The Non-Technical Executive's Guide to APIs

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7 October 2019

Everything You Need to Know But were Afraid to Ask

Key research questions

  • What Exactly is an API and How do APIs Work?
  • How are APIs being used in financial services?
  • What are the myths and misconceptions about financial services APIs?


Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have become a staple of discussion regarding emerging financial services technologies, and yet many in the industry possess little more than a superficial understanding of the fundamentals of what APIs are, how they work, and what advantages they offer a financial institution.

An API at its most basic is an interface that allows two systems to communicate. The interface provides a secure controllable way to access either services or data of the underlying software.

We explore the basics of APIs across the following topics:

  • What is an API and why do I want one?
  • What kinds of APIs exist?
  • What are the different ways to build an API, and how are they accessed?
  • What are the risks and security precautions to consider?
  • How do I maintain existing APIs?

While we answer introductory questions about APIs, we don’t delve into API strategies, regulations, or monetization strategies. These topics will be covered in more depth in future reports. For a view of API types specific to banking, see the report APIs in Banking: Four Approaches to Unlocking Business Value.

APIs are enabling a new era of interoperability, connectivity, and opportunity within financial services. Understanding the basics of how they work and are applied is critical to operating in the context of a larger ecosystem with peak efficiency and effectiveness