My washer and dryer can tell my smart watch when they are done washing and drying. A voice assistant in my kitchen can update my grocery list. Documents in selected folders on my laptop can be synced to data centers around the world in an instant.
These things are possible through the use of APIs, which most every user-facing service, tool, device and ecosystem out there these days seems to understand are an essential part of their offering. APIs give users, developers and partners a way to build new things on top of the thing you already offer. They give people flexibility to integrate a service, tool or device into their lives in a way that makes sense for them. APIs help encourage wide adoption and extensibility.
The industry that seems to be far behind in offering powerful APIs to end users? Personal banking, and related billing systems for utilities and credit card companies.
When I want to check the current balance on my personal checking account, I have to follow a multi-step process in a web browser or mobile app.
When I want to get the latest PDF copy of a bill from my mobile phone carrier, it’s something like 10 clicks across three different websites.
When I want to initiate a bill payment on a credit card provider that doesn’t support automatic drafting from my bank, it’s a similarly long process.
The other day a rep from a utility told me I had to call them to request a form be mailed to me so I could fill it out and mail it back to them, just in order to set up automatic payments from a bank account.
And when I want to be notified about certain kinds of activity from these institutions, I have to log in to each one to go through their proprietary grid of checkboxes and verification methods to set up push alerts or text messages…if they offer notifications at all.
Indeed, accessing and working with my personal financial information is one of the most cumbersome, high-friction, analog things I do any more. Personal banking and bill payment feels like swimming in mud compared to the light speed of most of the rest of the information economy.
Why is there so much friction in personal banking and financial transactions?