While Citizens Bank and Fundation are certainly not the first bank and fintech company to work collaboratively together, theirs is unlike any other, both parties say, because of the relationship that exists between the two organizations.
Providence, Rhode Island-based Citizens, a top-20 U.S. bank at $152 billion in assets, partnered with Fundation, a fintech firm in Reston, Virginia that focuses on credit delivery to improve the efficiency and turnaround time for small business loans under $150,000.
Fundation’s technology serves as the entire front end, essentially a white-labeled online application, for Citizens’ commercial lending line of products, providing a technology platform that includes underwriting, closing and engagement tools, and features a decision engine that, based on certain criteria, determines “up front” which loan goes to Citizens and which to Fundation, according to Jack Murphy, president of the business banking division at Citizens.
“What makes the partnership unique is there’s a fair amount of folks in this space who outsource this type of lending to the partner,” Murphy said. Instead, the application process is integrated into Citizens’ own digital platform, a top priority for the bank, Murphy said.
“We wanted to integrate (it) into our technology.”
Citizens and Fundation won Bank Director’s Best of FinXTech Partnership award, presented May 10 at the FinXTech Annual Summit, held at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The platform allows for an entirely electronic application process, and enables Citizens’ lending team to physically go to and visit its small business customers to start or complete that application. Customers can also begin the application process in a branch, and finish at home, “or in their car,” Murphy joked, though he doesn’t advocate driving and applying for a commercial loan at the same time.
“It’s really become the front-end to our core underwriting system,” Murphy said.
Fundation has multiple bank clients, but its credit delivery platform uses data and a decision engine to automate much of the decision-making framework that many banks have and still use when reviewing applications. It also simplifies the compliance assessment, including the Customer Due Diligence (CDD) final rule that was developed just two years ago and became effective in May 2018.
There is automated scoring in approving small loans, allowing Citizens to focus its human capital on other strategies, like bigger, more intensive applications and projects that need more careful review while also reducing paperwork that can be cumbersome. It also has in some ways upended the entire underwriting process—they use bank statements instead of financial statements as part of the application process, and the technology determines which loan goes to the bank and which goes to the partner automatically up front.
The technology has only been available to all customers since the end of March 2018, but getting to that point involved months of due diligence, whittling down a list of nearly two dozen other firms before ultimately selecting Fundation.
“We took about a year to research who might be the best partner for us,” Murphy said, noting that it all began with the goal of improving the customer experience through a digital platform.
The board considered whether to buy, build or partner with a fintech, but ultimately there was only one choice.
“The fintechs have not had the balance sheets or cost of funds or the customer bases that the banks have, so partnership is really the best way for the two companies to business,” Murphy said.
Culture and cohesion between the two companies was half the driving force behind the decision to choose Fundation, Murphy said, in a crowded and competitive fintech market. Murphy said they wanted to partner with somebody who was “not just a tech company,” but a “partner that has a similar vision.”
Like other banks, Citizens has several relationships with fintech companies which provide other services, like SigFig, for instance, a tech-based personal investment platform. But Fundation offered something that was new to the bank, and has in just a short time already proven its worth.
It’s shortened the time from application to credit delivery to as little as three days, which in previous generations could have taken weeks, and generated “many multiples” of increased demand since a series of pilots with the software last fall.
The transformation of this credit delivery, he said, is far more than what some banks have done, which Murphy described rudimentarily as simply taking a paper-based loan application and converting it to an online webform.
“That’s not digital,” Murphy said. “Digital is literally the entire experience being electronic.”
Citizens wanted to make its application process fully digital, Murphy said, which has reduced costs and improved efficiency for the bank. And that result has not only transformed the bank’s commercial lending process, but how it strategizes its future.
“This is for us, I would say step one in a journey of multiple products and multiple ways of making it easier to do business with the bank, not vice versa,” Murphy said.