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.

A Long-Term Approach to Credit Decisioning

Alternative data doesn’t just benefit banks by enhancing credit decisions; it can help expand access to capital for consumers and small businesses. But effectively leveraging new data sources can challenge traditional banks. Scott Spencer of Equifax explains these challenges — and how to overcome them — in this short video. 

  • The Potential for Alternative Data
  • Identifying & Overcoming Challenges
  • Considerations for Leadership Teams

 

Embracing Frictionless Loans by Eliminating Touch Points


lending-9-13-19.pngTo create a meaningful customer relationship, banks should drive to simplify and streamline the operational process to book a loan.

Automated touchpoints are a natural component of the 21st century customer experience. When properly implemented, technology can create a touch-free, self-service model that simplifies the effort required by both customer and bank to complete transactions. One area ripe for technological innovation is the lending process. Banks should consider how they can remove touch points from these operations as a way to better both customer service and resource allocation.

Frictionless loans can move from origination to fulfillment without requiring human intervention, which can help build or enhance relationships with clients. Your institution may already be working on decreasing touches and increasing automation. But as you long as your bank has an area of tactile, not strategic, contact between your staff and your customer, your bank — and customers — will still have friction.

Bankers looking to decrease this friction and make lending a smooth and seamless process for borrowers and originators alike should ask themselves these four questions:

How many human touchpoints does your bank still have in play to originate and fulfill a loan? Many banks allow customers to start a loan application online and manage their payments in the cloud, but what kind of tactile processes persist between that initial application and the payment? Executives should identify how many steps in their lending process require trained staff to help your customers complete that gap. Knowing where those touchpoints are means your digital strategy can address them.

What value can your bank achieve by reducing and ultimately eliminating the number of touches needed to originate a loan? Every touch has the potential to slow a loan through the application process and potentially introduce human error into the flow. But not all touchpoints are created equal.

Bankers should consider the value of digital data collection, or automating credit score and loan criteria review. They may be able to eliminate the manual review of applications, titles and appraisals, among other things. They could also automate compliant document creation and selection. Banks should assess if their technology enablement efforts produce a faster, simpler customer experience, and what areas they can identify for improvement.

Do you have the right technology in place to reduce those touchpoints? Executives should determine if their bank’s origination systems have the capabilities to support the digital strategy and provide the ideal customer experience. Does the bank’s current solution deliver an integrated data workflow, or is it a collection of separate tools that depend on the manual re-entry of data to push loans through the pipeline?

Does your bank have an organizational culture that supports change management? Does your bank typically plan for change, or does it wait to react after change becomes inevitable? Executives should identify what needs to happen today so they can capitalize quickly on opportunity and minimize disruptions to operations.

Siloed functional areas are prone to operational entrenchment, and well-intentioned staff can inadvertently slow or disrupt change adoption. These factors can be difficult to change, but bankers can moderate their influences by cultivating horizontal communication channels that thread organizational disciplines together, support transparency and allow two-way knowledge exchanges.

For banks, a human touch can be one of the most valuable assets. It can help build long lasting and meaningful relationships with clients and enable mutual success over time. This is precisely why banks should reserve it for business activities that have the greatest potential to add value to a client’s experience. Technology can free your bank’s staff from high-risk, low-return tasks that are done more efficiently through automation while increasing their opportunities to interact with customers, understand their challenges and cross-sell products.

Frictionless loan planning should intersect cleanly with your bank’s overall digital strategy. It could also be an opportunity for your bank to scale up planning efforts, to encompass a wider set of business objectives. In either case, the work you do today to identify and eliminate touch points will establish the foundation necessary to extend your bank’s digital reach and offer a competitive customer experience.

Using Intelligent Automation to Bank Smarter, Not Harder


technology-5-4-19.pngBy this point in 2019, most consumers and companies are somewhat familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence. Executives and consultants have discussed its application in financial services for years; lately, the conversations have been brisk and some organizations are doing more than just talking. Many tangible AI use cases have emerged at financial institutions of all sizes over the last 12 months, and intelligent technology is beginning to make an impact on banks’ productivity and bottom lines.

Still, AI remains a largely abstract concept for many institutions. Some of the biggest challenges these banks face in preparing and executing an AI strategy starts with having a too-narrow definition of these technologies.

Technically, AI is the ability of machines to use complex algorithms to learn to do tasks that are traditionally performed by humans. It is often misrepresented or misunderstood in broader explanations as a wider range of automation technologies — technologies that would be more appropriately characterized as robotics or voice recognition, for example.

Banks interested in using intelligent automation, which includes AI, robotic process automation, and other smart technologies, should target areas that could benefit the most through operational efficiencies or speed up their digital transformation.

Banks are more likely to achieve their automation goals if executives shift their mindsets toward thinking about ways they can apply smart technologies throughout the institution. Intelligent automation leverages multiple technologies to achieve efficiency. Some examples include:

  • Using imaging technology to extract data from electronic images. For example, banks can use optical character recognition, or OCR, technology to extract information from invoices or loan applications, shortening the completion time and minimizing errors.
  • Robotic process automation, or RPA, to handle high-volume, repeatable manual tasks. Many institutions, including community banks with $180 million in assets up to the largest institutions in the world have leveraged RPA to reduce merger costs, bundle loans for sale and close inactive credit and debit cards.
  • Machine learning or AI to simulate human cognition and expedite problem solving. These applications can be used in areas ranging from customer service interactions to sophisticated back-office processes. Some industry reports estimate that financial institutions can save $1 trillion within the next few years through AI optimization. Several large banks have debuted their own virtual assistants or chatbots; other financial institutions are following suit by making it easier and more convenient for customers to transact on the go.

What are next steps for banks interested in using AI? Banks first need to identify the right use cases for their organization, evaluating and prioritizing them by feasibility and business need. It’s more effective to start with small projects and learn from them. Conduct due diligence to fully assess each project’s complexity, and plan to build interactively. Start moving away from thinking about robots replacing employees, and start considering how banking smarter – not harder – can play out in phases.

How Analytics and Automation Can Improve Shareholder Value


automation-2-8-19.pngAdvanced data science technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotic process automation are delivering significant benefits to many banks.

As part of their mandate to protect shareholder value and improve financial performance, bank directors can play an important role in the adoption of these promising new technologies.

Technology’s expanding influence
With fintech companies generating new competitive pressures, most traditional banks have recognized the need to adopt some new techniques to meet changing customer habits and expectations. Declines in branch traffic and increased online and mobile banking are the most obvious of these trends.

Yet, as important as service delivery methods are, they are in a sense only the top layer of bigger changes that technology is bringing to the industry. New data-intensive tools such as AI, machine learning and robotic process automation can bring benefits to nearly all areas of a bank, from operations to sales and marketing to risk and compliance.

Advanced data analytics can also empower banks to develop deeper insights and make better, more informed strategic decisions about their customers, products and service offerings.

The power of advanced analytics
Historically, business data systems simply recorded and reported what happened regarding a customer, an account, or certain business metrics. The goal was to help managers understand what had happened and develop strategies for improving performance.

Today’s business intelligence systems advance this to predictive analysis – suggesting what is likely to happen in the future based on what has been observed so far. The most advanced systems go even further to prescriptive analysis – recommending or implementing actions that increase or decrease the likelihood of something happening.

For example, AI systems can be programmed to identify certain customer characteristics or transaction patterns, which can be used for customer segmentation. Based on these patterns, a bank can then build predictive models about those customer segments’ likely actions or behaviors – such as closing an account or paying off a loan early.

Machine learning employs algorithms to predict the significance of these customer patterns and prescribe an appropriate response. With accurate segmentation models, a bank can tailor marketing, sales, cross-selling and customer retention strategies more precisely aligned to each customer.

Automating these identification, prediction, and prescription functions frees up humans to perform other tasks. Moreover, today’s advanced analytics speed up the process and can recognize patterns and relationships that would go undetected by a human observer.

Industry leaders are using these tools to achieve benefits in a range of bank functions, such as improving the effectiveness of marketing and compliance functions. Many large banks already use predictive modeling to simplify stress testing and capital planning forecasts. AI and machine learning technology also can enhance branch operations, improve loan processing speeds and approval rates and other analytical functions.

Getting the data house in order
While most banks today are relatively mature in terms of their IT infrastructures and new software applications, the same levels of scrutiny and control often are not applied to data itself. This is where data governance becomes crucially important – and where bank directors can play an important role.

Data governance is not just an IT problem. Rather, it is an organization-wide issue – and the essential foundation for any advanced analytics capabilities. As they work to protect and build shareholder value, directors should stay current on data governance standards and best practices, and make sure effective data governance processes, systems and controls are in place.

AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation are no panacea, and banks must guard against potential pitfalls when implementing new technology. Nevertheless, the biggest risk most banks face today is not the risk of moving too quickly – it’s the risk of inertia. Getting started can seem overwhelming, but the first step toward automation can go a long way toward taking advantage of powerful competitive advantages this technology can deliver.

Driving Efficiency Through Automation



Automation makes it possible for banks to gain efficiencies and help their employees be more effective. But how can bank leaders ensure they’re getting the most out of these solutions? Richard Milam, the CEO of the software company Enablesoft, explains that people—not technology—will drive success in these efforts, and culture plays an important role.

  • How Banks Use Automation Today
  • Successfully Deploying Automation
  • Advice for Bank Leaders

What Your Bank Can Learn From McDonald’s


lending-11-29-18.pngIt’s noon. You’re halfway through your road trip, miles of highway behind you and your stomach tells you its lunchtime. Your passenger asks Siri for directions to the nearest McDonald’s. From the restaurant’s mobile app, he orders two No. 3 meals, selects a pick-up time, and pays—all in less than three minutes. You exit the highway, pull up to McDonald’s and in no time are back on the road, eating lunch.

This type of digital experience—what you want when you want it—is quickly becoming the standard for consumer expectations. As a recent digital lending study reported, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook rolled out the company’s app “to embrace change to offer a better McDonald’s experience” and has also said that “it’s pretty inevitable that our customers will increasingly engage with us as a brand and as a business through their phones.”

The McDonald’s experience is relevant because that type of experience is what consumers expect from financial institutions as well. In fact, by 2021, half of adults worldwide will use a smartphone, tablet, PC or smartwatch to access financial services—up 53 percent from 2017—according to Juniper Research.

Further, the 2016 MX Consumer Survey finds that 81 percent of consumers prefer to interact with their financial institutions by desktop, laptop and/or mobile device. The same study shows that 38 percent of consumers have reduced how often they bank somewhere due to a poor digital experience.

One of the greatest growth opportunities for community banks is end-to-end digital automation of the lending process, especially for small- and medium-size business loans. Not only do these loans lend themselves to process automation, but the competition—and market potential—is growing rapidly. By 2020, some media reports suggest the market for online business loans could exceed $200 billion.

Why it Works
Today, small business lending is a labor-intensive process for which most community banks see little financial reward. The majority of community banks use the same process to underwrite loans as small as $50,000 as they do for larger multi-million dollar loans, which include paper applications and documentation and multi-level approvals.

This mostly manual process can cost as much as $3,000 per $100,000 loan, according to industry research firms, far outweighing any income to be made. While some banks have continued to make these loans even at a loss to preserve existing customer relationships, many have stopped making them altogether.

The latter is unfortunate. Historically, community financial institutions have dominated this lending space, strengthening their customer relationships through personal attention, decision speed, and loan term flexibility.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, many community banks pulled back on small business loan approvals, which gave rise to a plethora of online lenders like OnDeck and LendingTree, that embraced digital advancements. As a result of this convergence of technology, small business lending from community banks has fallen more than 20 percent since 2008.

Digital Changes the Business Case, Customer Experience
Fortunately, the opportunity to win back this business is encouraging. Digital lending technology automates the entire lending process, enabling banks to deliver loans more efficiently, maintain their traditional underwriting, pricing and compliance practices and provide a seamless, 24/7 digital experience.

Here are some benefits to using digital lending technology:

  • Your customer’s loan journey is entirely online, from application to closing. 
  • Borrowers can sign all documentation within the app.
  • Decisions can be made within 48 hours. 
  • Additional documentation (if needed) can be uploaded within the app.
  • Loans are automatically booked and funded to your bank’s core.

Adding this capability does not require expensive development resources either. The technology is often readily available through white-label products. Industry advocacy organizations including the ABA have reported these white-label, cloud-based solutions represent “a very strong option,” that can be implemented quickly, use a pay-per-volume model and have the ability to customize. They also allow the bank to maintain its underwriting criteria and standards, and hold the loans on your own books.

As with other retail experiences, your small-business customers expect ease and convenience in the lending process. If you do not provide it, others will.