4 Best Practices for API Implementation

“The concept of an API pre-dates the advent of personal computing, let alone the web, by a very long time.”

– Martin Bartlett, Programmer

Back in February 2000, Salesforce.com became the first cloud-based provider to launch an enterprise-class web application with a publicly-available application programming interface (API) and deliver what we now know as Software-as-a-Service.  Since then, the use of APIs by software companies has become ubiquitous, and this has been especially true in wealth management.

Since the earliest days of data processing, an essential part of software development has been the ability of applications to interact with one another via a well-documented set of publicly addressable entry points.

However, the importance and utility of these same basic concepts have increased dramatically with the development of distributed systems connected via the Internet.

According to a recent State of API Integration report, the number of publicly available APIs has increased by 758% between 2010 and 2016.  As the availability of these connectivity tools has grown, so has the decision complexity for wealth management firms. How can you make the right choices regarding APIs that comprehensively support your company’s growth and maximize the use of your existing technology stack?

The same State of API Integration report notes that 39% of enterprises want easier integrations between tools they use, and it seems that technology vendors are following suit. After all, one benefit of an API is to connect applications created by different developers and to deliver a seamless user experience. Streamlined processes, automation, and efficiency all sound great in theory, but real-world implementation can pose a series of challenges even for the most tech-savvy firms.

I spoke with First Rate’s development team and here are four best practices they shared for implementing APIs:

1.    Maintain Control Over the User Experience

Your firm has invested a lot of time, money, and effort into designing the client experience that reflects the value of your offering. The APIs you choose must support that design without forcing you to compromise on the quality of the user experience. Otherwise, the end result could introduce interface inconsistencies that will reduce client satisfaction.

What does that mean for your API implementation efforts? It goes beyond making sure that every screen is labeled with your logo. Page layout, navigation, and displayed content aren’t just a pretty wrap around the service – they are critical components of the user experience. Choose the technology that will make the client’s journey frictionless. Whether you’re opening an account, executing a transaction, checking investment performance, or reviewing reports, every task should be accomplished with a minimal number of clicks and data entry points.

2.    Turn to Experts for Help

APIs can augment your business data with value-added custom data points. The challenge is that many data points relevant for financial services enterprises are traditionally complex. Turning them into intuitive reports and business intelligence isn’t easy. Companies should tread carefully before setting out to build in-house expertise.

You wouldn’t consider building your own word processing or scheduling software! It’s far quicker and easier to dedicate your resources to locating experts that have already developed platforms for turning raw data into reports, dashboard inputs, and actionable alerts. Your ROI will likely be higher for it.

3.    Stand-Alone Apps Aren’t Always the Best Answer

With millions of smartphone apps available, it seems that every firm must have one in order to stay relevant. However, an app isn’t a silver bullet. We have found that even when your clients request an app, end users don’t necessarily adopt it in sufficient numbers to justify the development expense.

What should you do if your clients are asking for a dedicated app? We recommend that you spend some time drilling down into the specifics of user needs. What’s at the core of the request? Which functionality is missing? What experience are the clients hoping to improve via an app, and is there a way to accomplish all that by using existing technology? You may find that the most cost-effective way is to embed relevant data and the desirable experience into an app that has already been developed.

4.    Demand Great Documentation and Ease of Maintenance

As many financial institutions can attest, a lot of frustration related to implementing APIs is caused by poor documentation. Enterprises often view this as par for the course and don’t have high expectations when it comes to ease of maintenance and use. Documentation is treated as an afterthought by both developers and users, which is a disservice to the industry.

At First Rate, we believe that there is a better way. Technical writing doesn’t have to be confusing and implementing APIs shouldn’t require coding expertise.

In fact, industry leaders have been raising the bar for excellence in this area. The best API documentation has clear action steps and instructions for troubleshooting. It doesn’t require the user to be an expert coder. We have built our own First Rate API website to be as transparent and easy-to-follow as possible. As you reflect on your API options, we urge you to approach technical documentation as an indicator of how smooth and productive your user experience will be.

Future-Proofing Your Firm via APIs

Ignoring API technology is no longer an option. APIs are a powerful tool for leveraging data between various third-party applications and creating innovative solutions to attract clients. Choosing the right technology partner with a set of APIs that matches your strategy is the key to success. For the firms that are ready to take the next step, strategic decision-making is critical to ensure long-term ROI. Don’t relinquish control of the user experience or invest in a stand-alone app unless you are confident in future adoption rates. Do insist on great documentation and ease of maintenance.

Finally, keep in mind that First Rate has developed a set of base API calls that are available to all clients as part of the technology and service package. Through these APIs, firms are able to extend the “First Rate experience” into third-party and internally developed applications with minimal time and effort. We have found that these APIs have become a powerful means of engaging investors and maximizing advisor impact.

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