API-enabled corporates have driven the transformation of Standard Bank, according to Dushen Thatiah, head of trade and cash management.
“The need for APIs is coming through US corporates. We don’t have any regulatory drive on the continent – there’s no African PSD2, but we do find that clients want to connect with us through open source APIs,” said Thatiah, speaking at Sibos this week in London. “There’s been client demand from the developing world too, asking us for greater efficiencies. It’s been a client push, but also from a technology stack perspective, we’ve also found that processes are a lot more seamless by using APIs.”
Standard Bank is in the process of digitising its infrastructure at the client engagement point – particularly for corporate clients and within transactional products and services. It’s a process that has been long in the making according to Thatiah.
“We have tonnes of infrastructure that’s years and years old. We’re trying to move off those rails and move onto new ones that will give our customers instant gratification, efficiencies, and do transactions in high volume.”
“We’re looking to move our technology stack to something that’s API-enabled, that is cloud-based, and microservices-driven. We find that legacy technology is quite monolithic, but with API-enabled microservices we will be able to give customers an experience that’s quite linear and they can buy a service as and when they want it.”
Africa’s developed and developing markets represent competitive but potentially lucrative opportunities. Standard Bank has a presence in 20 of those markets where there are between 20 and 30 banks saturating the financial services ecosystem, according to Thatiah, making it difficult to differentiate. The South African bank has tried to help corporate clients evolve in how they engage with the bank he said.
“We’re trying to create efficiencies from the channel experience. If you think about channels in the African space – a decade ago corporate clients were accessing payments through the branch, through our physical distribution network.
“We’ve evolved our services so most clients can access things through electronic platforms – browsers, internet technology, for instance. So, 80 percent of our transactions are coming through electronic platforms and only 20 percent are coming through physical channels. The evolution of how clients have accessed our products – we’ve transferred them from physical to electronic channels. That’s instantly given clients a better experience.”
But there’s much more to be done before moving completely to API solutions, as a majority of African corporates are still only comfortable with browser-based platforms.
“On the African continent the split is about 90 percent of our transactions come through internet banking based platforms and just nine or 10 percent comes through host to host or API technology,” according to Thatiah. “Specifically in South Africa there’s a level of sophistication where 60 percent of transactions come through host to host, integrated channels, and only 40 percent are coming through internet banking platforms but South Africa is a little bit ahead of the pack compared to other African regions.
As opposed to ripping out existing infrastructure to digitise its transactional banking services, Standard Bank is running legacy systems alongside the API systems. Trials of the new services have been in pilot phase for three months.
“What we’re trying to do is use parallel infrastructure to see how it works and to see if it gains traction with clients,” said Thatiah.