If banks want digital transformation to be more than a buzz phrase, they need a strategy based on a keen understanding of what their customers want – along with trusted partners that can help them deliver.

That’s exactly how Little Rock, Arkansas-based Encore Bank became one of the fastest-growing privately held commercial banks in the United States.

Under the guidance of Allan Rayson, the $2.8 billion bank achieved unprecedented results in 2021: 95% asset growth, 119% loan growth, 107% deposit growth, and 1,276 new loans worth approximately $740 million. I recently spoke with Rayson to find out how he vets tech vendors for optimal results.

“Early on, Encore Bank identified three big rocks that we wanted to move: driving commercial loan volume, driving core deposits and driving non-interest revenue,” he says. “Gaining clarity on our business outcomes helped us set a clear technology and innovation strategy.”

According to Rayson, Encore’s success comes down to getting specific about desired goals and outcomes. With upfront clarity on the desired outcome, the digital transformation conversation shifts from “we need tech” to something more substantial – not to mention measurable. For example: “We need the right technology to reduce our labor and marketing cost by X, increase our profit margins and new account openings by Y and boost our operational efficiency by Z.”

Best Practices for Vetting Tech Vendors

1. Legacy is not always better.
The Banking Impact Report found that legacy banking infrastructure is the top reason why bank executives have not fully embraced digital banking. In fact, legacy infrastructure can be a competitive liability that may be keeping your bank at a critical disadvantage in a crowded marketplace.

2. Steer clear of RFPs.
Many FIs rely on requests for proposal to vet technology partners. While this process can be helpful in identifying tech requirements and business objectives, RFPs often require a lengthy process and a drawn-out checklist that may fail to capture some of an institution’s most important considerations. Instead, make sure the fintech’s long-term strategic vision aligns with the bank’s strategic vision, and that the partnership will serve future banking needs.

3. One code base is better than custom code.
Custom code is risky. It can be time intensive and difficult for an institution to update. It doesn’t scale or innovate at the speed that banks might require, and it leaves little room to adapt for whatever the future may hold. Modern platforms that leverage a software as a service approach are built on a single code base. That means they can apply learnings from all of their customers directly onto the platform, so every customer benefits from economies of scale. This can be a major competitive differentiator that will help any bank keep up with the speed of innovation.

Many financial institutions view technology as a cost versus an investment – and a high-risk cost at that. But the advantages of strategic tech partnerships are far-reaching, and the right partner can deliver an enormous return on investment.

“I have zero developers on staff at Encore,” Rayson says. “Even so, we’ve grown to $2.5 billion and will be $3 billion by the end of the year without one. That shouldn’t be possible, but it is with the right tech partners. We probably rely on our fintech partners more than most banks – and I see that as a strength.”


Nathaniel Harley

CEO & Co-Founder

Nathaniel Harley is the CEO and co-founder of MANTL, an enterprise SaaS company helping traditional financial institutions modernize and grow.  Founded in 2016, MANTL’s mission is to expand access to financial services. 


MANTL believes that the strategic deployment of technology will define the banking landscape for decades to come.  Its whitelabeled software helps community institutions raise billions of dollars in core deposits each year and is up to 10x more cost-effective than building a brick-and-mortar branch. 


Mr. Harley is a serial entrepreneur.  Before founding MANTL, he founded and invested in several startups and began his career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs.