At the end of 2019, Investec and OfferZen partnered to launch the Programmable Banking project with the goal being to bring Programmable Banking to the South African tech community. This offering would one day be built into Investec’s core banking product; so, to get it right, it was important for the community to get involved from the beginning to experiment, test the product, and give feedback.
In this conversation, Willem Fisser, Tech Lead and Platform Owner at Investec, and Charl Kruger, Web Platform Owner at Investec, give an update on where the project is, and what the community’s impact has been so far. They share some of the apps the Programmable Banking dev community has built, and discuss how their contribution has taken the Programmable Banking product to where it’s going next.
The Programmable Banking initiative first launched at the end of 2019 with the goal being to eliminate barriers in FinTech by enabling the developer community to find new and innovative ways to control their money.
Although interest for the idea was definitely there, the team behind the initiative realised that it was critical to involve the community from the start — they needed to see if it actually worked, and they needed real-time feedback from the people who would use it.
From there, a beta version of the product was launched. Over the past few months, devs in the Programmable Banking community have been actively involved in weekly meetups, building and demoing real projects and ideas they’ve come up with. Willem explains that the community’s involvement and feedback has been invaluable for pushing the initiative forward:
“At the end of the day, it’s the community’s feedback that helps us drive the roadmap for what we build and deliver. It’s the only way we’re going to stay focused on features that actually change the game, and enable the community to drive innovation and push the boundaries with our platforms.”
Here’s a closer look at some of the things these devs have built so far, as well as some insight into how this community engagement has helped push the project forward even more — the latest contribution being a request to build in a new OpenAPI functionality.
Projects built by the dev community, and how they’ve helped the Programmable Banking initiative so far
The community has just over 100 active developers at the time of writing, all of whom take part in weekly meetups. Here, they demo the things they’ve built in their free time, and give each other feedback to suggest improvements and generate new ideas.
Some examples of what the community has built so far include:
- A vanilla ‘spending habits’ dashboard, using React, Go, Heroku, and the programmable card
- A shared expenses app built with Rails, React and Redux
- A behavioural spending fraud alert system, which takes transactional information in AWS machine learning, and creates alerts for abnormal spending habits, allowing you to stop transactions and potentially prevent fraud
What this community has enabled the team behind the beta product to do is leverage a group of software makers who have diverse skills sets, backgrounds and ways of thinking — of which Charl and Willem’s team would otherwise never have had access to.
“Obviously, with any company, we generally have a finite number of developers. This means we can only build out so much”, Charl explains. Willem explains that having a community this active, and this broad in terms of where they’re from and their experience levels, means that those normal constraints are removed: “In general”, he says, “devs are constrained by the programming languages in their immediate context. But this community allows broader exposure across an array of frameworks and languages. This is really leveraging a multitude of intelligent minds.”
Beyond this, the community has also provided valuable, real-time feedback to help guide the product’s roadmap. This is extremely useful because, as Charl says:
“Instead of wasting time, resources, and effort building things that no one is going to use, we’re able to deliver value right from the start because it’s being built according to what these devs actually want and ask for.”
What’s next: Building OpenAPI to give devs more access to their financial data
One example of how the community’s active feedback has contributed to the development of the product is the current OpenAPI build. Initially, the programmable card platform allowed you to build a basic version of a budgeting app, but it couldn’t facilitate a fully-fledged spending tracker. Through the weekly demos, the Programmable Banking dev community uncovered the blockers for moving the project forward, and suggested improvements for the app:
“[OpenApi] was very much an ask from the community”, Willem says. “They pushed for the ability to gain access to their account information… and we realised we could deliver value to a lot of the projects by enabling that.”
In terms of driving the project forward, Charl and Willem say that the potential this build has for Programmable Banking as a whole is big. By giving devs greater access to all of their account information, transactions, and balances, they are able to build more complex apps:
“Up until now, people didn’t have great access to their financial data. Or, it was just very old-fashioned: The only way you could get your data was by manually exporting a CSV. OpenAPI now gives people the ability to have all of their data in their own hands, which means they can do whatever they want to. There are really so many possibilities.”
This is a really novel move for driving innovation in the South African FinTech industry. Willem says that South Africa doesn’t yet have a clear directive to encourage banks and businesses to open up their systems to APIs, which makes it hard to gain any real traction. The difference the community makes is that their demos show a real need for OpenAPI by building use cases and proof-of-concepts for its potential.
An OpenAPI also means that the project can start lowering the barrier to entry, and open up Programmable Banking to more than just developers: Excel is one of the biggest ‘coding editors’ in the world, and is used by financiers and business analysts alike. By plugging the API into Excel, Charl says anyone can make HTTP requests and pull information from there, without having to have any extensive coding knowledge.
“Our current offering is just the foundation”, Willem says. “This is very early days, and there’s already more asks from the community for different kinds of APIs. It’s exciting to evolve these platforms with features and functionality, and to see what the community builds with us. At the end of the day, it’s putting control and data back into the account holder’s hands, and driving innovation from there.”
Get involved in the Programmable Banking Community
For those of you in the community, check out the GitLab to see more of the awesome projects members of the community are working on. You can also sign up for challenges, where you can help find solutions for real life problems.
For more information, pop Ben — the Programmable Banking community manager — a mail :-)