Banks may soon do the work of their vendors as they are handed the tools to design software for core banking functions — just as new services demand that systems be developed with greater speed.
A recent entrant in the "app-store" phenomenon, Open Solutions Inc., is creating a platform, called DNA Creator, that would give banks the same degree of control and flexibility that vendors have as they develop systems.
Industry observers say DNA Creator could help speed up the usually slow process of developing core banking applications — a factor that will be increasingly important as mobile banking use increases the demands on core processes.
Open Solutions' approach is unusual.
In the financial services field, most app-store platforms follow the original Apple Inc. model of keeping the focus on consumers. DNA Creator, however, "is an open platform that will let our clients … write core applications in much the same way we do," said Lizette Nigro, the vice president of product marketing at Open Solutions in Glastonbury, Conn.
She added that revenue from the sale of apps made on DNA Creator would be shared between Open Solutions and either bank developers or independent application developers.
Open Solutions plans to roll out DNA Creator in May. Apps created with DNA Creator will be sold in its DNA App store. DNA Creator will extend Open Solutions' core banking product, called DNA.
Plenty of third-party providers — including PayPal Inc., MasterCard Inc. and Yodlee Inc. — have ventured into open platform application development but almost always with a focus on consumer-facing applications. By contrast, DNA Creator is an early entrant in the business-to-business app category, focusing on banks' core processes. (Experts say Fidelity National Information Services Inc. has enabled something similar for some of its clients.)
Yodlee's FinApp store model lets banks offer new services, such as automatically filling out tax forms, within their online banking systems without having to design an entire online banking package around that function.
"From the bank perspective, it is a paradigm shift," said Joe Polverari, the chief marketing officer at Yodlee Inc.
Open Solutions has 180 banks and 112 credit unions as DNA customers; they range in size from de novo institutions to those with more than $1 billion of assets.
So far, it says, it has signed up 12 financial institutions to develop applications to a beta stage of testing. They are working on things like a loan modification application and even a full online banking suite, said David Mitchell, Open Solutions' senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
Ultimately, "they will get functionality and revenue from sales, and we will get functionality and a cut of sales," Mitchell said.
Industry observers say DNA Creator is arriving at the perfect time.
"Real-time connections on the part of consumers will change the way core banking systems will operate," said James Van Dyke, the founder and principal researcher of Javelin Strategy and Research in Pleasanton, Calif.
Providers of customer-facing apps to banks said developing in an open platform environment reduces costs and development time. In an app store environment, Micronotes Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., developed its KulaMula direct marketing product for banks in four months, as opposed to 18, said Venkat Ranagamani, the company's chief technology officer.
Micronotes developed the application on Yodlee Inc.'s platform, and banks can now buy it through Yodlee's FinApp Store.
"We spoke to big players in [the development] business, and we were unable to make development headway with them, and we never got to development phase," Ranagamani said.
Still, analysts are hesitant to give Open Solutions a complete pass. It must address significant intellectual property and maintenance issues, they say.
"The applications will belong to the bank, and the licensing fees will belong to the bank, not the developer," said Jost Hopperman, a vice president and principal analyst for banking applications and architecture at Forrester Research Inc.
Hopperman said the application store model works very well on the consumer side because the applications are either cheap or free, or they are not crucial in the way core banking applications would be.
Open Solutions said it plans to do due diligence on all applications created through DNA Creator and sold through its app store. It will also service and maintain the applications, unless the bank developers specify they want to take on that function.
"We do the due diligence ahead of time to make sure that no logic is interfered with and there is no impact to processing speed … and no security risk," Nigro said.