through Apigee. We're using Apigee in the cloud, but all the service calls get routed into on-premises software where we host the microservices that effectively service the APIs.
What kinds of microservices are we talking about?
John: The initial batch is around account information services, like showing balances, viewing transactions, viewing standing orders, viewing direct debits of particular accounts that you may have as a customer with the bank. You can also grant access to third-party applications to view these. We also offer the opportunity to initiate payments from your accounts. Both of these arose from European-wide regulation that banks had to expose candid information and payments services to third parties. So that's what we started with, and that's what we have live at the moment.
How do the EU open banking regulatory requirements figure into your API strategy?
John: Before we had to consider the deadline for meeting the open banking requirements, we had a digital strategy in place that was API-led and embraced a sort of outside-in thinking. Our goal was to make it simpler and easier to consume our own services in-house. Of course, our initial strategy had one eye on the regulation, but we always viewed it as a strategic opportunity to move into the API world rather than a burden. So, we've focused on the regulation because that's the program that has the resources, but there's a lot we already wanted to do in the API space. Our current focus is on changing our own channels so that we can consume APIs via Apigee—using our own APIs as customers as well as providing them to third parties.
Niall: AIB Group has four different brands; AIB bank and the Educational Building Society in Ireland, First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland, and AIB GB which is a boutique business bank in Great Britain. We've only opened the API channel in the UK since the open banking legislation regulation effectively became active there in January. We have 15 third parties that have all connected to our API channel in the UK and we're very shortly going to open our API channel in Ireland as well.
What’s been the reaction from the AIB ecosystem to interacting with AIB’s Apigee platform?
Ivan: The reaction internally to the platform has been really positive because it’s quite easy to use. We made an effort with the user interface and tried to ensure that the content is relevant, so it was nice to get some positive feedback. The primary use cases up until now have been regulatory, but we are starting to see more and more use cases coming from across the bank for commercial propositions seeking to leverage the platform.
What lies ahead for your API program?
John: We’re looking at some other types of information that we may be able to productize. For example, we may be able to have an identity-as-a-service type functionality where we offer customers a login with an ID for third-party financial services. There are several things that banks can't offer customers that may be useful to certain third parties. It’s also important to note that the open banking rules don’t allow charging the third parties or the customer for using the APIs.
We're looking at whether we have information that customers would benefit from being allowed to easily share with a third party, but also the third party would benefit from not having to do themselves. For example, compliance with the Criminal Justice Act and those sorts of things that can be a pinch point for customers, but once it's done perhaps, we could attest to that sort of thing. We are looking at other ways that we could potentially provide a service that a third party would be willing to pay for.
I guess that the nice thing about what we've done so far is that we have the API rails now that we have Apigee in place. We have the patterns defined and we have the means to get APIs delivered quickly, which we didn't have this time last year.
Does Apigee’s monetization feature figure in AIB’s strategy?
Niall: Yes and no. I suppose the reality right now is that this is early days for banking across Europe in terms of how banks go about monetizing API capabilities. There are a lot of options as to how we could approach things. We’re taking the view that we want to focus on productization rather than monetization to promote usage. Maybe we offer APIs for free, but we can work with potential partners on what I call future credit opportunities. As a bank we rely heavily on interest income and we do want to expand and diversify our income beyond that. We’re looking at propositions where we could provide API capabilities that allow us to extend our credit product placement into other marketplaces where we might not be present at the moment. That actually could be the commercial angle on it.
In terms of the monetization capabilities with Apigee, the benefit to us is the fact that it has this flexibility that helps ensure whatever business model we come up with - making API products, turning them into packages, having rate plans against them – we can feel confident, especially given all the flexibility and variability that we can then implement and configure services. As we make our journey and try new things, I know that we have the base capability and the products to allow us to do what we want.
AIB is a financial services group operating predominantly in the Republic of Ireland and the UK, providing a comprehensive range of services to personal, business, and corporate customers.