Connection is key: Central 1’s implementation of APIs

How Central 1 implemented APIs to save time, reduce errors and provide better service to their credit union members.

The use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) has grown exponentially in recent years, facilitating almost every online experience. From searching for hotel availability on a third-party travel site to booking a restaurant table through an app, APIs pass data across different applications, create a better automated user experience and make our lives more convenient, easier and efficient.

The world of payments is no different. In fact, Payments Canada offers a catalog of payment system APIs that allow Canadian financial institutions to increase the functionality of their services and further connect the payment ecosystem.

Central 1 makes use of many of these APIs to provide financial products and services for more than 600 credit unions and client financial institutions, who represent more than five million Canadians.

We recently spoke with Central 1’s Victor Howard, Manager of Payment Service Operations and Tracing and Sylvain Moreau, Software Specialist. With reference to their work, which focuses on processing paper or image file deposits in addition to fulfilling adjustments requests from the other Financial Institutions, they discussed their journey working with Payments Canada to implement Automated Clearing Settlement System (ACSS) APIs to improve Central 1’s payment processing.

Payments Canada: Could you explain how you got started on API work with Payments Canada, what service you used and what departments you worked with?

Victor Howard (VH): When the ACSS moved to a web-based system, Sylvain and I knew there was an opportunity to work with API keys, so we reached out to Payments Canada and worked directly with the ACSS Application Architecture team to get Central 1 and Payments Canada set up. This took about a year, from initial conversations to testing and implementation.

Payments Canada: What was the project you were working on? What was the goal?

VH: Our goal was to make our employees’ work more efficient and to help support our credit unions and members by adding the API keys as part of our daily operations. Before, our employees had to manually sign on, go to the ACSS and start keying in all of the other banks’ settlement charges manually — for nine or ten financial institutions — maybe six or more times a day. Our employees were spending between an hour and a half to two hours per day on this work. When you put all that time together, it adds up. With the API keys, that time today is now zero.

Payments Canada: Just to summarize, before employees were spending up to two hours each day on manual processes and charging, keying in details, pulling reports and now this is down to zero.

VH: Zero. It's very rare we do any manual charging now.

Sylvain Moreau (SM): Plus, errors used to slow down that work. And since we already had automated reporting at Central 1, it was the logical step for us to also automate the manual charging with APIs. So, the whole process could go ahead and charge by itself.

Payments Canada: So with all the time saved, how has the implementation of APIs impacted your teams?

VH: We knew going into this that human error would be reduced. The time saved has allowed our employees to provide better service and support for our credit unions and our members.

Payments Canada: Could you imagine working without the APIs now?

VH: We still know how to manually charge, but I think our employees in the settlement department would revolt if we had to go back to manual charging. We want to keep our employees equipped with the latest technology and efficiencies, as we know that happy employees mean a happy operation.

Payments Canada: You mentioned that using APIs has made your charging service faster. How has this impacted other services?

VH: Part of my responsibility is managing the Tracing department, where other financial institutions’ adjustments are processed. Knowing that the human factor is out of the equation by using API keys, we have definitely seen a reduction in adjustment requests. We rarely see something that was keyed in incorrectly, so that means less tracing requests come in for those types of errors. Now the department can spend that time working on other issues that need attention.

SM: Also, working with APIs has allowed us to optimize the work we do with other financial institutions. We have automated a number of things, like warnings we receive when a charge doesn’t match and needs immediate attention. So, automating the process helped tremendously, both at the time the error occurred and also later when we had to work backwards on the issue and fix the charging that should have been correctly entered.

Because the amount of charges we process is quite high, it was more common for an error to occur which would not be caught until the next day’s closing when the transfer payments did not balance. This would result in emails back and forth for a number of days. Now we’ve almost completely eliminated these issues. That’s been very helpful.

VH: So, using APIs is beneficial for any sized institution, as this automation would have the same ripple effect downstream.

Payments Canada: Is there anything else you would like to add?

VH: The only thing I can really add is that working with Payments Canada has been a very impressive journey because this is the necessary step that all financial institutions need to take to make their operation much more efficient. Our employees have benefited from it a lot. Working with Payments Canada and their developers was so worth the time and effort to implement APIs. I wouldn’t change anything. What we’ve learned together will only benefit other financial institutions when they start to work with the Application Architecture team at Payments Canada.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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