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India's Open Banking and API Product management

with Abhijit Dey, VP of API Banking at Axis Bank

In this conversation, Jon Scheele interviews Abhijit Dey, VP of API Banking at Axis Bank, about Open Banking and Embedded Finance in India. They discuss the growth of Open Banking in India, the role of APIs in the banking industry, and the impact of digital transformation on customer experience. Abhijit shares his insights on the future of Open Banking, the importance of API governance, and the skills required to be an API Product Manager.

See Abhijit's talk at apidays Singapore and articles on LinkedIn

API Productisation: Shift RIGHT to better product resilience

Abhijit Dey's talk at apidays Singapore 2024

Roles of API product managers beyond the conventional product management responsibilities

Roles of API product managers beyond the conventional product management responsibilities

Abhijit Dey's article on LinkedIn

The Red Flags of API Sprawl: What to Watch For

The Red Flags of API Sprawl: What to Watch For

Abhijit Dey's article on LinkedIn


Jon Scheele (00:00)

Open banking has been growing around the world and while we hear a lot about the European and UK open banking regulations and models, there is a lot going on in India and so I'm very pleased to be joined by Abhijit Dey. He is the VP of API Banking at Axis Bank and we're going to discuss how Open banking and embedded finance is benefiting Indians generally and the wider Indian economy as a whole. So welcome Abhijit.

Abhijit (00:41)

Hey, thanks, Jon. Thanks for having me here. It's always a pleasure to meet you offline, online. And like for last couple of years, we are sharing our insights and thoughts over social media or API days events on how API banking and as the applied part of API banking, how open banking is flourishing across the geographies. I'm happy to share my insights here and maybe for next couple of minutes, very exciting, both of us to share the knowledge.

Jon Scheele (01:09)

Yeah. Sure. So, be great to start with how you got into this part of the business because a lot of people do computer science or some other technical related course and then they end up in, many end up in a bank, but actually in open banking or API banking, it's as an API product manager, it's a fairly new sort of career path. So can you sort of share how you ended up playing this role?

Abhijit (01:45)

Yeah, sure. So I'm working with API predominantly for last almost 10 years, right? Before Axis Bank, I was with the HDFC Bank where the same role, I was taking care of them. And prior to that, I was working with many fintechs, many tech companies where my primary job is to write codes that will produce the APIs, right?

I can still remember the first time I have written one web service that was in 2009 or 10. And those days we used to have those SOAP based XML based web services. Then microservice architecture came, then API, now JSON, and nowadays we all are talking about GraphQL. I think in API days there was a huge session happened on GraphQL, most probably Claudio or someone was talking about it. So API, it always excites me because it,

has an agnostic nature or character, right? In visible language, I'll write the API, right? It should fit into, or it will fit into any application. And that interconnectivity between multiple application, right? That we establish using APIs. This one thing really like me. And I can tell you one good example.

I was working in 2011, most probably, I was working for a project where an ERP solution, right, that has to communicate with a third party CRM. And those were the days where API gateways or this type of architecture was not very popular. It was there, but not very popular, right? So we created one virtual gateway that interpret the API calls from one application to another, right? It was a teamwork, obviously, but...

that actually showed me that with API, we can open up the door of any application and we can create a co -application based ecosystem. So that's why API always excites me and yes, obviously I'm a computer science engineer, but even after doing that, API has become a passion. And nowadays, for last almost 10 years, I'm dealing with APIs.

Although I have got many new platforms to manage, but API being the primary for me. Yeah.

Jon Scheele (04:06)

How did the API function at Axis Bank get set up? Your involvement has been there. I think you were an API specialist even before starting at Axis. So what was sort of the path there to becoming part of Axis?

Abhijit (04:27)

Yeah, so it's not only Axis. In India, if you see all the banks, they are now becoming API -first bank, right? They all are running in an architecture or trying to build an architecture where everything will be API -driven. There'll be nothing to be called as a service or DB-to-DB calls, right? And we have seen in last couple of years, there are so many cloud adoptions going around, right?

And you know, I mean, in Kubernetes internally, platforms like Kubernetes where the internal orchestration happens, right? There also APIs are the primary way to call each applications and each services. So everything is API driven. And what we have seen, there is a trend that nowadays API is no more an endpoint or URL, right? I can remember when the first time we work on Google Map API, right, back in 2010 or 11. Maybe I can't recall the exact year, but it's long back, right? Those days we used to consider APIs as an endpoint or URL, right? But nowadays API is itself a complete product, right? And on the same topic, we discussed in apidays Singapore and maybe in upcoming sessions also we'll be talking that how API is running into a product.

But this is how the business and whatever we do, it has to be very contextual to business. See, technology is such a thing, Jon. You can build a technology. You can experiment around a technology. But end of the day, if that technology doesn't give you a revenue, doesn't give you a business number, that technology is of no use. Maybe I sound like a very much business -oriented person, but that's a fact, right? So API nowadays is turning into a product.

Our organization and many other organizations, they are seeing API as a revenue stream. They are trying to monetize through APIs indirectly or directly. They are trying to co -build platforms through which we can obviously increase our revenue channels and also service in channel. Best example is WhatsApp and chatbot, right? It's nothing but APIs, right? But when customers are coming, when customers are coming, rather, they're putting forward their queries. Through API calls, we are trying to solve it. So one way we are serving our customers, one way we are onboarding and acquiring customers. So this is how APIs are right now for our banks and for other banks also.

Jon Scheele (06:59)

Yeah, so the broader ecosystem is evolving quite rapidly. The government has laid some foundations with the India digital stack, which has several layers to it. Probably the key foundation is the Aadhaar digital identity, but then laid on top of that is things like the Unified Payments Interface, UPI, and then account aggregation. But each of those helps lay some infrastructure for business, for banks, as well as other players in the economy. And you mentioned WhatsApp banking is something that we actually don't see a lot of this in Western economies like Europe and North America because people typically use banking services through an app provided by either their bank or a fintech or an e -commerce player or somebody. So can you just describe a little bit what happens, what you had to do in order to link to WhatsApp and also the UPI, because this is fundamentally, as you mentioned, about APIs, but how have you had to manage that in order to connect a customer journey through that?

Abhijit (08:34)

Sure, sure. So, one that thing you talk about, India Digital Stack, right? You rightly said it consists of multiple or rather plethora of services, which is backed by many open APIs. For example, UPI, right? Unified payment database and account aggregator. Then there is a new thing coming up called ONDC (Open Network For Digital Commerce), right? Now, all these are...

The effort our honorable government is trying to make is that to create a digital public infrastructure backed by the banks and other players. And it's all towards a goal through which we can increase our financial inclusion. India is a very highly populated country. I do know that population is around 1.4 billion if I'm not wrong. Now, the number of banked customers and unbanked customers, there are differences. Now, how we can reach out to those unbanked customers, or how we can reach out to this customer base where the banking or financial services are still a dream. Now, for that, we need to be more digital. We need to digitize our services, and we need to be very open.

So, this unified payment, this UPI we're talking about, right? It's almost in the same likes of what PSD2 did in 2017, 18 in Europe, right? Where FIs or banks were opened up their data in a very restricted and concentrated way. And we started allowing our customers to make payment through different PSP app. I can give a very practical example how this entire transformation happened, right? And it's a very small story. So when I was in school, right, my dad, his office was, his weekly holiday was on Friday, right? And I have seen, at least in a month, once he used to go to the branch of a particular bank, right? And those were the days when core banking solution was not there, right? So if you are banking with a particular bank, you will have to visit the home branch.

So concept of home branch was there. Then that core banking came, he can go to any other branch of that particular bank. Then internet banking came, he can do banking through his own laptop and all or personal computer. Then mobile banking came. Nowadays, what I can see, people can make payment or any transaction, financial transaction through any of the payment apps. So this dependence on the banking infrastructure is not getting diluted, rather it is getting distributed. So these all are the part of the use cases of digital public infrastructure, or you are talking with this Digital India Stack. And this has created a huge significance for APIs. Because the moment you are externalizing your services, the moment you're externalizing your tech capabilities, that very moment you need an API.

And all these APIs, as I told you, these all are the products and people are consuming these products. So that's how this transformation happening and the future for this particular transformation is very bright. Because ONDC, as I'm talking about, is another initiative where new a plethora of services through which people can compare product pricing and all. And this again, based on the open ecosystem.

So this is how things are transforming and I think in coming days competitions, challenges will be high as well as the innovation. Because the more competitive market is the more you are facing challenge, the appetite for innovation will also increase. So in a way, end of the day, customers, they will be benefited. Service provider like us, they will be more innovative and more qualitative.

That's my take on this entire digital industry.

Jon Scheele (12:41)

Sure, so with the number of different ways that people can gain access to financial services like payments, you have the interface to UPI. You have the access through WhatsApp. When you design the APIs, are you able to serve several channels through the one API or do you find that you need to give different sort of tweaks to each of your APIs in order to serve the newer channels that come up?

Abhijit (13:18)

Yeah, see, the beauty of API is that once you build it, the reusability of that particular feature of that API, right, it's very high. For example, let's say I have made one balance inquiry API through which I can check balances, right? Now this balance inquiry API, I can orchestrate or club with my payment inquiry API with my payment transfer API, we can with my account state APIs, right. So that's the beauty of API productization. You have created one product which can fit into any other product. And if you want to add any feature to that particular product, by doing a very small tweaking, you can add the feature, right. So that's one part we all are doing. And it's a global trend.

And secondly, talking about the channel, I think the last question you were very curious about how WhatsApp is helping us, right? Because normally when we talk about customer servicing or we talk about customer acquisition, we think all about, you know, mobile app or internet or website, right? How WhatsApp is helping us. So this one thing about WhatsApp as a business service in India, it's flourishing.

Not only banks, there are many other organizations, they are also using WhatsApp as a channel because in India, the adoption and you know, users of WhatsApp is very high, right? I can safely tell you in India, people wake up in the morning, the first thing they see whether I have missed any WhatsApp messages, would I or not. So this a practice, it become a habit, right?

Now, to monetize or to commercialize that habit, what all the large organizations are doing, they are sending messages, campaigns, there are multiple nudges through WhatsApp. And nowadays, customers queries and different services are also being exposed, right? And through WhatsApp, you can make the payments also. In India, it's allowed, right? So this UPI payment is allowed via WhatsApp. So all these things are indicating towards a common point where we need to work on WhatsApp banking as a platform, as a channel, and the best use case of open banking is WhatsApp as a third party platform. Obviously, it's hosted outside and all of our API products, all of our API journeys, we are externalizing over there. So this one use case, it's very booming, almost not only banks, rather all the large organizations, FMCGs, even e -coms, they're also providing these services via WhatsApp.

And to the next question, the tweaking part, yes, definitely. And again, I mean, when I'm building one API product for my mobile banking channel, definitely I'll make it in such a way so that without making any tweak or without making any extra effort, I can reuse it in my WhatsApp channel or in other channels. So that's how the entire API product creation is happening in our part of the share.

Jon Scheele (16:23)

So your role as an API product manager, can you tell us what are some of the differences between an API product manager and a traditional or normally digital product manager? And what are the different ways that you get measured on your results, on the different skills that you need to bring to bear to do that?

Abhijit (16:53)

The best answer could be that I have published one article in LinkedIn last year and it became very viral. You can refer to that. But on a serious note, see, this is a very common question. It's being asked in many forums and all, right? And sometimes I even faced one question and that too from the very close proximity of my work that, if I want to be a product manager, do I need to know how to write a code for it?

My answer will be a little conservative here because I do believe that if you are building something, you should know how it works. At least you should predict the nature or trend of that particular product. So for that, if you're aspiring to be an API product manager, my humble suggestion and request is that at least learn one "Hello World" program on any of these languages and build an API. Because API is very subject-specific topic. Although it's agnostic to platforms and application, but still you need to know the core of it. Now with the help of Gen AI, we are predicting a future where APIs will be created or technologies will be built in the blink of an eye. But the point here is if you don't know the code, it's sometimes difficult.

And if you see the knowledge person, definitely you'll have to be very design thinking oriented person, right? Because whenever you are creating a product, most of the time we become product thinking person, right? But it's not like that. You'll have to be design oriented, design thinking person where you can actually understand the problem statement, right? If you don't have a problem statement and if you don't know how to solve that problem statement, then that is not a product, right? So every product starts with a problem statement, identify the problem statement, try to solve it in a very technical way. And the lens through which you are seeing the problem,

It should be the lens of a customer, not as a product person. So these are the very basic things when you are aspiring to be a product manager on API. And my request is that at least do some research on how API works. It's very important.

Jon Scheele (19:26)

So what I see typically in people in a technical career is that they start off as a software developer or maybe testing and then software development, and then as an architect, solution architect, or they either go down the more technical side, being a solution architect, or they go more of the generalist path like a project manager. Whereas a product manager that you see in many organizations is a business role and people don't typically have a technical background. So there are two different angles to approach a product manager. Some of them a more technical path and they need to learn a little bit more about the business side and the customer journey, the buyer's journey. Whereas the, business path, somebody with a business degree, as you point out, should understand a little bit about what makes up this product that they're trying to sell. But from a business standpoint, what are the things that you get measured on when you come up with a new API product?

Abhijit (20:46)

Yeah, so the success metrics, if you talk about or the key metrics that how we can measure the success. One is that definitely the adoption. If I build one API, the number of hits that API is getting in my gateways or on my Yelp dashboard and all that is very important. I need to monitor all this, you know, adoptions, right? How these APIs being used, right? And also at the same time, the success failure, right? I mean, maybe that API is being called multiple times, but most of the time it is returning back or responding back with some failure response. Obviously it's not a very good benchmark for that particular API. So this analytics dashboard for every API product or every API endpoints are very important. Also at the same time, as I told you in the very onset that we can build technology, we can create new APIs, we can experiment and innovate.

But until and unless it is giving me and my organization good revenue, it is of no use, right? So every API, obviously we'll see how that API is performing technically, but also at the same time, whether there is any revenue model we have established for that API or not. And if there is any revenue model, how much we are yielding up from that revenue model, that is also very important, right? And probably maybe over the last few years I have become more business oriented by the nature of my profession. I think the revenue part is the most critical one, right? Because see, when, as I told you, I mean, there must be some problem statement that you are trying to resolve with this particular API, right? Now, if there is no good revenue, or if there is no good adoption on that API, that definitely means that either you haven't identified the right problem statement, or the solution which you have created that is not the right for that particular problem statement.

So, both way your API technical adoption as well as your revenue model and its performance are the most critical key success metrics. Other than this, there are multiple other metrics there, but I do believe these two are the main and major thing that we need to consider.

Jon Scheele (23:01)

So for something like a financial transaction, a payment, it's relatively straightforward to measure what the revenue impact is of managing that transaction. But there are other APIs that organizations publish that may help a customer understand their account balance or what products are available.

Or assist with the onboarding process. So is that wrapped up in the whole profitability of that channel or that partner that you're dealing with? What are the considerations you have for how you actually justify building a new API or augmenting an existing API to serve one of those needs that's not a straight "send me money" type of transaction.

Abhijit (23:59)

Now it's very use case specific actually. I can give an example. Let's say I can see there is an API which is very popular among banking industry and across geography. It's balance inquiry API. Now if you see balance inquiry API has no direct monetization use case because all my customers are doing, they're just checking the balances and all. But if by giving this API, I can see the customer's balance maintenance in my bank has increased post adoption of this API. Or if I can see that customer is having some cross -sell or upsell relation with my bank, or with the bank where he's having these APIs, it's definitely a plus point.

And we can very easily and safely say that this Balance Enquiry API has created a very good customer experience for that customer. See, this all about experience, right? I mean, today, you are, I mean, let's forget about banking or financial institutions, right? Let's talk about some supermarket. Many times you go to supermarket, you roam around, you check things, and then you come out without buying anything.

But if you have a very good experience of that particular 15 -20 minutes when you are there in the supermarket, next time definitely when you will be needing something, you will be going to that market only. So this is how customer experience is important. And nowadays everything is very much hyper -personalized. You don't want to be treated like the way that a service provider is treating their other customers.

So now APIs and multiple other revenue streams or products are helping organizations to create that particular hyper -personalized experience or offer that hyper -personal experience for their customer. So in a way, if you want, you can definitely monitor and analyze the success metrics of any non -transactional APIs also. And it is, I mean, I'm not, let's not,

think about from a banking or financial institute person, even for any other organizations, right? If you see, I can't take the name, but there is a very large organization, it's a globally renowned organization, and they are dealing with FMCG products. They are also publishing their APIs nowadays, I have seen, right? So that's how that API has become a very global method to provide and offer a better customer service and obviously a better customer acquisition onboarding point.

Jon Scheele (26:49)

So it sort of becomes like a customer engagement metric. You get a better understanding of who your most active customers are in between the actual financial transactions. Okay. All right. So where do you see this heading in the future? The access to the financial system has certainly been improved in India through the different foundational infrastructure that have been created by the government and the banks and the other players in the ecosystem Where do you see that the next growth opportunity?

Abhijit (27:27)

Nowadays the trend in banking has become very global. There used to be a time where the trend was very much geographical. So for example, 15 -20 years ago, what I have seen, and maybe I'm wrong, but that's what my observation is that the way banking happens in Europe, in other continent were a little different. The way banking happens in India or used to happen in India was a little different.

But nowadays, it's very global. For example, this hyper -personalization I just mentioned, it's a global trend, right? Open banking is a global trend. Converting and upgrading to cloud or multi -cloud architecture, that is also a global trend, right? Now, if you see, as we are all talking about that global trend, the future of open banking and precisely API banking is very bright.

Because nowadays, I mean, there used to be a time API used to be a very technological feature of any organization. Nowadays, it has become a revenue point and a servicing point. Now, though adoption of APIs will increase, the adoption of digital services will increase. People are very keen to go for a digital way rather than in a physical way. But in India, we still see that there are businesses which are happening around the digital way, where physical and digital both are hybrid ways things are working. But digital obviously is the future. And maybe in the very near future we can see that things are almost in a super digital way. But one thing I am a little concerned about, and recently I have written on this topic in LinkedIn.

It's API Sprawl right, because the more digitized our ecosystems are getting the more we are building APIs and sometimes you know it happens and we cannot blame anyone practically Because there are always you know time to market, go to market pressure right and out of that pressure we keep on building APIs. We keep on publishing our APIs right and the moment we are out of this governance framework, we will end up in a sprawl, right? And I think API sprawling or unmanaging APIs is a very, you know, you know, intricate topic where many other speakers have spoken about. So future is bright, but this governance and framework over API adoption, API externalization, how we will build our API, this is very important. And this will play a huge role in terms of the future of digital banking and digital ecosystem. Because if you don't have a good governance or framework right now, maybe you will end up in a very sporadic way, the way you are building your API ecosystem. So that's what I take on the future.

Jon Scheele (30:33)

Okay, well, thanks very much for sharing that. So for somebody who's looking to extend their career, either as a technology professional seeking to have a more business -oriented role or a business professional seeking to move more into digital type of business as an API product manager, what would you share as the next step that people can take to help set themselves up for this?

Abhijit (31:09)

If you are looking for a role in API product management, first thing you need to understand how API works. That is very important. Second thing is that it has to be very contextual. So let's say you can see there is an API. I mean, every organization, they have their discovery layer where we can discover our APIs and all. But the moment you see an API, first you ask yourself whether this API will solve your purpose or not, right? Just end up adding new APIs, maybe a good checklist item, but technically, if you ask me, lesser number of API, maximum number of product, and maximum number of use cases covered, that's the actual success matrix for an API product manager.

If I am managing four APIs and I'm creating five products out of these four APIs and the use cases covered through these products are let's say 10. That's the actual scenario where I can say that I'm a successful product manager of it. Now you need to think and you need to create your vision around that. So I can boast that I have 10,000 APIs but I'm having only 7,000 use cases on the 10,000 APIs. That's not a very good benchmark.

So your vision should be very contextual, very much customer oriented. Innovation is important. Probably innovation will fill up the entire future of all the organizations. So that innovation has to be very much contextual and it has to be revenue oriented and customer satisfaction oriented.

So these are the things you should consider when you are starting your career as an API product manager.

Jon Scheele (33:01)

Okay, well thanks very much, Abhijit. It's been great talking with you. So people can find you on LinkedIn and we'll link to your article on an API product manager in your LinkedIn article and also the recording from your presentation at API Days Singapore 2024 in the show notes. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

Abhijit (33:28)

Thanks, Jon. Thanks for having me here.

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