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Commerzbank enables truly customer-centric services 

Commerzbank enables truly customer-centric services 

Banking & FinanceCase StudiesGermanySoftwareTop Stories

As one of Germany’s leading banks, ensuring technical innovation is crucial for providing a seamless service to the end-user – a crucial element of success. Christoph Berentzen, Head of API & Open Banking at Commerzbank, discusses how the organisation aimed to reimagine its banking workflows from the perspective of the end customer and how, by deploying secure gateways, the bank has gained a solid basis for digital innovation.

Driving Digital Transformation with Axway

Commerzbank is a leading German bank with an international presence, serving private and small business customers as well as corporates, multinationals, financial service providers and institutional clients.

Over the last decade, customer expectations around the speed, convenience and personalisation of banking services have changed dramatically. Businesses and individual consumers alike are now increasingly seeking out providers that can deliver tailored services — available 24 hours a day — via digital channels.

Christoph Berentzen, Head of API & Open Banking at Commerzbank, elaborates: “For more than 150 years, banks operated a closed organisational structure, because being shut off from the outside world was seen as synonymous with security. Today, regulatory requirements such as PSD2 and open banking — and the booming popularity of online and mobile services — mean that the opposite is true. While security is as vital as ever, opening ourselves up to the wider financial services ecosystem is crucial to deliver the new, responsive services our customers expect.”

Building customer-centric services

To achieve its transformation goal, Commerzbank aimed to reimagine its banking workflows from the perspective of the end customer. First, the bank looked to build a robust, API-powered architecture that could support new, open services.

Volker Sulzbach, Subject Matter Expert API & EAI Technologies at Commerzbank, said: “In the past, batch processes and file transfers were the most common way of sharing information with our internal and external stakeholders. While these B2B integration processes had served us well for decades, we knew they would stand in the way of delivering seamless customer experiences.” 

Focusing on security

After a rigorous selection process, Commerzbank chose Amplify API Management Platform as the foundation for its new API-driven service architecture. By deploying secure gateways, the bank has gained a solid basis for digital innovation.

Katharina Berner, Product Owner API Strategy, Open Banking & Digital Ecosystems at Commerzbank, said: “One of the big outcomes of our transformation is the shift from a ‘build once, use once’ mentality, to a ‘build once, reuse many times’ philosophy. By offering our developers a catalogue of APIs — all managed on one platform to ensure consistent governance and security — we can accelerate the delivery of new services significantly.”

Sulzbach added: “When selecting an API management solution, security, ease of integration and maintainability were our key criteria — and we are very impressed with the performance of the Amplify platform in these areas. When we embarked on our transformation, APIs were relatively new to us. However, Axway is an expert in API management, and the support and guidance we’ve received from the Axway team along the way have been invaluable.”

Shaping seamless experiences

To help support the development of data-driven services for internal as well as external stakeholders, Commerzbank has so far developed more than 200 APIs. These include core capabilities such as authentication and authorisation, as well as payments and account-level data sharing — supporting new applications for clients and laying the foundation for API monetisation.

Unlocking new revenue streams

In the past, financial institutions such as Commerzbank typically exchanged data with financial services partners via batch processes. At the end of each working day, an automated process would export the required data into a file and send it via a secure file transfer to the partner. On the other side, an employee at the partner organisation would then manually extract the data and load it into the relevant system.

“For a number of years, we relied on manual or batch processes to share data with our wealth management partners — but this way of working made it difficult for them to feed their business systems with timely data,” said Berentzen. “When we launched our first APIs, we saw an opportunity to transform this process and add value to our partners by offering near-real-time data as-a-Service. Our APIs make it faster and more efficient for partners to leverage our data, while also creating new revenue streams for Commerzbank.”

Forging a partner ecosystem

Commerzbank is also using its APIs to forge new FinTech partnerships. Looking ahead, Commerzbank plans to continue to develop its API capabilities to enhance customer services. “More and more of our customers are using Commerzbank banking apps and many of our corporate clients are integrating our APIs into their own digital services,” said Berentzen. “Through our work with Axway, we are empowering our customers to access powerful self-service capabilities — contributing to higher satisfaction.”

Berner added: “Our Digital Transformation is having a very positive impact on the business: we’re attracting customers with help from our APIs, gaining market share because we’re integrated with FinTech ecosystems and growing our revenues through our own partner network.”

Thanks to a single set of reusable APIs, Commerzbank is empowering its developers to cut development effort by up to 80% and build customer-facing services faster than ever.

We caught up with Christoph Berentzen, Head of API & Open Banking, Commerzbank, to find out more about the organisation’s work with Axway.

As a leading German bank, how do you deal with the pressure to digitally transform and how do the demands of your German customers differ to those in other parts of the world?

First of all, what we see with Digital Transformation is that customer demands have changed, for example, using mobile apps – which was not the case 20 years ago. This meant that we needed to transform all those systems so that we can easily develop our customer applications in a modern way. Therefore, API transformation is super important to modularise those systems and to make them accessible via restful APIs internally and also externally, which is what we’re working on in order to be able to serve our clients with great API functionality.

Those in the German market are specialists on exporting goods which relates to the financial market, and as an early adopter we have to research in that market. I think this is an area where we deal with high pressure because being an early adopter means we must make sure that API security comes first – something of great importance to a bank. We have to collaborate with FinTechs, tech companies and others in order to find out who might be a sustainable partner for us in the world of open banking and ecosystems.

How do your technology capabilities enable you to meet the needs of your customers?

For us, it was really important to have this API-first approach internally in order to make the internal systems more flexible, reduce the time to market and reduce internal costs because with API, you can reuse existing interfaces repeatedly. This means that for standard services – like a person’s data, documents data or accounts data – there are a lot of them internally, and with reuse, we can really save investment budgets and at the same time, manage maintenance budgets. That is something which really helps us to focus more on what is required by the customer instead of struggling with budgets and legacy systems which we enable via restful APIs to be part of the modern apps and other applications.

What is your strategy for innovation and how does Axway help you to achieve your business goals?

It’s really important to provide those services via a central platform and this is where Axway comes into play, so we make use of the Axway Amplify API Management Platform which is our central gateway for API calls at Commerzbank. For example, we enabled our cloud strategy here, we enabled central security guidelines, we enabled monitoring centrally and this is all done through our Axway platform. Our strategy is to create an internal portfolio of strategically relevant services and external relevant services, which is then handled in one central platform and then one central developer catalogue to ensure efficiency.

Can you tell us more about how Axway has helped you to build and refine a new generation of customer-centric services?

This is an area where I think Axway is a good partner because it helped us, for example, in API design and helped us with a lot of exchanges in relation to that.

Turning our attention to the next 12 months, can you tell us what your roadmap for strategic growth and IT innovation looks like?  

In terms of IT innovation, I can only answer that for API banking, but what we do is we will offer more and more external functionality. So we just went live with an external accounts API for clients and we are working on a corporate cards API, as well as on other APIs to enhance internal processes or client processes. So one API that is very interesting for us is in the trade finance business. We will come out with that by the end of the year. We are working on a payment API for instant payments which is, I think, really interesting especially for online platforms. And we’re working on another API for customers with locations in foreign countries to get more transparency on their accounts. And I think all of those functionalities will help corporate customers to integrate finance more into their tools and save time just by automating their internal processes with our APIs.

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