Guidelines for Providing APIs — In Case Your CEO Wants to Switch to Platform
FinTech is experiencing an overwhelming demand for end-to-end integrations. The global market shows that elaborating product in isolation isn’t enough for rolling out something really valuable. So imagine one day your CEO comes and declares,
“We’re becoming a platform. We need to integrate with the whole ecosystem of tools!”
We’ve gathered case studies from successful API-oriented FinTech companies. Their experience will help you discern the most useful aspects of the API proving process.
Building API knowledge bases
Documentation is a vital part when integrating through APIs. It’s supposed to accelerate the work from your partner’s side. Ideally, you might have your internal documentation suitable for external usage, too. But, well, no one had that kind of guideline from the very start. The following examples will show how others coped with it.
Jason Barry is CTO at Tradier, an API-based cloud brokerage platform. At the core of Tradier’s solution is a REST API, which allows other FinTech companies to integrate their solutions and place orders using HTTP queries. The simplicity and usability of the API make it easy to provide variously focused brokerage services. This is why Tradier partners with other platforms in addition to developing its own. To make the integration process easy for partners, it implemented a comprehensive documentation portal and changelog.
|Advisor API Documentation — Tradier|
The portal systematized all the information necessary to quickly build an API over the brokerage, market data, and advisors’ portals. For those who want to become more technically involved but don’t want to talk to someone about a contract, Tradier offers a developer sandbox solution that provides a market data product and a couple of other features. Partners who have signed a contract with Tradier can get a deeper demo:
“If they want to, [they can] test real trades going through and things like that; we’re offering a fully emulated sandbox environment that replicates our production environment.”
|Brokerage API Documentation — Tradier|
Another example of great knowledge base implementation is Advisor Software (ASI), which has been in business for approximately 28 years. ASI has built a lot of applications concerning the different aspects of wealth management. Thus, it has shared with the community the APIs used for building solutions for their clients. However, to build a solution with these APIs, companies should implement their own user interfaces. Its CTO Mike Granger says:
“We had 270 APIs, a vast majority of which we can expose externally. However, they’re allowing clients to go away and build their own digital advice platform if that’s what they want to do. In that context, we are prepared to sell the API to allow people to utilize ASI’s strengths rather than having to buy an application.”
|ASI’s API Library|
However, not every startup has enough resources to roll out comprehensive documentation. In some cases, companies don’t aim to provide open APIs and just want to make a few custom integrations with strategic partners.
Sergey Matikaynen, Head of Software Delivery at INSART, a FinTech engineering company, admits that in case of poor documentation, communication between integration teams becomes essential.
“The key challenge in this phase is establishing communication between team members. Sometimes the systems do not have sufficient documentation; in such cases team members are the only source of information, and communication becomes essential.”
Facilitate, don’t impede your partners
Integration is always a partnership, a relationship. Consider your partners’ needs, and you’ll prevent many difficulties before they arise.
DriveWealth is a digital broker that offers a set of REST and FIX APIs. The company’s CIO, Harry Temkin, says this:
“Our APIs are all JSON-based. They are designed to easily integrate with third parties. Our clients may build their own mobile applications, trading or wealth management systems. Our technology provides the piping to the marketplace and is designed to easily integrate with any of those pieces.”
To facilitate building mobile applications, the company creates software development kits (SDKs), which will make integration even easier than calling directly to the APIs. Sets of APIs that should be called one by one are wrapped up into one SDK, thus making it easier to integrate.
The DriveWealth platform is hosted in the Amazon cloud and makes it possible to work in a mobile environment anywhere in the world. Also, the company has private network connectivity to mainland Asia through ChinaCache.
“If you try to run APIs or do anything on the internet from China back to the United States, ping times are about 8,000 milliseconds. With private connectivity, our ping times back to the US are 10 times faster.”
Group, then build
While integrating several tools, you may consider optimizing effort by distinguishing them into groups based on similarities in the flow. In this regard, Jason says, Tradier doesn’t want to customize the product for just one customer—it aims to satisfy the needs of all customers by finding good solutions within Tradier’s product offering.
“It would have been easy to just build them a custom API, but instead, we figured out a really nice solution that any of our customers [can] use.”
Ignition Advice, a robo-advisor solution, exposes and manages its APIs directly. However, it wants to bring in a mediation layer with companies like Amilsoft to create this new extraction layer. For the company, this will mean more developers can have their hands in different parts of the code without treading on each other. Mike Giles, Ignition Advice’s CTO, says,
“We can have internal API with external API. We think that’s going to give us the next level of flexibility, but it is a big project that is going to grow incrementally.”
Ensuring partners’ safety
Partnering with other tools affects testing responsibilities greatly. Sure, it’s far easier to fix something on your side than break your partner’s functionality. So, what you should do is test, test, test. Jason says:
“We’ve heard horror stories from other customers who have integrated with brokers where they wake up one morning and all their stuff is broken because a change happened back in the API stack and no one knew.”
To provide a seamless experience between customers and Tradier, the company works hand in hand with each partnering platform, allowing advisors to run their own software.
Find discerning engineers
The journey doesn’t end when you launch API. Your team—and your partners’ and clients’ teams—will constantly liaise with it, so poorly implemented APIs will negatively affect everyone’s productiveness. That’s why your team needs discerning members able to discover your API bottlenecks and keep it working and simple. Sergey says,
“When integrating two platforms, the outsourcer should have developers and engineers with acceptable skills and experience. These specialists should not only examine the new platform and reveal the challenges but also be able to perform integration successfully.”