Notching Customer, Employee Wins Through Process Automation

Financial institutions are committed to improving digital banking services and enabled more digital capabilities over the past year out of necessity — but there is more transformation to be done.

In their haste to meet customers’ and employees’ needs, many banks overlooked opportunities in back-office processes that are critical to providing excellent customer service, such as operating an efficient Regulation E (Reg E) dispute tracking process along with other processes that can ease employee challenges with regulatory compliance issues.

To enable bank staff to better serve customers, financial institutions must automate their back-office dispute tracking processes. One way to do is through implementing process automation solutions that offer workflows to direct the disputes appropriately, a single storage location for all supporting documentation and automating mundane tasks, such as generating letters and updating general ledger accounts. Implementing this kind of automation enables banks to simplify and streamline their input of disputes, ensuring that all critical information is captured accurately and dispute intake is handled consistently. This allows banks to provide consistent engagement and faster response to their customers.

Back-office automation strengthens a bank’s regulatory compliance and customer engagement. Awaiting outcomes from back-office processes can be extremely frustrating to customers — these moments are often tied to high-stress situations, such as having their cards used fraudulently. Banks should consider how manual, error-prone dispute tracking processes negatively affect the customer experience. Institutions also gain the crucial visibility that supports their decision-making and improves compliance with regulations, mitigating the risk and cost of non-compliance.

Process automation can also eliminate the stress that impacts account holders during this process. Having back-office automation with enhanced workflows and centralized documentation allows banks to return provisional credit more quickly and minimizes errors and delays. Instead of missing deadlines and making mistakes that erode customer confidence and cause audit exceptions, back-office employees meet deadlines and process disputes consistently and accurately, avoiding fines and additional work to remedy errors.

Automation can also improve back-office productivity by enhancing visibility. Clear visibility is created when a back-office employee can immediately track documentation and data when it is needed, at any stage in the process. During an audit, an employee may need to retrieve the date that a customer filed a Reg E dispute or to prove proper credit was applied. Without the appropriate tools, such as a single dashboard for dispute tracking and one platform for all supporting documentation, employees waste time searching paper files, spreadsheets and emails to piece together the required information. A workflow automation platform means a full audit trail with supporting documentation is readily available, optimizing everyone’s time.

For example, automation at Watkinsville, Georgia-based Oconee State Bank enables employees to efficiently complete tasks and focus their attention on serving their customers without being slowed down by complicated processes. The bank reduced the amount of time it took to file consumer disputes by more than 80% through process automation.

With 12 branches across Illinois and Indiana, First Bank, based in Carmi, Illinois, reduced claim processing time by more than 50% and experienced positive impacts from its digital dispute process. Dispute processes that can be easily tracked enable bank executives to clear audits and gain greater visibility into risk and compliance across their institution.

The visibility banks gain through automation improves their decision-making. Hard-to-access information and lack of visibility can be especially defeating when managing risk and compliance. Not only does incorrect or unavailable information open the door for human error, but it can also lead to financial loss. In areas like Reg E dispute tracking, this financial loss can be a result of not identifying a fraudulent dispute or trends of fraudulent charges. Process automation helps by supporting a methodical approach to reducing fraud and increasing visibility of high-risk merchants and customers.

This kind of attentive review during the Reg E process can help banks reduce the amount of undetected fraud and lower their write-off threshold, which is the pre-established amount set by an individual financial institution, under which any dispute is automatically written off as a financial loss. These thresholds are traditionally set with the back office staff’s bandwidth in mind; with more free time, banks can lower this threshold and avoid automatic losses. For instance, after implementing an automated, Reg E dispute tracking solution, Happy State Bank, the bank unit of Canyon, Texas-based Happy Bancshares, was able to lower its write-off threshold from $100 to $50 per dispute.

Tackling process automation can help banks compete and win while improving the level of service provided to customers. This technology empowers staff to be more responsive and alert to trends, enabling better decision-making and saving both cost and time. Implementing process automation allows banks to differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing consistent engagement and faster responses to customers. Process automation is the key to optimizing efficiency within any financial institution.

Leveraging Rationalization to Tackle Digital Transformation

The coronavirus pandemic has had a notable impact on financial institutions, creating a more-urgent need to embrace digital-first banking. However, shifting to digital doesn’t just mean adopting new digital banking tools — a common misconception. Rather, it requires that banks rethink their holistic digital strategy to evolve alongside customer expectations, digitize all aspects of the financial journey and connect their customers’ digital and physical experiences.

Such a transformation boils down to determining which processes are digital-ready and which will need to be overhauled completely. Enter rationalization.

Relying on rationalization
Three billion people will access banking through digital devices this year, according to one estimate from Deloitte. Most banks have 3, 5 or even 10-year plans, but struggle to determine where to start. Think of rationalization as triage for banks: It allows them to identify which processes are ready to be digitized right now, and which need to be reimagined entirely before embarking on digitization.

Consider the process to open a checking account. It’s a simple process, requiring proof of identity and address, and a form to complete. Customers are generally good to go. This is a prime example of a digital-ready banking service that should be moved online immediately — and that can be accomplished rather easily.

Compare that to applying for a loan: a process that involves careful evaluation of the applicant and a mountain of paperwork filled with lengthy, confusing terms and requirements. If the process is intimidating to consumers with the help of a professional, imagine how it feels left to their own devices.

For processes that contain inherent points of friction, like the loan application example above, digitizing may simply make the cumbersome process quicker. Outdated, clunky processes must be revamped before they can be digitally transformed.

Putting customers at the center
Customers are the most important part of rationalization. As customer expectations have rapidly evolved, it’s time for institutions to modernize the digital experience to strengthen relationships and solidify loyalty. Some areas that banks should consider when evaluating the customer experience include:

  • Automating previously manual processes can reduce costs, improve efficiency and deliver an “always on” experience.
  • Ease-of-use. Along with being more accessible to people who might resist digitization, intuitive use and educational resources are integral to customer adoption and success.
  • Constant support. According to Accenture, 49% of customers say real-time support from real people is key to fostering loyalty.
  • Enhanced security. Strong security efforts are fundamental to giving customers peace of mind, which is critical when it comes to their money.
  • Make simple possible. Remove friction from the process to enhance the customer experience.

As banking catapults into a digitally dominant era, institutions should establish a presence across all digital touchpoints — desktop and web browser, mobile apps, even social media — to enable customers to access financial services and information at their convenience. A mobile-first mentality will help ensure that products and services work seamlessly across all devices and platforms. Consistency here is key.

Customers are ultimately looking to their institutions to solve their individual financial problems. Banks have a wealth of data available to them; those that seek to create the strongest relationships with customers can leverage these insights to tailor the experience and deliver relevant, timely products and support to meet their unique needs.

All sectors faced the same challenge over the course of the pandemic: How does a business survive physical separation from their customers? Industries like retail were better prepared for expedited digital transformation because they’ve been establishing a digital presence for years; they were largely able to rationalize quicker. Hospitality sectors, on the other hand, more closely mirrored banking in that many processes were far behind the digital times. Some restaurants lacked an online presence before the pandemic, and now must undergo their own version of rationalization to remain in business.

While rationalization looks different to each vertical, the central mission remains the same: determining the best, most sensible order of digital transformation to provide the best customer experience possible. Those companies that leverage the principles of rationalization to manage the massive migration to digital will be better positioned to solidify and capitalize on customer loyalty, and keep their institutions thriving.

Tactical Pillars for Quick Wins in the Challenging Operating Environment

The challenges of 2020 included a landslide of changes in financial services, and the sheer effort by banking professionals to keep operations running was nothing short of historic.

Although there will be some reversion to prior habits, consumers in 2021 have new expectations of their banks that will require more heavy lifting. This comes at a time when many banks in the U.S. are engaging in highly complex projects to redesign their branches, operations and organizational charts. Fortunately, there are some quick win tactics that can support these efforts. Consider the following three “pillar” strategies that offer short-term cost savings and guidelines to set a foundation for operational excellence.

Portfolio Rationalization
Portfolio rationalization need not involve product introductions or retirements. But, given the changing consumer landscape, executives should consider taking a fresh look at their bank’s product portfolios. Due to the many changes in accountholder behavior, certain cost/benefit dynamics have changed since the pandemic began. This fact alone makes re-evaluating and recalibrating existing portfolio strategies a matter of proper due diligence. Rationalizing the portfolio should include revising priorities, adding new features and reassessing risk profiles and existing project scopes.

Process Re-Engineering
Banking executives have been under tremendous pressure recently to quickly implement non-standard procedures, all in the name of uninterrupted service during socially distanced times.

Though many working models will see permanent change, it is critical to optimize these processes early for long-term efficiency, security and customer experience. As the digital curve steepens, banks will need to map out the customer journey across all digital channels to remain competitive. Some process re-engineering methods include eliminating workarounds, streamlining processes and updating legacy policies that are no longer relevant.

Intelligent Automation
Banks are increasingly leveraging technologies classified under the umbrella of intelligent automation. These include machine learning, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence — all of which have become especially relevant to deal with multiple types of high-volume, low-value transactions. Automated workflows remove the clerical aspects of the process from the experts’ plates, allowing them to focus time and energy on more high-value activities. When executed well, intelligent automation works alongside humans, supplementing their expertise rather than replacing it. For example, areas like fraud and underwriting are becoming increasingly automated in repetitive and known scenarios, while more complicated cases are escalated to personnel for further analysis.

Supplier Contracts
Auditing invoices for errors and evaluating vendor contracts might be the last place a banker would look to establish a quick win. However, our benchmarks suggest they can be a critical stepping-stone to bottom-line opportunities. Existing vendor contracts often include inconsistent clauses and undetected errors (such as applications of new pricing tiers missed, etc.). Eventually, minor errors can creep into the run rate that adds up over the years to significant dollar discrepancies. With extensive due diligence or someone in the know, it’s possible to find a six to seven figure lift, simply by collecting intelligence on the prevailing market rates, the available range of functionality and reasonable expectations for performance levels.

While the financial services industry has been keeping operations running uninterrupted, there is no time like the present to optimize operating processes. Accomplishing a few results early  on can free up resources and support long-term gains. Executives should take the time now to optimize operating model structures in order to brace for what comes next. Looking into the increasingly digital future, consumers will continue to expect banks to reinvent and build up their operating models to greater heights.

How FIs Can Take the Speedboat or Extensibility Approach to Digital, Accelerated Financial Services

In a post-pandemic world, legacy financial institution must accelerate their digital processes quickly, or risk ceasing to be relevant.

With financial technology companies like Chime, Varo Money, Social Finance (or SoFi) and Current on the rise, change is inevitable. Alongside the nimble fintech competition, banks face pressure to rapidly deliver new products, as was the case with the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loans. While most legacy institutions try to respond to these business opportunities with manual processes, companies like Lendio and Customers Bank can simply automate much of the application process over digital channels.

Legacy institutions lack the access to the latest technology that digital challengers and fintechs enjoy due to technology ecosystem constraints. And without the same competitive edge, they are seeing declining profit margins. According to Gartner, 80% of legacy financial services firms that fail to adapt and digitize their systems will become irrelevant, and will either go out of business or be forced to sell by 2030. The question isn’t if financial institutions should evolve — it’s how.

To fuel long-term growth, traditional banks should focus on increasing their geographic footprint by removing friction and automating the customer’s digital experience to meet their needs. Millions of Generation Z adults are entering the workforce. This generation is 100% digitally native, born into a world of vast and innovative technology, and has never known life without Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok or Robinhood. In a couple of years, most consumers will prefer minimal human interaction, and expect fast and frictionless user experience in managing their money, all from their smartphone.

Some solutions that traditional banks s have undertaken to enhance their digital experience include:

  • Extending on top of their existing tech stack. In this scenario, financial institutions acquire digital/fintech startups to jump-start a move into digital banking. However, there are far fewer options to buy than there are banks, and few of the best fintechs are for sale.
  • Totally transforming to modern technology. This option replaces the legacy system with new digital platforms. It can come with significant risks and costs, but also help accelerate new product launches for banks that are willing to pay a higher initial investment. Transformations can last years, and often disrupt the operations of the current business.
  • Using the extensibility approach. Another way forward is to use the extensibility approach as a sub-ledger, extending the legacy system to go to market quickly. This approach is a progressive way to deliver fit-for-purpose business capabilities by leveraging, accelerating and extending your current ecosystem.

Institutions that want to enter a market quickly can also opt for the speedboat approach. This includes developing a separate digital bank that operates independently from the parent organization. Speedboats are fintechs with their own identity, use the latest technology and provide a personalized customer experience. They can be quickly launched and move into new markets and unrestricted geography effortlessly. For example, the Dutch banking giant ABN AMRO wanted to create a  fully digital lending platform for small to medium enterprises; in four months, the bank launched New10, a digital lending spinoff.

A speedboat is an investment in innovation — meant to be unimpeded by traditional organizational processes to address a specific need. Since there is a lot of extensibility, the technology can be any area the bank wants to prioritize: APIs, automation, cloud and mobile-first thinking. Banks can generate value by leveraging new technology to streamline operations, automate processes and reduce costs using this approach.

Benefits include:

  • Being unencumbered by legacy processes because the new bank is cloud native.
  • The ability to design the ideal bank through partners it selects, without vendor lock-in.
  • Easier adaption to market and consumer changes through the bank’s nimble and agile infrastructure.
  • Lower costs through automation, artificial intelligence and big data.
  • Leveraging a plug-and-play, API-first open banking approach to deliver business goals.

By launching their own spin-off, legacy banks can go to market and develop a competitive edge at the same speed as fintechs. Modern cloud technology allows banks to deliver innovative customer experiences and products while devoting fewer resources to system maintenance and operational inefficiencies.

If a financial institution cannot make the leap to replace the core through a lengthy transformational journey and wants to reach new clients and markets with next-generation technology, launching a speedboat born in the cloud or opting for the extensibility approach opens up numerous opportunities.

Three Reasons to Prioritize Digital Customer Service

Consumers and businesses are increasingly choosing to complete financial tasks in digital channels, but banks have largely failed to evolve their customer service and support strategies.

Traditional phone service models that banks have relied on for decades are notoriously frustrating and inefficient not only for the consumer, but for the agent as well. Forcing customers to leave the digital channel to connect with a service agent via a time-consuming phone experience is detrimental to customer satisfaction and loyalty. Not to mention, this channel hop leads to higher costs and inefficiencies for the bank. It’s time for banks to take a digital-first approach to customer service.

Digital customer service has experienced significant acceleration in recent months. Banks that modernize their customer service strategies with digital-first communication and collaboration capabilities will be able to enhance the customers’ and employees’ experiences. There are three top reasons banks should adopt digital customer service: modernize communications, boost operational efficiencies and increase customer engagement.

Modernize Communications
The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the use of digital this year, more than anyone could have predicted. With fewer customers visiting branches, digital banking usage has skyrocketed. While this shift made banks realize that the digital experience should be their top priority, many are neglecting the glue that makes digital transformation work: digital customer service.

For many consumers, this is the first time they’re relying on digital for more-complex tasks like opening accounts and applying for loans. Customers must have the ability to be met with full support and guidance within digital channels by bankers that can see their issue in real time and help them find a resolution.

Boost Operational Efficiencies
Contact centers have traditionally fielded simple requests, such as determining account balances and transferring money between accounts, but now self-service and automation allows most customers to handle these more straightforward tasks themselves. As a result, bank agents are typically met with more complex requests and inquiries. This has created a need for contact centers to become more sophisticated, with more highly-trained and specialized employees.

Savvy banks are recruiting AI to help with this transition — not just for customer-facing inquiries but agent training as well. Bots can speed up customer service by surfacing relevant information during interactions, alleviating agents from manually retrieving data from back-end systems. They can also recommend the best next action and pre-approved verbiage for customer responses, reducing time and effort for agents and increasing compliance with bank policies. As agents accept or decline the suggestions, the bank’s system can capture more data to optimize and improve bot recommendations for more accurate, targeted assistance in the future.

Digitizing customer service and enlisting bots to assist agents gives banks a way to save time, increase operational efficiencies and boost staff morale and satisfaction. This is especially important now, as they navigate thin margins and the pressure to do more with less.

Increase Customer Engagement
Today’s phone-centric customer service models typically include long wait times and disjointed experiences. Once customers connect with an agent, they have to spend time reauthenticating and providing context around the issue at hand. Meeting customers where they are in the digital channel instead — whether that’s through chat, video or voice — ensures that the agent can see the issue in real time, eliminating any guesswork. Agents should never have to ask ‘How can I help you?’ again. This more-seamless option leads to a better customer experience and increased engagement and loyalty.

Customers expect their financial services providers to know and understand them, just as big tech companies and major retailers like Amazon.com and Netflix do. Through digital customer service, banks can better, more quickly access relevant customer information necessary to tailor responses and interactions, ultimately boosting customer loyalty. In fact, it’s common for banks that leverage digital customer service to experience 20% improvements in customer satisfaction, reflected in net promoter and customer satisfaction scores.

Banks are increasingly realize that a phone-first approach to customer service will no longer cut it, especially in the increasingly digital world.  In fact, the most-advanced institutions are removing phone numbers from their websites entirely, replacing them with flexible, digital-first communication options. Those that embrace digital customer service will be well positioned to keep and grow customer relationships, increase profit margins and secure a strong competitive position.

How Settlement Service Providers Help Banks with Surging Refinance Demand

Real estate lenders are racing against the clock to process the deluge of refinancing demand, driven by record-low interest rates and intense online competition.

Susan Falsetti, managing director of origination title and close at ServiceLink, discusses the challenges that real estate lenders are facing — and how they can address them.

What particular stressors are real estate lenders facing?
We’ve seen volume surge this year, but heavy volume is only part of the equation. Market volatility, job loss and forbearance are adding even more pressure. Meanwhile, the origination process is increasingly complicated, with the regulatory environment remaining an important factor. Amid all of this, many lenders have shifted to a remote work business model, forcing team members to grapple with additional caregiving and family complications.

How have market conditions affected lenders’ abilities to meet consumer expectations for closing timelines?
Some of our clients working with other providers have reported processes as simple as obtaining payoff demands and subordinations are causing delays. They’re telling us that, in some cases, these requests have gone from 24-hour turn times to 10-day turn times. Working with an efficient settlement service provider is essential, given that 75% of recent homebuyers in a Fannie Mae survey expect that it should take a month or less to get a mortgage.

What can lenders do to immediately reduce their timelines?
One way is by selecting the right settlement service partner, which can help them get to the closing table faster without making major changes to their process or tech investment. Settlement service providers should provide a runway to close, not contribute to a bottleneck. Examining or revisiting settlement service providers is low-hanging fruit for lenders looking to immediately deduct days from closing timelines.

What characteristics should lenders look for when making a settlement service provider selection?
Communication: Lenders should examine how they’re communicating with their settlement service provider. Is their provider integrated into their loan origination system or point-of-sale platform? Can they submit orders through a secure, auditable platform, or is email the only option? Regardless of how orders are submitted, lenders should also consider whether their provider has the resources to dedicate to communication and customer service, even in a high-volume environment.

Automation and digitization: Selecting a title provider with automation and digitization built into its processes can help lenders thrive, even as their volume fluctuates. The mortgage industry is cyclical; it’s essential that settlement service providers have the capacity to scale with their client banks and grow with their business. They should help banks manage their volume, without having to make dramatic process or technology changes.

Some providers can provide almost-instantaneous insight into the complexity of particular title orders through an automatic title search. This type of workflow helps both the lender and the provider. They both can quickly funnel the simplest orders through to the closing table while employing more-experienced team members to work on more-complicated loans.

Transparency: That kind of insight gives lenders extra transparency into their customers. When originators are aware of the complexity of a title early in the process, they can let their borrower know that the title is clear. If that’s the case, the consumer can stop shopping and leave the market.

Access to virtual closing solutions: Of course, the origination process doesn’t stop once a loan is clear to close. A survey recently conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research at the request of ServiceLink found that one of consumers’ chief complaints about the mortgage process was the number of physical forms that must be signed at closing. The survey also found that 79% expressed interest in using e-signatures specifically for mortgage applications. This interest in e-signings has evolved into genuine demand for virtual closings.

The right settlement service provider should help lenders to operate more efficiently and profitably. The key is identifying a partner with solutions to help banks thrive in today’s high-volume environment.

The Digitalization of Commercial Lending

Commercial lending is a balance of risk and reward.

When properly managed, this business line can be a bank’s profit leader. Part of that competitive edge is employing a digital strategy specifically tailored to match your bank’s commercial lending vision. No doubt your institution has shifted resources to more fully support digital banking in 2020 — not only to benefit your customers, but to address the challenges of staff operating remotely. Automation that was thought to be nice-to-have became critical infrastructure both to expedite loan origination and to efficiently manage the volume of loan servicing. The commercial loan life cycle is evolving, creating opportunities for digital improvement at all stages.

Simplifying applications. While the banking industry lacks a standard commercial lending application, it is possible to dramatically reduce the burdensome data collection exercise that banks have traditionally required of their business borrowers. Technology can create significant lift during this phase. Integrating credit policy data into the digital application and automating the retrieval of public data to reduce the number of fields an applicant must complete can reduce the time required to complete an application to minutes.

The democracy of automated underwriting. Automated underwriting used to be premier software intelligence harnessed by only the most enterprising of institutions. However, as the technology has become more commonplace and pricing models have moderated, institutions of all sizes can take advantage of efficiencies that can shave weeks off the process.

Dynamic documenting. One of the many risks associated with commercial lending is the accuracy, validity and enforceability of the loan documentation. Compliance solutions that are integrated with loan origination systems minimize duplicate data entry and render a complete and compliant commercial loan document package based on an institution’s criteria. This technology can significantly reduce human touchpoints, improving the speed and efficiency with which loan documentation is assembled.

E-signing and paperless transactions. If any single innovation has already transformed the lending experience, it is e-signing. Electronic signatures and electronic contracts were granted validity and legal effect through the passage of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. It’s been 20 years since the act became law, but e-signing commercial loan documents and conducting commercial loan transactions electronically have only recently gained wider traction with institutions. It’s evolved into an expectation of some customers, expedited in no small part by the continuing coronavirus pandemic and related social distancing guidelines.

Generally, commercial loans that are unsecured or secured by personal property can be paperless and conducted electronically. Those secured by real estate, on the other hand, have traditionally required some wet ink signatures because of notarization and recording requirements. However, electronic and remote notarization in conjunction with electronic recording has increased the likelihood of completely electronic and paperless transactions.

Twenty-five states have passed laws authorizing remote notarizations, with another 23 states implementing emergency remote notarization procedures in response to the pandemic. While state requirements of remote notarization vary, this potentially allows commercial loan documentation signed electronically to be notarized online instead of requiring parties to be physically present in the same room.

Electronic recording is rapidly becoming the standard for real property documents, with more than 68% of U.S. counties now supporting e-recording. Documents with the recording stamp can be returned immediately after recording, speeding up delivery of the recorded documents to the title insurance company. Electronic recording also allows for the e-signing of real property documents instead of requiring wet ink signatures.

The increasing availability of e-signing and electronic and remote notary technology and resources means more institutions will be able to move entirely to or provide support for electronic and paperless commercial loan transactions.

Automation in servicing. Many traditionally manual processes associated with the review, servicing, tracking and maintenance of commercial loan transactions can be automated. For example, transactions often require parties to provide financial documents to the institution. Instead of manually entering those requirements into a spreadsheet and creating calendar reminders, institutions can leverage technology to automate reports and reminders for the financial document delivery requirements. Similar automated reminders and tracking can be used for collateral, compliance, document and policy issues and exceptions.

The effect of these digitalization opportunities — available at every step in the process, aggregated over your portfolio — can significantly accelerate your institution’s transition to a more touchless loan process.

Five Ways PPP Accelerates Commercial Lending Digitization

The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program challenged over 5,000 U.S. banks to serve commercial loan clients remotely with extremely quick turnaround time: three to 10 days from application to funding. Many banks turned to the internet to accept and process the tsunami of applications received, with a number of banks standing up online loan applications in just several days. In fact, PPP banks processed 25 times more loan applications in 10 days than the SBA had processed in all of 2019. In this first phase of PPP, spanning April 3 to 16, banks approved 1.6 million applications and distributed $342 billion of loan proceeds.

At banks that stood up an online platform quickly, client needs drove innovation. As institutions continue down this innovation track, there are five key technology areas demonstrated by PPP that can provide immediate value to a commercial lending business.

Document Management: Speed, Security, Decreased Risk
PPP online applications typically provided a secure document upload feature for clients to submit the required payroll documentation. This feature provided speed and security to clients, as well as organization for lenders. Digitized documents in a centrally located repository allowed appropriate bank staff easy access with automatic archival. Ultimately, such an online document management “vault” populated by the client will continue to improve bank efficiency while decreasing risk.

Electronic Signatures: Speed, Organization, Audit Trail
Without the ability to do in-person closings or wait for “wet signature” documents to be delivered, PPP applications leveraged electronic signature services like DocuSign or AdobeSign. These services provided speed and security as well as a detailed audit trail. Fairly inexpensive relative to the value provided, the electronic signature movement has hit all industries working remotely during COVID-19 and is clearly here to stay.

Covenant Tickler Management: Organization, Efficiency, Compliance
Tracking covenants for commercial loans has always been a balance between managing an existing book of business while also generating loan growth. Once banks digitize borrower information, however, it becomes much easier to create ticklers and automate tracking management. Automation can allow banker administrative time to be turned toward more client-focused activities, especially when integrated with a document management system and electronic signatures. While many banks have already pursued covenant tickler systems, PPP’s forgiveness period is pushing banks into more technology-enabled loan monitoring overall.

Straight-Through Processing: Efficiency, Accuracy, Cost Saves
Banks can gain significant efficiencies from straight-through processing, when data is captured digitally at application. Full straight-through processing is certainly not a standard in commercial lending; however, PPP showed lenders that small components of automation can provide major efficiency gains. Banks that built APIs or used “bots” to connect to SBA’s eTran system for PPP loan approval processed at a much greater volume overall. In traditional commercial lending, it is possible for data elements to flow from an online application through underwriting to final entry in the core system. Such straight-through processing is becoming easier through open banking, spelling the future in terms of efficiency and cost savings.

Process Optimization: Efficiency, Cost Saves
PPP banks monitored applications and approvals on a daily and weekly basis. Having applications in a dynamic online system allowed for good internal and external reporting on the success of the high-profile program. However, such monitoring also highlighted problems and bottlenecks in a bank’s approval process — bandwidth, staffing, external vendors and even SBA systems were all potential limiters. Technology-enabled application and underwriting allows all elements of the loan approval process to be analyzed for efficiency. Going forward, a digitized process should allow a bank to examine its operations for the most client-friendly experience that is also the most cost and risk efficient.

Finally, these five technology value propositions highlight that the client experience is paramount. PPP online applications were driven by the necessity for the client to have remote and speedy access to emergency funding. That theme should carry through to commercial banking in the next decade. Anything that drives a better client experience while still providing a safe and sound operating bank should win the day. These five key value propositions do exactly that — and should continue to drive banking in the future.

Doing More In Branches With Less

Frugality breeds innovation, which means right now is a prime opportunity for change.

Budgets are tight and resources are stretched thin for banks. The good news is that they can do more with less by implementing a universal associate model with the right enabling technology. When executed optimally, this model can help reduce staffing costs, reduce technology costs, and increase advisory conversations at the same time. A win all around, especially in these times.

Many banks will say they already have this model in place, but we find that a true universal associate model is rare.

Leadership typically believes they already have deployed a universal banker model, but when we break it down for them and go through what each associate should be able to deliver at every touchpoint, it becomes clear that they are far from a universal banker,” says Krista Litvack, director of Professional Services, the training and banking consulting arm at DBSI.

Universal associates are cross-trained employees who can fulfill nearly every task and transaction type within the branch, including the workload of tellers and the majority of the platform staff responsibilities. This model can reduce teller costs and eliminate the need for specialized roles and customer hand-offs. At the same time, universal associates are often experts at transitioning high-cost, low-value transactions — like a check deposit or withdraw — to low-cost channels such as self-service or mobile.

Universal associates are a way for banks to turn every interaction into an advisory or sales conversation using their depth and breadth of product knowledge. For example, a universal associate might offer a college savings account to a customer with new or young children. These types of advisory conversations can improve the customer experience significantly. According to a J.D. Power consumer study, customer satisfaction doubled when they received higher-level interactions that led to either additional savings or improved financial journey products, such as retirement planning.​

Training is an important component, but the missing link to a true universal associate model is often technology. A universal banking model with the right technology and process in place can save up to $92,412 per branch, per year. That’s a massive cost reduction worth considering. There are three key areas banks should address to create a seamless integration of technology, people and process.

Cash Automation
Universal associates can’t operate efficiently without removing the largest distractions that a traditional teller has: balancing.​ Staying in balance, counting each individual transaction three times and the cumbersome end-of-night processes all distract from building relationships that secure long-term patronage. Teller cash recyclers are a step in the right direction and help shift the focus from balancing and counting cash to advising and helping the customer. When designed and located properly, these devices eliminate stress, allow for open branch design by increasing security and make overall cash management more effective.​

Technology Optimization
Cash recycler limitations keep many branches from achieving full automation because they limit access for two staff members at a time. This disrupts the customer experience and the workflow of the associates if a third associate needs to use the machine. Instead of investing in more machines, banks can use technology such as remote transaction assist. It helps optimize recylers by allowing cash transactions to be sent from any part of the branch to any recycler or dispenser, pulled down from a queuing system that uses a unique identification number once the associate is at the device.​ One recyclers can now easily be shared among multiple staff members, greatly reducing technology costs and creating more convenience.

Banks can optimize their cash recycler investments even further with kiosks to handle all types of transactions to more-efficient channels while tablet-equipped associates advise customers. This opens up recyclers for associate and customer use.

Tablet-Equipped Associates
The in-branch experience doesn’t have to be tied to a desk or an office: Imagine a universal associate who can help customers from anywhere in the branch to create a unique experience that maximizes branch square footage. Tablet-based teller applications that connect associates to cash automation machines or even self-service kiosks is the final piece in creating a frictionless customer experience and a true universal associate model.

Break down the teller line and remove the need for a hand-off entirely with a tablet that has teller transaction functionality and empower universal associates. Banks that want to implement a universal associate model will need the right design, technology, and process to make the shift. Now is the time to make those investments and position your bank for its post-pandemic future through lowered costs and better customer experiences.

Three Tech Questions Every Community Bank Needs to Ask

Community banks know they need to innovate, and that financial technology companies want to help. They also know that not all fintechs are the partners they claim to be.

Digitization and consolidation have reshaped the banking landscape. Smaller banks need to innovate: Over 70% of banking interactions are now digital, people of all ages are banking on their mobile devices and newer innovations like P2P payments are becoming commonplace. But not all innovations and technologies are perceived as valuable to a customer, and not all fintechs are great partners.

Community banks must be selective when investing their limited resources, distinguishing between truly transformative technologies and buzzy fads

As the executive vice president of digital and banking solutions for a company that’s been working closely with community banks for more than 50 years, I always implore bankers to start by asking three fundamental questions when it comes to investing in new innovations.

Does the innovation solve problems?
True innovation — innovation that changes people’s financial lives — happens when tech companies and banks work together to solve pain points experienced by banks and their customers every single day. It happens in places like the FIS Fintech Accelerator, where we put founders at the beginning of their startup’s journey in a room with community bank CTOs, so they can explain what they’re trying to solve and how they plan to do it.

Community banks don’t have the luxury of investing in innovations that aren’t proven and don’t address legitimate customer pain points. These institutions need partners who can road test new technologies to ensure that they’ll be easy to integrate and actually solve the problems they set out to address. These banks need partners who have made the investments to help them “fail fast” and allow them to introduce new ideas and paradigms in a safe, tested environment that negates risk.

Does the innovation help your bank differentiate itself in a crowded market?
In order to succeed, not every community or regional bank needs to be JPMorgan Chase & Co. or Bank of America Co. in order to succeed. But they need to identify and leverage ideas that bolster their value to their unique customer base. A bank with less than $1 billion in assets that primarily serves small, local businesses in a rural area doesn’t need the same technologies that one with $50 billion in assets and a consumer base in urban suburbs does. Community banks need to determine which innovations and technologies will differentiate their offerings and strengthen the value proposition to their key audiences.

For example, if a community bank has strong ties with local small to midsize business clients, it could look for differentiating innovations that make operations easier for small and medium businesses (SMBs), adding significant value for customers.

Banks shouldn’t think about innovation as a shiny new object and don’t need to invest in every new “disruption” brought to market. Instead, they should be hyper-focused on the services or products that will be meaningful for their customer base and prioritize only the tools that their customers want.

Does it complement your existing processes, people and practices?
When a bank evaluates a new type of technology, it needs to consider the larger framework that it will fit into. For example, if an institution’s main value proposition is delivering great customer service, a new highly automated process that depersonalizes the experience won’t be a fit.

That’s not to say that automation should be discarded and ignored by a large swath of banks that differentiate themselves by knowing their customers on a personal level; community banks just need to make sure the technology fits into their framework. Improving voice recognition technology so customers don’t have to repeat their account number or other personal information before connecting with a banker may be just the right solution for the bank’s culture and customers, compared to complete automation overhaul.

Choosing the right kinds of innovation investment starts with an outside-in perspective. Community banks already have the advantage of personal customer relationships — a critical element in choosing the right innovation investment. Ask customers what the bank could offer or adjust to make life easier. Take note of the questions customers frequently ask and consider the implications behind the top concerns or complaints your bank staff hear.

Can your bank apply its own brand of innovation to solve them? Community banks don’t need to reinvent the wheel to remain competitive, and can use innovation to their advantage. Think like your customers and give them what no one else will. And just as importantly, lean on a proven partner who understands the demands your bank faces and prioritizes your bank’s best interests.