Open banking is a term that is all the rage now in finance and FinTech circles. What it means is that big banks are just coming to realize that they have lots of useful data that should be shared with customers through APIs.
Banks did need a little help in the form of some Europeans regulations to push them along, but what is driving their motivation doesn’t really matter that much — what is important is that there is a ton of new banking data that is now available to build on top of, especially in Europe.
But figuring out where to get started can be very confusing, especially from someone without a background in finance. (and I haven’t found it that easy to be honest, and I worked in banking for almost a decade!)
To make things a bit easier, I recently reviewed what the top 50 banks in Europe currently offering for APIs. Here’s a summary of what type data is out there, what you can do with it, and exactly where you should go to get started.
What‘s out there
The most common API’s that you will find from banks fall into the following categories:
Customer data — banks keep lots of information on their customers like names, addresses, age, tax ID numbers. By accessing this data, you could use the bank as a trusted source of information where you can use them to validate if all of these data points are correct.
Account details — by providing a given customer, you can get information on the type of account that person has like: current accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, etc. and the account numbers that go with it. Maybe not the most useful thing on it’s own, but with the account numbers you can then access lots of other data like…
Transaction history — by providing an account number, you can get all of the transactions over the course of the last year, month, week, etc. and see how much was spent, to who, and it what time period. A lot of companies build on data like this to categorize spending and to help user’s with setting budgets and tracking where their money goes.
Balance information — this is pretty self-explanatory, but again for a given account number you can check the current balance on an account. This is very useful for payment applications to check if someone currently has enough funds to approve a payment.
Payment Initiation — payment initiation API’s will be required by law in Europe by the end of this year, but there may be hoops to jump through (such as registering with local regulators) depending on each bank’s policy. With these API’s you can actually give instructions for the bank to make a payment from one account to another.
Bank Information — very widely available, but not that useful, are API’s that provide general information about the bank such as branch and ATM locations or the products they offer a given country. This has historically been the first API that banks would offer and some of the least sophisticated banks still only offer these.
So now that you know the basic types of information that are available through banking API’s, which banks have the most to offer and where should you get started?
Open Banking Project — the Open Bank Project aims to develop common specifications across many banks to make it that much easier to develop a third-party app ecosystem. They have several large banks participating with the biggest European banks being BNP Paribas and Banco Santander.
All Open Bank Project banks have a broad range of very useful APIs to access account details, transaction history, payment initiation, as well as basic product and branch location information… so basically everything on the menu from above. Also, they have some additional APIs for opening and closing accounts and going through the customer onboarding process.
Overall, they are have great documentation along with lots of SDK’s for different languages. A great place to get started with several banks at one time.
BBVA — the prize for best individual bank probably goes to Spanish bank BBVA. Not only do they have a vast catalogue of well documented APIs including everything I mentioned above, but they also have fully functioning examples of an app and even a Telegram bot using demonstrating how to use their APIs.
They also have a bunch of free articles and ebooks. Overall, a massive wealth of useful information to get you started.
Nordea — a close second to BBVA, Swedish bank Nordea also has a great wealth of resources for getting started with their API’s. They have lots of examples and even training videos.
They don’t have quite the range of API’s available that the Open Bank Project or BBVA has, but they do have the API essentials you need like Customer / Account / Transaction Information and Payment Initiation. They also have great, easy to follow documentation including change-logs. (which is a rare find for banking API’s)
And for some inspiration…
Now that you know what’s out there and the best places to start, you’re all ready to go out and build something great on top of open banking!
To give you some inspiration, here’s some examples of companies that were built on top of the Open Banking Project API’s:
- Akoni — uses data, technology and banking integrations to make cash management for SME businesses seamless and simple, achieving improved financial outcomes.
- Clare.ai — a personal financial assistant chatbot powered by natural language processing, enabling you to chat securely with your bank in your favorite chat apps.
- Time Balance — a MacOS app that helps you monitor your finance at any time. It’s a light-weight indicator that plugs into your Mac’s menu bar next to the clock, continuously displaying your balance and offering a glimpse of your recent transactions.