Why would a bank go all in with public APIs and invest so much in a developer platform? To pull back the curtain, we interviewed Chris Busse, Senior Manager of Developer Marketing and API Consumer Services at Capital One. He explains the company’s tech motives for launching Capital One DevExchange and how it’s creating opportunities for third-party developers.
Let’s go back to the beginning. What was your initial reaction when you first heard that Capital One was planning to open APIs to outside developers?
I was excited. To hear that Capital One was going to open up an API platform and it was going to be a banking, capabilities-based API platform that could explore a lot of different areas of backend and user experiences that could be created — that was pretty exciting.
Please talk about why your team thought it was important to start DevExchange in beta.
We’re a big organization and big organizations like to do big waterfall projects. Now, Capital One is also utilizing an agile model. That includes embracing principles like iteration. We didn’t want to launch the portal externally and say it was completely ready and perfect. We felt it would be a better approach to call it beta and ask for feedback. We’re making the most out of this opportunity to learn from these APIs and the experience the developers have with the products and the portal itself so we can use that information for the next iteration of the platform.
What are the core pillars of DevExchange? What were the elements that your team felt were mandatory for it to be successful?
I wouldn’t call these the official pillars for the DevExchange, but from my point of view, there are some foundational ideas. I can list a few.
Self service: That’s evidenced by clear, easy-to-find documentation and the lowest possible barriers to registration, both for the user and their application. We wanted to make it easy to get access to sandbox data that accurately represents production data. Offering a reference app is also an important feature. We anticipate that each of our APIs will have at least one reference app. Those are open source and publically available on GitHub.com.
Portal parity: To begin with, we took a design-first mentality to create an internal developer program and portal that looked and acted the way we thought an external program and portal should be. We used the learnings from that to inform the external portal. For example, through our internal portal we learned how important good documentation is, especially to minimize support requests. When people had a path to find the answer, they were less likely to escalate their question to support. We also saw the importance of good test data.
Responsive support: We use a ticketing system which has enabled us to establish service level agreements that help the Support Team quickly decide if they can respond or if they need to escalate to the API Product Teams. Even though we’re in beta, we want to get as much external feedback as possible. So we want to be able to jump right on any issues outside developers are having to see what we need to fix or improve. And by doing this in a live beta environment, we can better support outside developers with the goals they’re trying to achieve by being as responsive as possible. We see feedback from outside developers as a big learning opportunity, with the chance to see things from a different perspective, and we want to help solve the challenges they’re facing because we know it’s going to help us improve too.
User-friendly portal and processes: We felt that developers should not have to understand how our internal business works to get use out of the APIs. For example, we divide up Rewards balances into all sorts of credit card types, but an outside developer shouldn’t need to understand all of those ins and outs to use it. So we abstract out from Capital One’s org structure to make it easy to understand for brainstorming around use cases.
Also included under this idea is making sure our products follow good established standards, like REST API design, JSON and OAuth.
How have developers been responding to the DevExchange Beta so far? What kinds of conversations are you having with them?
People have shown a positive reaction to the fact that our APIs handle use cases outside of payments. We’re seeing a need for more products to solve other use cases. We’re seeing a lot of requests for historical transactions for customers, being able to redeem rewards, and we’re seeing a lot of ideas around the data developers know could be available. Overall, we’ve been validated in our approach: the speed with which developers can get registered, get an application and use their security keys to start making API calls in their sandbox. Developers have seen it as an easier process compared to other portals.
Just having the APIs out there changes the kinds of public conversations we can have.
As a bank investing in software, we have a lot of proprietary and confidential technology that either our internal people can’t talk about, or they’re not sure if they can talk about it. By putting it out there, it gives everybody permission to have a conversation around that. Some of those conversations happen at conferences or business development activities. Now we’re getting, almost on a daily basis for any one of our products, people with new app ideas and requesting production access. And some of those ideas are coming from outside the financial services space.
On the DevExchange homepage, there’s a headline that reads, “Powerful APIs that go beyond banking.” Tell us more about Capital One’s vision of opening up use case opportunities outside of traditional banking applications.
When we launched this in beta, it kind of goes back to the old economics equation of supply and demand. We didn’t fully know what the demand was going to be, but we had some supply — a handful of API products that we knew could be successful. By doing that, and by putting out there the statement about our APIs going beyond banking, we’re inviting people to create demand by coming to us with their ideas. That gives us the opportunity to look at our catalog of many, many APIs internally and ask what we can release next to meet that demand, or what can we create to align with those needs, strategically. And we’re using that information to develop a roadmap for the coming months and years for what the next API products should be.
Help us better understand the reason why outside developers have become a key element for DevExchange.
We recognize we are never going to fill every single banking user experience for every single context that our customers might find themselves in at any given time of day or stage of their life. But there are other people who look at the same population of people who are our customers, but look at it through a different lens. So perhaps in the Rewards API case, it may be a very travel specific lens. Or in the Credit Offers API case, it may be through a personal finance journey lens — which is something that we do participate in but the Credit Offers API is really targeted at customer acquisition, so someone might have an audience that isn’t yet our customer. Capital One is never going to create every single longtail customer experience, but by putting our capabilities out there, it lets other parties who look at that audience through a different lens have the opportunity to create those experiences that are very relevant and important. They just aren’t what we would create directly for our customer.
Why has Capital One made “developer craft” such a priority for this program?
People talk about practicing law or practicing medicine. Software development is very much a thing that one practices. Technology is always evolving, and developers have to keep their skills up to date and sharp to evolve with technology. We think these APIs are aligned with and follow some of those evolutions in the API space and the web services space. We recognize too, that software development is very much a meritocracy. It’s about what you can do, what you can get done, what you can ship, how well it works. So developers who are in any phase of their career are always working to hone their craft and do better work. We see this as an opportunity to support developers in that, because we all learn from each other and that is how we all come together and form a community of shared knowledge.
What does the future hold for DevExchange? What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about the API roadmap that we’re working on right now. I’m also very excited to see new capabilities put out there and start the cycle all over again. We ultimately want to get to a point where there’s a steady flow of developers who learn about the portal, show up and use our APIs to build an application and launch to their customers.
We had two launch partners, AwardWallet and CreditCards.com. Those were businesses with whom we had existing relationships. So we’re looking forward to more relationships like that.
In getting behind-the-scenes insights from senior management at Capital One, we see that partnering with third-party developers is opening up a new world of API solutions. So here’s our question: What customer experience challenges are you facing? Click around the Capital One DevExchange website to browse our API products.