Ulster Bank reveals open banking API for developers to build useful fintech apps

5 Sep 2017

From left: Ciarán Coyle, CAO of Ulster Bank; Patrick Walsh, MD of Dogpatch Labs; and Simon McNamara, CAO of RBS. Image: Shane O’Neill

New open API lays a creative canvas for innovative third-party developers to create powerful fintech apps.

Ulster Bank has unveiled its first open application programming interface (API), which will give approved third parties limited access to customers’ account balance and transaction history.

The Ulster Bank API comes ahead of the introduction of the PSD2 regulation on open banking, due to come into force in 2018.

‘The Ulster Bank API opens up new possibilities for both fintechs and end-user customers’

Built using technology from Ulster Bank’s parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the API provides a seamless and secure method of linking customer’s accounts with third-party products and services.

For example, if a customer downloads a financial planning app, this app will then ask Ulster Bank to facilitate access to the customer’s account balance and their last six transactions, once the customer gives their permission.

Security is at the heart of new open banking API

The API has been developed with safety and security at its core, using market-leading technology and security expertise from RBS.

It has an industry-standard protocol called OAuth, which involves sharing information between three parties: an end user (customer), an API consumer (third party) and a service provider (Ulster Bank).

The information is shared using a secure token exchange through the Ulster Bank API.

All third parties are sourced, engaged and managed in compliance with external regulation and internal Ulster Bank policies, said chief administration officer Ciarán Coyle.

“We want to harness open banking, to disrupt and deliver new opportunities for our customers.

“The Ulster Bank API opens up new possibilities for both fintechs and end-user customers, and will give our customers greater control over the financial services they consume to further benefit their lives,” said Coyle.

Ulster Bank made a test ‘sandbox’ API available to developers at an open banking hackathon in February 2017. Attendees used this API to create customer-facing apps on voice recognition services, saving, managing spending and more.

“RBS continues to invest heavily in innovation to become the number one bank for customer service,” explained Simon McNamara, chief administration officer at RBS.

“We’ve been working with developers and designers from outside the bank using our test API, BlueBank, to explore the potential of open banking for our customers. In February of this year, we launched our first set of open APIs, which provided access to branch and ATM locations.

“The Ulster Bank API has allowed us to expand on this further, making this our first open API using limited customer data. The Ulster Bank API is an example of real, customer-centric innovation, and that’s what we are all focused on across RBS,” McNamara said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years