Open APIs and the advice industry - transforming the business model

By Jo Gilbey
Find me on: LinkedIn 21-Oct-2016 11:40:39

Whether your business was “born on the web” or has been around for 100 years, you’re living in the age of cloud, analytics, mobile, and social computing where omnichannel has become table stakes. To differentiate yourself from your competitors, you have to give customers an immediately engaging experience. To deliver that experience, you need freedom to experiment and innovate. Seize the opportunity and try early, learn fast, and scale easily. Claus T. Jensen, author of APIs for Dummies, IBM.


APIs (application programming interfaces) are, in layman’s terms, a means of quickly and easily connecting your computer system with another system. They are a set of building blocks provided by a system which can then be used by a programmer at the other end. As an example, websites like Amazon and Twitter provide open APIs to developers so that parts of their sites and functionality can be embedded into the sites and systems of others. They enable the building of a digital eco system, not just a website.

Users of Facebook are able to sign up to the services of third party vendors via sign in with their Facebook account credentials. This is due to the open API made available to developers by Facebook. It enables a more streamlined experience for the end user. It benefits all parties.

How can it benefit financial services firms? Banks have been utilising websites for a long time now, to interact with their users and to provide platforms from which personal portfolios can be viewed and money moved around. However, API use has been virtually non-existent. In its July 2015 budget, the UK government embraced the use of open APIs within the finance sector.

The government is today announcing its intention to deliver an open API standard in UK banking… This will allow the development of third party apps that are compatible with the systems of all UK banks and that can securely use the customer banking data (with their permission), to provide even more in-depth comparisons and other value-added services, it said at the time.

Advisers, too, can benefit from open APIs. Every adviser and every firm holds detailed records on each of its clients. How can this data be harnessed to provide a better service to those clients?

If you can improve your communication channels with your clients, why wouldn’t you? asks Nick Eatock Executive Chairman of Intelliflo. We have created an open API to expose all of our most used services to our clients – enabling our systems to interact and our clients to be able to make the most of our system in the way that they want. It is fully customisable via the open API.

The advancement in API technology, due in no small part to the standardisation and ease of adoption introduced by JSON and REST, is opening up a new universe of possibilities for financial advisers and financial services at large.

Users of Intelliflo’s Intelligent Office (iO) practice management software are benefitting from increasing functionality within the service in this way. Advisers can harness their data by deploying open APIs from within iO.

iO has always had a ‘best of breed’ approach to its integration strategy, explains Eatock. Add-ons to iO software have always taken a collaborative approach with each client, but this is no longer necessary. iO will soon have its own app store – users can dip in and out of its usability in the same way that mobile phone users do via Apple Store or Play Store. You do not have to implement everything, but rather you can choose what is interesting and relevant to you.

This enhances the user’s experience with iO and enables them to better service their clients. For example, if they need add-on functionality to automatically reply to inbound emails or establish a system for incoming SMS messages, this will be able to be done via iO’s app store.

We’ve opened up the iO system to give developers and clients access to most of its features, giving them the flexibility to interact with iO in whatever way they like, including the ability to display the information in their preferred version within their own solutions, says Eatock. This is a further example of our mission to remain the leading open technology platform in the UK financial advice space. The breadth of the API is truly world class.

If the functionality required by an adviser is not currently available, requests can then be submitted to Intelliflo. It means that we never have to say no! adds Eatock. We can create an integration for the functionality that users require and then make this available to everyone via the API and then ultimately for the app store. It is a game changer.

Developers, too, can see this open access point to iO and its market reach of over 2,000 firms and 15,000 users. It offers numerous possibilities to developers working with financial advisers in how they can access, create and use data. We’ve used APIs to access a few financial platforms in the past and found they’ve been so old-school it made us want to weep, says Gareth Thompson of independent web development agency Codepotato. When we first heard that Intelliflo were opening access to their system through API, the words 'here we go again' came to mind. That was until we saw what they’ve built. We don’t have a vested interest in Intelliflo so I can say in all truthfulness, we are super-impressed with what they’ve done. It offers enormous potential for developers like us.

Whilst it may all sound very ‘techy’ – and much of the concept is best left to developers – open APIs do enable an access point to the less tech-savy of us within the advice industry. The use of business management systems is not yet universally widespread, so the ability to plugin add-ons to your system in the same way that you add apps to your mobile, opens up a plethora of options to even the least technologically advanced advisers to improve their systems, functionality and, most importantly, client relationships.