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Connected Experiences: APIs, engagement & the future of banking

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Connectivity and simplicity drive engagement. APIs foster connectivity of diverse functionality and will influence the future of the financial services industry.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a children's playground called Chutes and Ladders. It exemplifies the concept of "connectivity". It offers scores of unique "play features" like swings, slides and climbing apparatus connected by ramps, rope bridges, and crawling tubes. There were about a zillion kids the day I visited and everyone was having a great time. Okay, a few were having meltdowns but recovered quickly.

I couldn't help but think of what the park represented. A place where parents and kids connected. Where kids connected with other kids. Where the community connected it's residents. This particular park also represented a technological breakthrough. A few decades ago, children's parks had discrete play features: a slide, a swing, a seesaw and more. They would be placed on a big plot of sand and each one represented it's own experience.

Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to work with the father of this concept of "connected play". Steve King, founder of the play equipment manufacturer, Landscape Structures, developed the idea of an integrated play system where the spaces between features were connected so the child's experience was continuously engaging. He demonstrated that kids playing in a connected system became more deeply engrossed in the play experience and stayed with it for longer periods of time.

This concept has direct implications for all of us who work on loyalty and engagement initiatives. We are constantly searching for ways to broaden the appeal of our programs and deepen the experience for our users.

This bring me to the API. API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other (like connecting the slide to the swing set). Developers use APIs so they can focus on the unique proposition of their particular applications while outsourcing connecting functionality to APIs.

As the complexity of operating systems, programming languages, and web protocols have rapidly advanced, so too have the challenges of creating cohesive experiences on a multitude of devices–desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, watches and more. IoT even further complicates matters.

"APIs have been around for a long time, but now we're well into an era in which great technology doesn't only come from innovative startups in Silicon Valley. There's a huge community of empowered users who look at technology not as an end in itself but as a means to get the job done. For them, an API is the mother lode." CeCe Morken, Senior Vice President, Intuit Financial Services.

We seem to have moved from an era of single-minded "killer apps" to a time of connected features from multiple applications creating added utility and more personalized experiences. We don't really want hundreds of apps on our phones, we want full-featured, highly functional experiences–coupled with the simplicity of a single interface.

One of our engagement practice areas is Financial Services. We run loyalty programs for over 1,200 banks and credit unions throughout the country. Creating connected consumer experiences seems to be top of mind for everyone in this sector. Institutions need to link diverse financial services from savings and checking to home mortgages or auto loans. They are deploying transaction applications such as bill paying widgets, electronic fund transfers or mobile payments at retail. Most have a loyalty rewards program often separated experientially from transaction functionality. In addition, they deploy social applications, customer service and support apps, surveys and polling apps, and a wide variety of digital marketing activities. All requiring varying degrees of data integration and "connectivity".

"We look at this as the start of a journey," said Steve Van Wyk, head of technology and operations at PNC. "APIs can recreate the way we bank. There are a lot of new and interesting ways of innovating on top of the bank platform."

Banks such as these that embrace APIs early will be much better prepared for the future than their competitors, argues Peter Wannemacher, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. APIs "will be, in the near future, a necessary and valuable means by which banks will do their jobs," he said. "There's a component of inevitability." Wannemacher added that APIs and open platforms will enable financial firms to build "dynamic ecosystems of value, reconnecting a fragmented value chain". (American Banker article by Bryan Yurcan).

And so, we return to the playground and the kids. As the technologists revel in their ability to connect applications, programs, features and functionality, we hope that their effort remains focused on optimizing the user experience. Connected play equipment has become the norm for playgrounds everywhere because "connectivity" simplified the experience and elevated engagement for the kids. APIs can provide connecting tissue for modern financial institutions but keeping the end game front and center is far from child's play.

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