How pursuing an OpenAPI strategy has helped Saxo build an ecosystem
Benny Boye Johansen
Head of OpenAPI, Saxo Bank
What do Italian bank Banca Generali, Australian financial advisor Rivkin, Finnish insurance company Mandatum Life, Singaporean invest management company NoviScient, Chinese fintech Webull and many other financial institutions have in common?
They are all part of the Saxo Bank ecosystem, connected to the Saxo engine through our OpenAPIs and partner APIs.
It is now almost four years since we launched our OpenAPI in Singapore and a lot has happened since then. In November 2015, the idea of an OpenAPI in the financial sector was quite novel and it was not easy to predict how this new paradigm would unfold.
Four years in, we are partnering and integrating with financial companies of a diverse range and at various stages of maturity on a global scale. Each integration is unique, yet every partnership shares some common characteristics. Here I describe how we have leveraged OpenAPI to cultivate our very own ecosystem in the financial industry and offer some useful guidelines for industry participants who are still thinking about how to approach Open Banking and API.
The Saxo ecosystem foundation: Powered by win-win
An ecosystem is defined as a "biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment". This analogy holds to the extent that Saxo Bank as well as each of the connected entities are indeed interacting yet independent businesses. While the technical connection happens through bits and bytes between two computers, the actual connection is between two businesses, which, while acting independently, share information, seek to align goals and form legal and social bonds.
When ecosystems are created the participants must partake in a so-called mutualistic symbiosis, a relationship in which each organism plays a role and, in some way, contributes positively to the ecosystem. At Saxo, we like to call this a win-win relationship, and it forms the cornerstone of our partnership philosophy.
As a tech partner, Saxo delivers the foundation for the ecosystem to emerge and exist. There are three components that have helped us expand our ecosystem of partners:
Unique trading technology. At the core is our trading engine, which is well-connected to the global capital markets, allowing clients to trade a vast range of financial instruments through a single account. End clients are served through three distinct trading platforms (SaxoTraderGo, SaxoTraderPro and SaxoInvestor). Combined with an equivalent set of back office services, our technology makes it possible at scale to deliver a competitive offering in trading and investing.
Robust administrative support. Equally important is a complete set of business processes, legal agreements, licenses, hosting, and systems monitoring, which supplements the trading engine technology to operate and run a bank and service clients.
Connecting technologies. Finally, there is a host of systems and technologies, such as our OpenAPIs, supplemented by standard solutions for security and data streaming, which makes it possible for other ecosystem participants to tap into Saxo’s technology and services. The connectivity is supported by flexible account hierarchies and distinct application and user roles, which govern the level and breath of integration with each of the other ecosystem participants.
Build it and they will come
Today we have over 100 third party applications connected through our OpenAPIs. Some represent integrations of great complexity, while others are simple but effective.
In our partnership with Banca Generali, integration is so close that a joint venture BG Saxo was formed. On the front end, BG Saxo uses a branded and extended version of our SaxoTrader GO trading platform. On the back end, BG Saxo uses a combination of public and partner specific OpenAPIs to implement advanced support for their 2000+ financial advisors.
Webull, on the other hand, is an introducing broker, who has built their own bespoke and complete front end, specifically designed to cater for the Chinese market. They also use our onboading APIs to effectively signup clients in our system.
Finally, Rivkin has built a small app which supplements their personalised investment advisory service. The app presents tailored, actionable investment advice, which the client can accept with the click of a button.
The three examples represent large differences in effort and time consumed by the partner, from several years down to about a month. This is to be expected as each partner brings different qualities and have a unique mission and vision for how they create value.
Taking stock of the ecosystem hygiene and health
An ecosystem doesn’t live and breathe by itself, and the occasional stocktaking is beneficial to ensure our strategy is sound. To that end, I often look to these three elements to a successful ecosystem when I do a stock take on how we are tracking.
Connection: How easily others can plug into the platform to share and transact. This really comes down to having a broad set of well-documented solid and intuitive APIs. We do offer one of the most comprehensive API's for trading and investment, and we are constantly working on improving the developer experience.
Gravity: How well the platform attracts participants, both produces and consumers. This is one of these positive reinforcement cycles, which in our case runs something like this:
- With more clients on the platform, there is economies of scale thus providing a better product at a lower cost.
- A better product at a lower cost makes it attractive for more partners to come on board, as they will have a better offering for their clients.
- Having more clients also attracts more third-party trading platform providers, further enhancing the value of services provided within the Saxo ecosystem.
Flow: How well the platform fosters the exchange and co-creation of value. Gathering our partners at regular intervals for knowledge-sharing and inspiration is well-received, and often leads to increased adoption of best practices. We have also found that through working with many partners, we at Saxo have been exposed to, challenged and inspired by other ways of packaging and selling financial products and services, something which we have been able to incorporate into our own product development.
What is next?
Open Banking is here to stay. Building and contributing to a strong functioning ecosystem has never been more important. Because of APIs and Open Banking technologies, many new digital ecosystems will emerge over the next couple of years. There will probably even be several ecosystems with overlapping interests, participants and offerings, which can easily co-exist.
This will create many new and exciting opportunities and experiences for consumers, as financial information and financial decision making will be made available in a multitude of ways, which will be increasingly timely, relevant and context dependent. This in turn will bring further business and energy into the many ecosystems evolving around Open Banking and Open Finance.