OCBC opens up data to spur app development

OCBC is the first bank in South-east Asia to open up its data to third-party software developers. This involves releasing foreign exchange rates and ATM location information in a machine-readable format and is aimed at encouraging third-party app dev
OCBC is the first bank in South-east Asia to open up its data to third-party software developers. This involves releasing foreign exchange rates and ATM location information in a machine-readable format and is aimed at encouraging third-party app developers to come up with innovative services.ST FILE PHOTO

OCBC Bank has taken the first step in what could lead to an Uber-style shake-up of the financial services sector. The bank has opened up its data to third-party software developers - the first bank in South-east Asia to do so.

It initially involves releasing foreign exchange rates and ATM location information in a machine-readable format.

"This is to encourage third-party app developers to come up with innovative services or the Uber-equivalent in the banking world," said Mr Praveen Raina, OCBC senior vice-president of group operations and technology.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) - as the format is commonly known - are the building blocks for many notable apps, including Uber and Grab that allow people to hail a ride.

APIs allow a vehicle's exact location on Google Maps to be automatically extracted by machines and overlaid with other services such as messaging or payment. Without automatic extraction, data would have to be entered manually, and updates would not be in real time.

With OCBC's foreign exchange rates API, for instance, developers can build a one-stop service that automatically converts foreign currencies to Singapore dollars for income-tax filing purposes.

OCBC's APIs are available on its newly launched developer portal Connect2OCBC. Branch locator and smart card adviser APIs are also available on the portal. The card adviser API informs users the OCBC credit cards that provide discounts at restaurants, for instance.

The bank plans to release more APIs, including those for payment, loan application and account opening, by the end of the year. With the APIs, developers can more easily build apps that accept credit card payments, provide fund transfers or call up application forms from the bank's website. The move to make data more machine-readable underpins Singapore's ambition to be a smart nation.

In March, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) urged local banks to use APIs to publish their data to allow third-party app developers to build more useful services.

Ms Susan Hwee, UOB managing director and head of group technology and operations, said that the bank will offer its APIs to the public in due course.

 Mr Aldric Chang, chief executive officer of local mobile app developer Swag Soft, said the move would give app developers greater access to information to solve customer problems. "There is certainly room for an app that provides different valuation methods of companies that could be useful for investors, but it will require Singapore Exchange to release stock price and financial data APIs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'OCBC opens up data to spur app development'. Print Edition | Subscribe