While many consumers have likely heard of application programming interfaces (APIs), they may not fully understand how these tools work or why they matter. An API enables two different technology applications to talk to each other — sharing data — which improves the overall user experience and value of both.
By integrating APIs developed by third-party financial planning software providers, financial advisors can incorporate data from additional client accounts into the financial planning portals through which they communicate, and significantly strengthen the planning experience for clients.
For example, account aggregation APIs allow a client’s accounts and loans from other financial institutions to be linked to in their financial plan within the advisor’s platform, so that real-time data about those accounts and loans can be visible to the client when they log into the client portal. The inclusion of up-to-date data about other accounts and loans in their financial plans not only enhances the wealth management and planning experience for clients, but also enables advisors to create a more holistic picture of each client’s overall financial picture. Account aggregation APIs, which talk to the applications from the other financial institutions where the accounts and loans are held, also ensure these assets are taken into consideration when financial plans are updated, and help advisors enrich the advice they provide.
Advisors can also utilize APIs to incorporate a broader spectrum of financial planning tools into their client portals and other client-facing solutions. APIs from planning technology providers can enable advisors’ client portals to show clients their net worth as well as their savings and goal progress, and what adjustments would be necessary to make improvements. Other APIs are designed to help advisors and financial institutions capture and manage client data such as household demographics and members, financial accounts and assets, and liabilities to strengthen advice, as well as recommendations in financial plans.
Liberating Advisory Practices
Developing technology solutions from scratch requires a great deal of time and money. APIs free advisory firms — small and large — from these challenges. Besides integrating with third-party technology providers, APIs can enable advisors to actually embed capabilities from third parties within the user experiences in their practices for themselves, back-office staff, and clients. Advisors can also create customized workflows that make these user experiences more efficient using APIs.
Some APIs available in today’s financial planning marketplace can be used to create self-directed workflows for clients and prospects to securely fill out with details about their personal and family health history, and their goals for retirement. The data entered by clients and participants can then be analyzed to estimate how much money they would need to meet anticipated medical costs in every phase of retirement. Advisors can harness this information to facilitate planning discussions about the cost of health care after clients and participants retire.
Institutions can also utilize APIs to make more well-informed decisions across the various divisions in their organizations. For example, if a credit union harnesses APIs to integrate client portal functionality within its client dashboard, the financial advisors affiliated with the credit union can see how many clients are assessing the impact of altered time horizons on their retirement-saving goals. If a high number of clients between certain ages are analyzing how altered time horizons will affect their outlook in retirement, then the credit union can use this insight to check whether or not it is offering the correct resources for this client demographic, and determine if additional advisory services should be provided to meet that demand.
Working With an API-Centric Tech Provider
Financial advisors and institutions with limited in-house technology development resources can take full advantage of APIs if their respective third-party financial planning technology provider offers them. When running due diligence, these advisors and institutions should make sure prospective tech vendors have an established track record of rolling out innovative planning features, and ongoing updates, through APIs — and that their development teams take an API-focused approach to new functionalities and enhancements as opposed to manual installation.
Some providers have portals designed to allow tech developers at financial institutions to seamlessly access APIs for every facet of financial planning, and begin implementing them into existing digital user experiences for advisors, clients, and front/back-office employees. Institutions should check to see if tech vendors offering API portals for in-house developers can give the latter usage and performance data on the APIs they choose to utilize, which would help them determine how to better customize specific APIs for their organizations.
Businesses in numerous industries harness APIs to improve and personalize the user experience for consumers. Financial advisors and institutions can also make use of these tools to create a more meaningful, and frictionless, financial planning experience benefiting their clients and organizations.