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DBS, with eye on competition, doubles down on APIs

From left: DBS group head of strategy and planning and head of ecosystems Shee Tse Koon, the bank's group chief information officer David Gledhill, and Gene Wong, managing director of DBS digital and consumer banking group, at the launch of world's largest API developer platform by DBS.


DBS has moved to create a large-scale banking API (application programming interface) developer platform, aimed at boosting its collaborations with third-party players such as corporates and fintechs.

How far such collaborations will pan out for Singapore's largest bank will depend on the "mutually symbiotic benefits" that it will get from such partnerships, as other players are edging into the spaces that were once the bread and the butter of banks, such as payments.

APIs enable other brands, corporates, fintechs and software developers to "talk" to the bank to access a breadth of services, including funds transfers and peer-to-peer payment service PayLah!.

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APIs are basically sets of requirements - routines and protocols - issued by a business or institution that determine how one application communicates with another. For example, a Google Maps API enables app developers to embed Google Maps in Web pages. With APIs, software developers save on time needed to build new apps, and can update the information embedded.

All in, DBS has so far launched 155 APIs for Singapore across more than 20 categories, on what it claims is the world's largest API developer platform.

Speaking to reporters at the launch of the platform on Thursday, the bank's top executives said API partnerships are meant to build up real relationships, not to score brownie points amid the buzz around digital disruption.

But the bank's move also comes as maturing start-ups are inching into the payments space, with ride-hailing operator Grab expanding its payments offerings just this week.

Following from Grab's example, DBS' group chief information officer David Gledhill said the bank has partnered with the ride-hailing operator, but on the corporate side, not the retail side. Grab plugs into a DBS API so that its drivers can easily have their daily income reconciled and paid to them at the end of each day; it used to take two to three days for the drivers to be paid, he said.

Gene Wong, managing director of the digital and consumer banking group at DBS, said that having APIs could help the bank to refine partnerships, linking up only to specific lines of businesses of third-party players.

"By the sheer size of DBS, we are in many businesses, we have lots of different clients. There will be these situations of different partners actually in similar lines of businesses. We have a very pragmatic answer to that. We partner where we can create these mutually symbiotic benefits. We compete where we compete.

"I actually think this will make it easier to deal with some of these grey areas. Now we can almost modularise our partnerships - so we compete in this section, maybe we don't open our APIs in that section - but we are happy to have this portion of business to grow together with partners of all shapes and sizes."

DBS' API platform now has more than 50 ongoing collaborations, including one with McDonald's, which introduced the PayLah! payment option to its delivery customers this year.

Customers who have found a home through PropertyGuru, for example, can get an instant affordability assessment - real-time access to information on how affordable their home loan is, which makes the house-hunting process very effective, said Vivek Kumar, director of Product (Consumer) Technology in the PropertyGuru Group.

Activpass, a network of fitness, beauty and wellness services in Singapore, also taps into DBS' APIs so its customers can instantly redeem their DBS Points on the mobile app.

DBS has also applied several APIs to grow its digibank offering in India, and plans to do the same in Indonesia, said Shee Tse Koon, group head of strategy and planning and head of ecosystems at the bank.

OCBC launched its API platform last year, and now has 43 APIs on it, said the bank. Its forex API is used by a travel website for its customers to convert foreign currency-denominated prices to their Singapore-dollar equivalent in real-time when booking flights, hotels and travel packages.

Another start-up uses OCBC's API to display OCBC's credit card promotions.