Prague: Česká spořitelna – APInauts 2018

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On the 6th of December 2018, Česká spořitelna organized already the 3rd year of their APInauts event. The idea was born in 2016 with an aim to bring together those interested and involved in APIs and at the same time to open Česká spořitelna, the czech bank of the year 2018, to the outer world. The whole principle of opening banks stands on APIs and it is tightly connected to the European initiative known as PSD2 which aims to make certain data of financial institutions accessible to third parties.

Since the Apinauts event is about opening the bank, the speakers came not only from Česká spořitelna. There were ten of them – three from ČSas, two from other czech banks and the remaining five from non-bank companies. This year Apinauts took place in the building where also the most opulent branch of Česká spořitelna is located, in the Rytířská Street, Prague. The door got opened for the first visitors at 8.30 a.m. with official start at 9.00 a.m.

During the course of a brief introduction Jan Sechovec and Martin Medek from ČSas made the audience of three hundred familiar with the purpose of the event and also welcomed on the stage two teams to take part in a “hacking jam” that was about to happen in parallel with the talks. The mission of the teams, one coming from ČSas and the other from a company called Applifting was to develop an application based on words randomly given by the audience (e.g. identity, future, blockchain, etc.). After the two teams went off the stage the word was handed over to the first speaker of the event, Pavel Michalík.


API = API is for connecting various software systems the same as the USB is for connecting various devices. API is ideally a documented, easy to understand specification saying how to communicate with a system regardless its internal data structure and complexity.

PSD2 = a EU directive the aim of which is to make customer’s data on the side of payment service providers publicly accessible, increase customer’s rights, speed up payments, improve security.


Pavel Michalík, API Evangelist, ČSas: “From 1,000 to 60,000,000”

Pavel narrated the history of APIs in Česká spořitelna. At the beginning there was a small team of “heretics” with a difficult mission to achieve. The mission was nothing smaller than persuading the bank to open itself to the world and eventually allow third parties to access its attentively protected data. From this first step Pavel and the team around him focused on building user-centric REST APIs that could work like lego pieces. This means the APIs were build without a certain use-case in mind, rather they were meant to allow consumers to use them creatively. The very first, internally build application on top of the APIs was “Lístkomat”. It helped all customers after entering a branch to request a queue number. Looking back over the shoulder, the ČSas API team has walked a long journey from the humble, heretical beginnigs. It has created the whole API universe without which applications such as the new online banking George would be unthinkable. In addition to this the team has created also the whole Erste API Hub that was awarded as “The Best Overall Developer Portal” in 2018 and serves as an entrance gate for anybody coming from outside to build own solutions on top of Erste Group APIs.

Yet, the team around Pavel is always up for something new and exciting. Among other experiments Pavel mentioned, for example Morfina or Aperio, which wants to provide users with as seamless authentication as possible.

 

Petr Biskup, Product Owner, ČSas: “How Corporations and Start-up Cooperate?”

Petr can hardly go unnoticed – his enthusiasm as well as his shirts stand out in any crowd. When the EU came with a decision that banks would have to open themselves to the third parties, lots of prophets arose to predict the gloomiest future for the financial institutions. Yet, banks do not sleep, at least ČSas does not, as Petr made obvious in his talk. Česká spořitelna is working on what is called Erste Fintech Cloud – an analogy of Google Play or Apple Store. The Erste Fintech Cloud aims to create and foster cooperation with third parties and eventually publish their solutions on the Erste Fintech Cloud platform, thus making them accessible for up to 16 million customers of the banks within Erste Group. An example of such cooperation is a plugin available for ČSas mobile payment app “Poketka“. The plugin, created in cooperation with online marketplace Mall.cz, allows users to enrich their transaction history by additional details for their purchases via Mall.cz – warranty details, an attached proof of purchase, a picture of products etc.

 

Richard Watzke, Director and Co-founder, XIXOIO: “Tokenization – How To Tokenize Companies Better And More Efficiently”

Richard with a background in architecture, real estate and art, has also a decade of experience with building an international money-transfer system. His talk at Apinauts was dedicated to a startup called XIXOIO which aims to enable tokenization of whole businesses. A business which gets tokenized is able to sell fractions of its token to investors and thus raise capital faster than on a traditional stock market or by asking banks for a loan. The tokenized representation of the business value will be stored on a decentralized blockchain and the money of investors will get deposited in traditional banks. Richard spoke about business tokenization also at the first Crypto Banking Coference which he organized in Prague in Autumn 2018 and which hosted numerous international speakers.

In order to help both investors and companies navigate through the complexity of the blockchain phenomenon, Richard has also writen a book “A smart way to get and properly use funding from small investors on blockchain“. Let’s see when the first company gets tokenized!

 

Vratislav Kalenda, CEO, Applifting: “Developer Experience”

The talk given by Vratislav was focused on creating better experience for developers. Gone are the times when money was an answer to everything. Nowadays, especially in times of extremely high demand for their services, IT professionals expect more, not just the finance. On the opposite – lots of effort need to be put into creating and nurturing the right team culture, building a reliable architecture, setting meaningful processes, providing quality tools and offering a purpose why people should join and stay in.

Based on my observation and experience, the responsibility for building the right developer experience  and team culture should not lie only within others but also within developers themselves. Even though there is a high demand for one’s skills, it is still important to stay humble and practice empathy when dealing with other team members. Developers should not just expect the perfect world to get formed for themselves, rather they should participate on its creation. Stay stunned for more and follow Vratislav’s new project DX Heroes.

 

Kamil Rataj COO, CIO, Member of the Board of Directors Creditas: “A Small Bank and It’s Approach To Open Banking”

Creditas appeared on the czech market in January 2017. By then it had already twenty years of experience in providing loan services. Yet once in the banking field, it went by rather unnoticed until autumn 2018 when it introduced its app called Richie. Richie is a pioneer in the area of multibanking applications. It is based on the the PSD2 open-APIs and offers anyone who downloads it to a mobile device to have a view of their accounts from multiple banks. Important to say from any banks that have published their APIs. On top of displaying the account data, Richie is also able to provide stats of incomes and expenses. Kamil explained to the audience how a small bank not only publishes open APIs yet also developes a multibanking app interesting enough to stirr the interest of the whole czech market. When Kamil got asked what else Creditas wants to offer on top of the current functionalities Richie has, he let the question unanswered, building thus enough suspense for the future. Let’s see then! Well done!

 

Petr Michalík, API Evangelist, ČSas: “PSD2 API Alchemy”

Petr closed the circle when he came onto the stage as the last speaker of the event that was introduced by his twin-brother Pavel in the morning. I was absolutely blown away by how entertaining, humorous and at the same time provocative Petr’s speech was. Petr wanted to point out that even though there is an EU initiative asking for open banking, it is still extremely difficult for any third parties to join the show. The open APIs based on PSD2 should have been around for nearly a year, yet hardly all banks have published them in an easily accessible way and hardly any third parties have managed to connect to these APIs. The great idea is behindered by a non-existing standard for how APIs should be built as a result of which there are numerous national standards. Also the administrative and burreaucratic burden impossed on the third-party providers to get access to bank APIs is enormous, intransparent and it often looks like one should be an alchemist to navigate through it. At the time of Petr’s talk there was no third-party provider in the Czech republic that had managed to get licensed by the Czech National Bank. Hopefully, at least someone from the highest regulatory institution was in the audience to rethink the process.

Note: A few days after the conference, a czech budgetting, internationally acclaimed startup Spendee managed to get licensed. Hopefully others will have it easier now once the path has already been walked through.

 

After the loud applause following Petr’s speech, the two developer teams came back to the stage. In the course of the day they came to update on their progress between individual talk blocks and now the moment came to present their solutions. The team represented by the Applifting developers showcased a prototype of a blockchain-based transfer system allowing users to buy a virtual representation for czech crowns at a fixed exchange rate, make an instant payment and then allow the receiver to convert the e-CZK back to the fiat currency. The team represented by the ČSas developers presented an app to measure people-time costs. Once an input in form of people manday-rate is provided the software can calculate a cost of the people’s time spent for example at meetings and express the cost in various currencies. Out of the two solutions the one developed by Applifting was considered more appealing by the audience, so the team was considered a winner!

All the organizers, especially Tomáš Žďára, Petr and Pavel Michalik and Jan Sechovec deserve many thanks for made Apinauts 2018 possible. It was an amazing event with friendly, sharing and welcoming atmosphere, bringing together people from banks as well as from other backgrounds to have a discussion, exchange experience and see how to work together in the future. I am already looking forward to Apinauts 2019 and encourage anyone to come and join – as a guest or even as a speaker!

 

Other talks given:

  • Dominik Veselý, CTO, Co-founder, Ackee: “Open API For Business Increase”
  • Martin Sládeček, Open Banking Manager, Komerční Banka: “Open Banking – The Way of Komerční banka”
  • Petr Ferschmann, CEO, Dativery: “API Is Not Only For Developers”
  • Jindřich Kubát, Head of Software Development, Mall.cz: “Marketplace API – How Does API Facilitate Connecting E-commerce Subjects”

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