Why Cognito IDV Prioritizes Developer Experience

By Cognito Team on December 2, 2020

Today’s financial service providers are turning to digital apps and platforms to deliver seamless experiences for end users. But shouldn’t these platforms make life better for the people implementing them as well? 

In our opinion, a platform isn’t a viable solution unless it improves developers’ workloads too. And this was a top priority for CEO Alain Meier when he co-founded Cognito. 

“The whole reason we started the company was because we were consumers of the existing APIs and systems that Cognito’s competitors had created, and we had an absolutely horrible developer experience,” he explains. “I’m a developer — so is our CTO — and we saw a big opportunity to make a more developer-first verification system.”

When it comes to accessing third-party APIs, developers typically face two main challenges: 

  • Automated solutions that operate as a black box where the system’s behavior can’t be understood in a systematic or deterministic way — often because the abstraction has been programmed awkwardly without any thought for the end user experience.
  • Slow API response times, because whoever built the solution didn’t care to optimize the API to operate with the efficiency that developers need.

Meier and team set out to change all that with Cognito’s identity verification (IDV) product. With the Cognito team, he focused on building extensive documentation and clear abstractions of identity concepts, a flexible API compatible with multiple programming languages, and a quick sign-up process. Here’s why that’s great news for developers.

Easier for developers, easier for everyone

To solve common API frustrations, Meier and the Cognito team designed our API to be as developer-friendly as possible. We understood that by making it easier for the people building the software, Cognito supports both our customers and their clients.

It started with a simple premise: the phone number is the ideal factor for IDV. “It’s so strong to be able to connect someone’s real-world identity with a verifiable number, which is the phone number,” says Meier. “Our customers can send their users a one-time SMS code to confirm that the user is in control of their device, and then Cogntio links that phone number to someone’s identity. Just that process alone increases the barrier to entry to fraud significantly.”

Anchoring IDV on a phone number eliminates many of the integrations that would otherwise be needed to comply with anti-fraud protocols. Developers often cobble together IDV solutions from several unrelated technologies in an attempt to provide a stronger signal about the end user’s identity. With Cognito, Meier notes, “We let you get an extremely strong signal with our single integration, which you can always tack on top of additional APIs — but for a lot of our customers, that’s not even a requirement anymore.” Score one for efficiency!

The Cognito team also set out to build a fast API. This focus on speed makes the application more responsive and user-friendly, increasing conversion rates and improving the developer feedback loop. “If you don’t have to wait as long to do a test call, it becomes faster to develop things,” says Meier.

The documentation you need, when you need it

The Cognito team prioritized in-depth documentation from the start, with OpenAPI specifications to ensure that all aspects of the program could be easily understood by developers. “We wanted to make sure there was no situation where the API behaves one way and the API documentation says it behaves in a completely different way,” he says. “That’s exceedingly common in non-developer-centric APIs where it wasn’t correctly documented in the first place, and makes for a very annoying developer experience.”

Cognito’s thorough documentation makes the integration process much faster and less frustrating for developers. Integrations are more likely to be done correctly the first time, preventing breakdowns in the future when edge cases come up. This result is reduced friction for Cognito customers and their end users, as they don’t require constant fixes or support on the basics.

An API that’s transparent and accessible

A lot of API code is inflexible and operates like a black box — aside from an extremely high level match code, its processes are opaque. Cognito is different because it empowers developers to drill down into each of the individual components that make up an identity, and if an identity is unable to be verified, they can easily understand why.

“Developers like to have clear, consistent, deterministic responses,” explains Meier. “And we’ve done our best to make sure responses are as deterministic and understandable as possible, and that there are no surprises.”

Meier and the Cognito team also made sure to produce API client libraries in several different programming languages. “By providing those libraries, 95% of someone’s integration is already written for them, which makes it much easier to get started,” he says.

On-hand support so you can keep building

Another Cognito differentiator is that developers can start experimenting with the Cognito API without having to talk to salespeople or sign contracts; they can simply go ahead and sign up for API keys. “This is a huge boon for people looking to get started quickly and evaluate if the solution will be good for them,” says Meier. “It’s definitely not something that the vast majority of our competitors would do.”

To further streamline efficiencies for developers, Cognito’s customer support is constantly available. “We make Slack rooms for all of our clients, so their developers and our developers can be in the same chat space and ask questions whenever they come up. We’re there to work through any integration questions they have about the product,” says Meier.

An ongoing relationship with development teams is important to Meier, as it’s not unusual to encounter unique edge cases when it comes to identity data — and sometimes these are discovered after a customer has already launched their product. “We’re not with them just for that original launch period,” he notes, “but through the lifetime of their customer relationship with us.”

For developers needing to implement responsive, deterministic IDV, Cognito addresses the common frustrations sparked by so many other solutions on the market. By keeping developers front and center, we ensure they can create a better product faster.

Try out our free trial today, and see how Cognito can make your development life easier.

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