In this interview, we talk to Joris Hensen and Frank Pohlgeers from the Digital Factory of Deutsche Bank. We talk about the intention of Deutsche Bank to help build an ecosystem, by granting fintechs access via their API, but also for non-fintechs. Deutsche Bank is interested in cooperating with startups from fintech, what they call “near-banking” and “beyond banking” and is opening itself up to them. The bank is even working on a partnership program to help start an ecosystem.

If you want to know more about the API of Deutsche Bank, you can learn more in the Developer Portal of DB.

The interview was conducted by Joern and Gaurav from the team in Frankfurt, inside the Digital Factory of Deutsche Bank.

During the interview, we talk about the winners of Deutsche Bank Hackathon API/OPEN. You can find our interviews with three of them here:

Here you will find the transcript: 

Jörn: „Hello and Welcome everybody this is Joe from Today as you can see I am not in my small cramped study, but rather we are here in lovely Frankfurt at Deutsche Bank. We are actually in the Digital Factory of the Deutsche Bank and just that I am not alone, I brought some backup from the Team. Could you briefly introduce yourself?”

Gaurav: “Hello I am Gaurav. I am just helping out Joe in his new initiative and I am proud to be a part of this team because I have seen this guy work so hard and am proud to be lending a helping hand. Oh yeah and I’ve been a technology consultant in my past life.”

Jörn: “And of course we do have two people here that host us would you guys introduce yourselves briefly to our listeners?”

Joris: “So hi! My name is Joris Hensen. I am the project manager for the dbAPI-Project. That is the project to build the API platform and we just launched the platform with our API-Hackathon. And I think you also had some interviews with some winners of the hackathon already on the podcast.”

Frank: “Yes. Also hi from my side. Welcome to lovely Frankfurt, happy to have you here. My name is Frank Pohlgeers, I am a member of Deutsche Bank and I am in the business division we call “Private, Wealth and Commercial Clients”. And in that division, I am a member of the digital innovation area. In that area, amongst other activities, we are in the process of expanding our product and service portfolio of offerings by adding new, as we say, banking but also beyond banking products to the offerings to our clients in order to, therefore move into new business models and new fields of self-starting generation.”

Jörn: “And we are here for a reason because originally I was approached by you guys for this hackathon here “API/Open”. The listeners can’t see it but it took place in Berlin like in the fall of last year and actually there is some follow-up on this and actually that’s the reason why we are here today. You talked already about API/Open. Can one of you guys tell our viewers here what it’s actually all about?

Jörn: „Can you just elaborate a bit on the API/Open?“

Joris: “Sure. So the API/Open was a 3-day-hackathon that took place in Berlin, as you said, at the end of October, last year. The idea was that for the very first time we introduced our API to developers outside Deutsche Bank. We did this hackathon to get feedback from the teams. We wanted to understand the functionalities we have implanted because we just started with a set of basic functionalities and we wanted to further grow with the philosophy to understand what the need is. So we focused on the need, and that is why we did the hackathon. Additionally, we were looking for nice innovative projects, and as Frank said, in particular for rather beyond banking products and ideas.”

Jörn: “And you’ve now always been talking about products and ideas. What does it actually mean for the people out there? Like is it… You’re now buying products from other people? Are you opening Deutsche Bank a little bit to other products and services? What does it actually mean for the people out there?”

Joris: “Together with the API/Open hackathon we also introduced our developer platform. So the idea is that developer platform is now out there. You can register to the platform and there you find the API documentation of the API functionalities available. And the idea, with regard to your question, is that we open up these functionalities for others to implement within their product. What we would like to see is a lot of Innovation coming from the outside leveraging our banking functionality and being probably more near banking in the beginning but the progressing towards solutions that no one would have expected.”

Jörn: “So that means, we are basically here today because Deutsche Bank is opening themselves via an API to startups, to fintechs out there.”

Joris: “That’s true in a way and right now we are working with the API/Open winning teams because they were the first ones are actually… While developing the products, how can we build a partnership out of this and how can we launch products also together? Not sure if you would like to add something to this?”

Frank: “Well that’s exactly right, what you said. We are doing the best with the level of quality according to what those teams presented during the API/Open, on the final day, in the pitching session and we are now continuing on a very detailed level with those winning teams in order to really find out, in detailed discussions, also with our internal experts here at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, how and by when and in which structure we might quickly work together, do business together in the future.”

Jörn: “So right now you are working with some of the teams we did an interview, like Dwins, like Wire and …. Who am I forgetting? Twins… Wire…. And Finchild! Of course!”

Jörn: “Yes and you’re right now working with them and you’re working on a program to open this API up to other startups out there. Yes?”

Joris: “Yeah, well. The thing is right now everyone can register to the developer portal, start using the API, start building the first prototype. So that’s already out there. But what were are also focusing on right now is also to develop like a general terms of conditions model so that while we work with a startup we also have a set of general processes and contracts available that will allow us a fast integration, because it’s not just about the technology integration.”

Jörn: “Ok, I see. And talking a bit about this developer portal, that developers outside of Deutsche Bank can use: Is there like a limitation? You can only use it when you’re a startup in Germany? When you’re in the European Union or you’re open wholly?”

Joris: “Alright. The developer portal everything is available in English, so you can use it outside Germany too. But because we have started with a focus on the German markets the functionalities are rather focused on the German retail side. So that’s the only drawback from an international perspective. But we are also going to add more functionalities in the future. So, in theory, it is open to everyone.

Jörn: “What are you actually requiring from all the people in order to get access to this developer portal? I mean you said they all can like register but what do you require, that they can actually really use it. And as you said, it’s focused on the German market with a retail focus. So that means you will usually have retail accounts, current accounts, and credit cards?”

Joris: “Well, yeah. So what the functionalities right now are, are transactions, an account and also account details. That’s how we started. Everyone can just register through our portal. Just I think it’s a really simple, straightforward registration on there. You just have to fill out a simple form. Then you can start testing and working with the API. So there’s no further step in working with the simulator.”

Jörn: “Ok. I see. And how does this developer portal actually work? What is it on a technical basis for all the people right now out there, who are thinking: “Aw, maybe I can use it. But what is this actually?” How would it that people outside can determine if they could use it if they could work with it? What is it on a more, a bit technical level?”

Frank to Joris: “Oh for sure…”

Joris: “So, yeah. From a technical perspective, the API is a RES API. We are using Jason and basically, the developer portal along with the documentation allows you to do simple API calls. So you can like along with the documentation… It’s all based on Swagger. So along with the documentation, we can receive real responses. This works with JavaScript so you can test the functionalities, understand how they’re structured. And get further introductions, also in particular on the authorization which is based on Open ID connect OAuth2. So what we were trying to do is to work independently of operating systems so that everyone would be able to use it and to work with common formats and endways that everyone’s really used to so it’s basically the same if you use the Facebook API and this API in terms of technology.”

Gaurav: “Ok. Can I ask you a follow-up question for that? Thank you for the explanation. That was my number one question, SOAP or REST or, you know, what’s being used or. Can I ask you a follow-up question on that? Is this like custom made API or are you using the back end like Adobe Digital, digital bank digitalization or have you built it from the ground up yourself?”

Joris: “Yeah. While we focus on certain frameworks like OAuth2 all of the rest we built ourselves because we wanted to start in a lean way. We were looking into some platforms and we decided to start it ourselves with building an own API framework.”

Gaurav: “Ok. And the developers who are interested. Do you have a sandbox server for that? So they can play around. Maybe dummy login, dummy transactions, so they can try out?”

Joris: “Right! I certainly missed out to mention this other very important piece of information. That’s something you can also find on the developer portal.”

Gaurav: “Ok.”

Joris: “We put a lot of effort in the test stage, in particular. So we were developing certain personas that we could imagine. Yeah? Kinds of users and the test data is actually reflecting their behavior.”

Gaurav: “Ok.”

Joris: “So, for instance, we have a student persona. This guy will have different spending pattern than an older guy for instance. We have enough information and data to develop a rough prototype.”

Gaurav: “Thank you for that. Now you mentioned that … the focus is on retail banking. I can imagine that you would be looking forward to extending it to let’s say wealth management maybe including like a dashboard for your wealth management clients. Is that something that you will be focusing on in the recent future or is that something that’s still far away? Or you’ve not planned it yet but maybe in the future or is that in the pipeline?”

Joris: “For sure we already think about those things. Because it’s really important, also in terms of developing the API further. Short term we are looking into further retail functionalities because I think in particular if you look at the winning teams they high require. There are a couple of other things we want to add first. Points like transferring money and stuff like this.”

Gaurav: “And maybe if I can go into the partnership models that you’re looking for with the startups. So what partnership models do you have? Are you looking for startups to develop their products and then maybe do an acquisition or are you going to let developers run the applications and put them on app store somewhere get them integrated into maybe social media parties who can integrate it into Deutsche Bank? And so is it based on acquisition of these products developed or is it based on creating an ecosystem where the developers can make their own product, they own their own product but somehow they create an ecosystem just to give the consumer or the clients the benefit of having these interfaces that can be used until in social media. Depending on the model that’s being used how will you manage the login? Will there be different interfaces? Let’s say Facebook login and …. While they create their own apps they have to log in everywhere? Is there like a single sign in functionality that you are thinking about?”

Joris: “You want to answer the partnership question first?”

Frank: “Why don’t you do that?”

Joris: “Ok we start with the Login. Right now the login is based on the online banking login that we have we did that because we were assuming that there is already a wealth of clients to target. So, what we plan to do is to further expand this. What you just mentioned is a great opportunity to offer other opportunities to log in, in particular, if you’re thinking about targeting clients outside Germany. So this is another functionality for sure. So tell us now about the partnership models.”

Frank: “When partnership models are concerned we very much believe in establishing an ecosystem that is based on a platform approach, which means at the end of the day; We are very much interested in partnering with startups, with third parties in order to establish near banking related, but also beyond banking creative products and offering to our clients. That makes us, at the end of the day, more relevant to the clients, in the best case on a daily basis. Can we say at this point in time if we do believe in acquisitions etc.? Do we have the one and only way how we want to do this? No. We are still at an early stage. At the end of the day, I would say: everything is possible. We need to wait and see what is out there; what possibilities we have. But again, partnering with innovative startups and 3rd party companies is something we do believe in very much and this is why we believe this is the right way to offer a new kind of product and services portfolio to our clients, to bring our client journeys our client’s experience into a new dimension.”

Joris: “And I think that also relates to the fundamental way how we design the API. To start simple. We had a lot of meetups and meetings with startups as well. So to really build something also together. So we can say: “well this is a great model that works for a lot of cases” but also to find individual solutions and to build it together.”

Jörn: “Right, right, right. I would have a few more questions. You’ve been talking like about creating an ecosystem. I am right now aware that there are somewhere between 30 and 50 Fintech startups in Frankfurt alone. Would that be something you would already consider an ecosystem or are you looking for like a bigger number like a few trillion or something? What would be the number you are looking at? And also I would be curious what your understanding of the near-banking-products is that you’ve already mentioned.”

Frank: “First of all, given the fact that I am talking about banking, near banking and beyond banking products and services means we do not limit our scope to fintechs only. In many cases when banks within the financial services industry are talking about cooperation with tech companies it is always fintechs all the time. We are not interested in looking and talking to fintechs only. Especially from an ecosystem point of view we are actually more interested in talking to non-fintech startups, early stage, medium stage, in order to find out what those guys need, what else we can offer to our clients which go beyond the traditional banking products, such as credit products, loans products, security based products. What can we offer on top to that in order to really provide a broader and more complex portfolio of let’s call it service packages which are not limited to the, let me call it, boring, traditional, old-time banking products? This can be a beyond banking related which has absolutely nothing to do with the current traditional product offering and probably also a feedback from that time when we were organizing the API/Open, the hackathon event, which had the… the overall tutorial let us know what’s the idea beyond banking products for Deutsche Bank. Actually it was a challenge to explain to the external world, that we as Deutsche Bank are ready and happy to discuss and to find out together with those innovative startups what we can do and what we can offer for our clients from a real beyond banking perspective and we learned that it is really very important to explain that we are ready to go that kind of major step as a traditional bank, as Deutsche Bank, to offer completely non-banking related products, which is really, really innovative in a mind step and a spirit. But also our respective group of members and our senior management totally believes in this which is really interesting and a great help and support for us as well. Also, a challenge is to explain to the external world, to those innovative startups out there, where we want to go, how we want to go and that we are really happy to offer everything that is beyond banking. Whatever that is at the end of the day, we don’t know yet as well, either.”

Joris: “And with respect to the ecosystem: I think it’s more the ecosystem from a client perspective. Yeah. From my point of view, it gets very interesting if products get interconnected to you as a customer. Ja? Have a wealth of opportunities, in terms of products, you can use, and services that are interlinked and provide an additional benefit that is interlinked. Ja?”

Jörn: “Like having a micro saving service for all transactions and then doing automatic savings of this money with another system or stuff like this. That’s what you’re looking at?”

Joris: “Yeah”

Jörn: “Ok, ok. And I would have a few more questions looking forward. You’ve been talking about near-banking, beyond banking and there’s a lot of access all the startups would then get. How do you make sure your security is fine and is there some kind of qualifications of due diligence process, applications process, the startup would be to undergo before they can really join this level of the program?”

Joris: “Ok. I get this security question. Ok. Now that’s, exactly, that’s a really important point. That’s one of the three priorities we have this year. This is what I said at the beginning, that we are building this general terms and conditions where we look into what’s the minimum amount of information we require in terms of due diligence, that we have to create a checklist? What is the minimum amount of control function checks we have to do in terms of legal, compliance, etc.? So right now we are working on this one to make it as easy as possible. And I think it is also going to be a stretch from both sides, to understand that a bank has some restrictions, limitations that you can’t change. So this is also part of understanding each side. But we are willing to do our best, to make the best deal from our App.”

Gaurav: “If I can squeeze in …?”

Jörn: “Yeah, sure. Squeeze!”

Gaurav: “Technical Question here. So how mature is the API? Is it like version X.0, 1.0, 2.0 and how do you release like a roadmap in advance? Like these are the features available, these are the features to be available 6 months from now. So that a serious startup can see: This is where the bank is going. And they can also plan their releases accordingly and their features accordingly. So how mature is it and what is the roadmap or do you release a roadmap every quarter, every 6 months or something like that?”

Joris: “Yeah. We released the version 1 of our API. It’s very mature. We didn’t want to provide any like 1.0. So this one is really a stable version right now, in terms of the functionality we already offer. I think it’s a valid point to give some perspective to the community, what we plan to integrate. Right now we are in the phase of planning this year and it really will depend on the first product that we want to implement the first functionality or for the first additional functionalities. But what we also plan to do is to have more community events like… Ok. The API/Open was a big event but what we mostly plan to do is smaller community events where we also want to present perspectives on how the API could further grow to get further feedback. So it’s not just the pure announcement on the website going on further but also like an interaction. I think it will be a combination of both.”

Gaurav: “Ok. That’s wonderful.”

Jörn: “And a few more questions on the community events and the beyond banking products. I would be curious. Where will these community events be taking place? Like Berlin? Like Frankfurt? Like Singapore? Like Albuquerque? Or Sao Paolo? What is the scope of community you’re looking into here?”

Joris: “Definitely we are looking for Mars. No, because like we are still focusing on, or the first step would be the German market it would more likely be Germany than Singapore or Albuquerque, in the first place. Also, we did this event, I know there is a buzzing startup scene in Frankfurt. So I think it is not a decision for one or the other but rather an approach where we can combine things.”

Jörn: “And the main reason for that being that there is a high level of data protection given by law in Germany. I would just ask like for the final script a little bit more the question… Ok, everybody out there has some kind of an idea where you’re going. We also know that there will be follow-ups, hopefully with us. And we now know, what you have to offer. But what I did not especially get is why they should go for Deutsche instead of any other program, any other API.”

Joris: “So I think what startups get out of cooperation with us is, in particular for instance, that was for the winners of the hackathon, they will be the first to give feedback to us and then develop the API in a direction that it also matters for that product and then for further startups, that will cooperate with us it’s really this openness of going away together and in addition to having like have facts like you mentioned the amounts of clients we have and the data we have got and this is just the retail side of the coin. But also looking at transaction banking and other areas of the bank there is really further potential. And what we’ve seen at the hackathon was that for instance the experts on the control functions, compliance, legal and all the other functions we’ve had, they really provided valuable input in terms of important knowledge that for instance for Fintechs is also very important, not just if they cooperate with us. And on the other hand, we have the startup teams all over Germany that work with startups in close cooperations for Deutsche Bank products but also for beyond, helping to tap the network and to work on stuff like the first business plan for a startup. So, and we also plan to really combine some offerings we already have and have something, I don’t know… Let’s call it a pioneer center, really experienced guys that work with startups from the beginning not just from a technical perspective but also from a business perspective. Not sure if you would like to add something.”

Frank: “I think, in addition probably, it might be one of our USPs, at least in the German financial industry services world that our team and everybody who is dealing with API and open banking has a certain degree of passion. We have dedicated teams who can care for this, we have respective skilled people, who can be the counterparts for all those startups out there to do business with us. So it’s not just an API. It’s not just a platform. It is really a lot of, from my point of view, cool, passionate, dedicated people with the right spirit in order to bring this business forward with you guys out there and also to develop new features of our API, probably together with you and to work, and to use your innovation and your ideas as well, in order to bring us forward and do joint, new business models into that value chain.”

Joris: “And I think it is not just what Deutsche Bank brings in, but also what partners of Deutsche Bank bring in. For instance, we have this partnership with Axel Springer Plug & Play and with all of the Hackathon winners to pitch the final draft for next year’s batch. I think this is also a great opportunity.”

Gaurav: “I have a question, maybe it’s too early to say. But since Deutsche Bank has been the pioneer in this particular open API initiative and looking at other banks who might also be opening up part of their systems part of their APIs. Have you thought of having a standardization? Maybe like having like an open API, but with open banking API that is maybe universal for all the banks in Germany. And that will make the life for startups a lot easier and maybe it can also put you in the leadership position. So a consortium of banks, let’s say, “This is a standard you’re going to follow and this API is universal, whichever app you choose…the bank… you plug and play with it.”?”

Joris: “hahaha, you don’t want to take the microphone. Ok. I see. From a startup perspective that definitely makes sense. From our perspective, it’s just a matter of focus right now. I mean it’s not a straightforward initiative and as you said, as a pioneer it is like traveling to Mars. No one’s been there before, so you have to do it for the first time. And what you can’t see probably from the outside is that it is also a change initiative on the inside. The amount of effort it takes to move this along, to add new functionalities out there, this requires time and this is why we plan to focus on delivering the first products before other stuff.”

Gaurav: “Alright. Of course, of course. Thank you for that. That was just, by chance. You know. You thought about it, have any plans. I didn’t really think you would have. Deutsche Bank, I mean of course, in such complex organizations doing such innovative stuff takes a lot of effort, a lot of meetings, a lot of pushing people around and requesting people, pleading. Anyways, I realize it was a tough question but thank you for answering that. I think I could go on and on with questions but I think we should probably wrap this up. So Jörn, why don’t you do the honors?”

Jörn: “Well, to officially wrap this up: Thank you very much for being here. Thank you for the very interesting interview and hopefully, we will hear soon about new advances, new approaches.”

Joris: “Yeah, thank you very much. It was great having you here. I am really looking forward to this year because this year will be all about the first products that we launch on our platform and new functionality and all I can say from my perspective is: We are really serious about this. The team’s really serious about this. It’s really a nice team of great people being enthusiastic. And it’s really like an internal startup.

Frank: “Also thank you from my side. Thank you for coming over. Hopefully, I will see you guys again soon. And I can only also say that we are really really passionate about it and looking forward to what is going to happen in 2017 and whatever kind of feedback you guys have: let us know. We are very much interested in interacting with you, in getting your guys’ view on this, on our API and on your ideas on how we could do business together.”

Gaurav: “So you guys are going to find the description more details about the links, the email addresses and the right people to contact in the description of the podcast.”

Jörn: “That’s it all folks, for today. Thank you.”