Turning Goals from Wishes to Outcomes

Community banks should measure their goals and objectives against four tests in order to craft sustainable approaches and outcomes.

Community banks set goals: growth targets for loans or deposits, an earnings target for the security portfolio, an return on equity target for the year. But aggressive loan growth may not be a prudent idea if loan-to-asset levels are already high entering a credit downturn. Earnings targets can be dangerous if they are pursued at any cost, regardless of risk. However, in the right context, each of these can lead to good outcomes.

The first test of any useful goal is answering whether it’s a good idea.

One personal example is that about a year ago I set a new goal to lose 100 pounds. I consulted with my doctor and we agreed that it was a good idea. So then we moved to the second test of a useful goal: Is it sustainable?

As “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” author James Clear puts it: “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your process and systems.”

What good would my weight loss goal be if it wasn’t sustainable? If the approach I took did not change my habits and instead put me through a shock program, there would be little reason to doubt that the approaches and habits that led me to create this goal would bring me back there again. The only way to pursue my goal in a sustainable fashion would changing my habits — my personal processes and systems.

Banks often pursue goals in unstainable ways as well.

Consider a bank that set a goal in June 2018 of earning $3 million annually from its $100 million securities portfolio with no more than 5 years’ duration (sometimes called a “yield bogey”). Given a choice between a 5-year bullet agency at 2.86% and a 5-year, non-call 2-year agency at 3.10%, only the latter meets or beats the goal. A 3.10% yield earns $310,000 for this portfolio.

In June 2020, the callable bond got called and was replaced by a similar length bond yielding only 40 basis points, or $40,000, for the remaining three years. The sustainable plan would have earned us $286,000 for the past two years — but also $286,000 for the next three. To make earnings sustainable, banks always need to consider multiple scenarios, a longer timeframe and potentially relaxing their rigid “bogey” that may cost them future performance.

 The third test of a useful goal is specifying action.

The late New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said, “There are only two rules for being successful: One, figure out what exactly you want to do, and two, do it.”

In my case, I didn’t do anything unsustainable. In fact, I did not do anything at all to work toward my long-term goal. When I checked my weight six months later, it should not have surprised me to see I had lost zero pounds. A goal that you do not change your habits for is not an authentic goal; it is at best a wish.

My wish had gotten exactly what you would expect: nothing. Upon realizing this, I took two material steps. It was not a matter of degree, but of specific, detailed plans. I changed my diet, joined a gym and spent $100 to fix my bicycle.

The fourth test of a useful goal is if it is based on positive changes to habits.

Banks must often do something similar to transform their objectives from wishes to authentic goals. Habits — or as we call them organizationally, processes and systems — must be elevated. A process of setting an earnings or yield bogey for the bond portfolio relied on the hope that other considerations, such as call protection and rate changes, wouldn’t come into play.

An elevated process would plan for earnings needs in multiple scenarios over a reasonable time period. Like repairing my bike, it may have required “spending” a little bit in current yield to actually reach a worthy outcome, no matter which scenario actually played out.

If your management team does not intentionally pursue positive changes to processes and systems (habits), its goals may plod along as mere wishes. As for me, six months after making changes to my habits, I have lost 50 pounds with 50 more to go. Everything changed the day I finally took the action to turn a wish into a useful goal.

Five Reasons to Consider Banking Cannabis

Like nearly every industry, the banking sector is facing major economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Operational strategies designed to capitalize on a booming economy have been rendered obsolete. With the Federal Open Markets Committee slashing interest rates to near zero, financial institutions have needed to redirect their focus from growth to protecting existing customers, defending or increasing earnings and minimizing losses.

While this will likely be the status quo for the time being, bank executives and their boards have a responsibility to plan ahead. What will financial markets look like after absorbing this shock? And, when rates begin to rise again — as they will, eventually — how will you position your financial institution to take advantage of future growth?

The booming legal cannabis industry is one sector banks have been eyeballing as a source for low-cost deposits and non-interest income. While ongoing conflict between state and federal law has kept many financial institutions on the sidelines, others have made serving this industry part of their growth strategy. According to new market research, the U.S. legal cannabis market will be worth $34 billion by 2025. While we don’t claim that sales will be immune to the financial shock caused by the pandemic, they have remained somewhat steady — due in large part to being deemed essential in most states with legal medical cannabis programs. With much of this revenue unbanked, it’s worth taking a closer look at how this industry can be part of your bank’s long-term strategy. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Cannabis banking can provide reliable non-interest income. As net interest margins compress, financial institutions should look to non-interest income business lines to support overall profitability. Cannabis companies are in dire need of quality banking solutions and are willing to pay upwards of 10 times the amount of traditional business service charges. Assessing substantially higher base account charges, often without the benefit of an earnings credit to offset those charges, means there are untapped cash management fee opportunities. Together, these fees can fully offset the operational cost of providing a cannabis banking program.
  2. New compliance technologies can reduce costs and support remote banking. Many banks serving cannabis customers are using valuable human capital to manage their compliance. However, new technologies make it possible to automate these processes, significantly reducing the labor and expense required to conduct the systematic due diligence this industry requires. New cannabis banking technologies can also enable contactless payments, and handle client applications, account underwriting and risk assessment — all via remote, online processes.
  3. Longer-term, cannabis banking can provide a source of low-cost deposits. The pressure to grow and attract low-cost deposits may wane momentarily but will continue to be a driver of bank profitability long-term. Increasing those deposits today will protect future profitability as the economy improves.
  4. Comprehensive federal legalization is on the back burner — for now. While your bank may want to wait for federal legalization before providing financial services to this industry, there’s a significant first-mover advantage for institutions that elect to serve this industry today. The ability to build new customer relationships, earn enhanced fee income and gain access to new sources of low-cost deposits early on could be a game-changer when legalization eventually occurs.
  5. You don’t need to be a pioneer. Having spent most of my career leading retail operations at a community bank, I know financial institutions don’t want to be the first to take on something new. Although it is still a nascent industry, there are financial institutions that have served cannabis businesses for several years and are passing compliance exams. Banks entering the industry now won’t have to write the playbook from scratch.

The coronavirus pandemic requires banks to make many difficult decisions, both around managing the financial impact and the operational changes needed to protect the health of customers and employees. While adapting operating procedures to the current environment, banks should also begin planning for a future recovery and identifying new potential sources of growth. Cannabis banking can provide a lucrative new revenue stream and the opportunity for financial institutions to grow deposits with minimal competition — at least for now.

How Leaders Meet Followers’ Critical Needs During COVID-19

Humans experience the worldabout 30% rationally and 70% emotionally. Effective bank executives and directors would be well served by remembering that during this time.

Right now, many of those emotions tend toward fear and uncertainty. While what you as a leader communicate is important, how you do it and how it makes your people feel is crucial for effective leadership. Gallup has found that most critical emotional needs of followers — be it employees or customers — are trust, compassion, stability and hope. Yet, many banks are starting with deficits in these areas

Trust: Predictability In Unpredictable Times
Right now, employees are not only looking for honesty and clarity — they’re also watching intently for behavioral predictability. Leaders can’t predict the future, but they must be predictable. It’s hard to trust an erratic leader.

But bank leaders may be starting from a trust deficit. Most bank employees didn’t trust their leadership before the COVID-19 pandemic. Gallup research shows that just three in 10 financial services employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization, and just two in 10 say leadership communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.

Most banks are prioritizing employee and customer safety, which is necessary for trust. But employees are wondering how a health and economic crisis will affect their jobs and how leadership is making decisions for the future: the principles they’re using, how they conform to the organization’s purpose, the outcomes they’re aiming for.

Don’t shy away from difficult topics like layoffs or pay. Clearly lay out the scenarios and the decision criteria. Make firm commitments in critical areas wherever possible. Just as weather sirens indicate when people should be on high alert, companies should do the same. Otherwise, employees will live and work in constant anxiety.

Compassion: Loud and Reinforced
This is the time to show care. Your employees are juggling new responsibilities, fears and problems. They need to hear their managers and leaders say, out loud, that they understand, that the company is behind them and that everyone at the firm will get through this new situation together. They need to feel genuine compassion.

However, bank leaders may face a deficiency here as well: only three in 10 financial services employees strongly agreed in pre-pandemic times that their company cared about their well-being.

Compassion should also be boldly practiced through a bank’s policy decisions. The commitments, support and sacrifices executives make to keep employees, customers and communities whole are a reflection and demonstration of their priorities. Put bluntly: verbal compassion without policy compassion is insulting. Real compassion changes things — when the pandemic has passed, how you treated employees and companies will be remembered most.

Stability: Psychological Safety Without Tunnel Vision
There are two elements to stability, the practical and the psychological. Providing practical stability means making sure employees have the materials, equipment and technology they need to work under rapidly changing circumstances.

But the core of stability is psychological security — the need to know where a company is headed and that one’s job is secure. This is why executives must clearly define, communicate and act on their decision principles, especially when it comes to employment and pay.

Leaders need to provide a sense of normalcy to prevent tunnel vision. Not every conversation needs to be about COVID-19. Regularly communicate progress and accomplishments during this difficult time so that it doesn’t feel like the world has completely stopped.

Hope: The Most Precious Asset During Turmoil
Hope sits on the foundation of trust and stability. It pulls people forward and invites them to participate in creating a future that’s better than the present.

Leaders should view hope as precious capital. Hopeful workers are more resilient, innovative and agile, better able to plan ahead and navigate obstacles — valuable assets in good times and bad. Tell people what you want to achieve this week, this month, this quarter — and why you’re confident those goals can be reached.

Change The Lens
Amid the chaos and uncertainty, when employees are looking to you, know one thing for sure: You don’t have to have all the answers. But you do need to know how to meet your followers’ four basic needs in every plan, action and communication.

Remember, the employees most vulnerable to the ripple effects of COVID-19 are often the ones closest to your customers. Your people are looking to you for trust, compassion, stability and hope. Their eyes are on you — will you rise to the challenge?

The Biggest Priorities for Banks in Normal Times

Banks are caught in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the United States.

As they care for hurting customers in a dynamic and rapidly evolving environment, they cannot forget the fundamentals needed to steer any successful bank: maintaining discipline in a competitive lending market, attracting and retaining high-quality talent and improving their digital distribution channels.

Uncovering bankers’ biggest long-term priorities was one of the purposes of a roundtable conversation between executives and officers from a half dozen banks with between $10 billion and $30 billion in assets. The roundtable was sponsored by Deloitte LLP and took place at Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference at the end of January, before the brunt of the new coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Kevin Riley, CEO of First Interstate BancSystem, noted that customers throughout the $14.6 billion bank’s western footprint were generally optimistic prior to the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Washington, Oregon and Idaho at the time were doing best. With trade tensions and fear of an inverted yield curve easing, and with interest rates reversing course, businesses entered 2020 with more confidence than they entered 2019.

The growth efforts reflect a broader trend. “In our 2020 M&A Trends survey, corporate respondents cited ‘efficiency and effectiveness in change management’ and ‘aligning cultures’ as the top concerns for new acquisitions,” says Liz Fennessey, M&A principal at Deloitte Consulting.

A major benefit that flows from an acquisition is talent. “More and more, we’re seeing M&A used as a lever to access talent, which presents a new set of cultural challenges,” Fennessey continues. “In the very early stages of the deal, the acquirer should consider the aspects core to the culture that will help drive long-term retention in order to preserve deal value.”

One benefit of the benign credit environment that banks enjoyed at the end of last year is that it enabled them to focus on core issues like talent and culture. Tacoma, Washington-based Columbia Banking System has been particularly aggressive in this regard, said CEO Clint Stein.

The $14.1 billion bank added three new people to its executive committee this year, with a heavy emphasis on technology. The first is the bank’s chief digital and technology officer, who focuses on innovation, information security and digital expansion. The second is the bank’s chief marketing and experience officer, who oversees marketing efforts and leads both a new employee experience team and a new client experience team. The third is the director of retail banking and digital integration, whose responsibilities include oversight of retail branches and digital services.

Riley at First Interstate has employed similar tactics, realigning the bank’s executive team at the beginning of 2020 to add a chief strategy officer. The position includes leading the digital and product teams, data and analytics, as well as overseeing marketing, communications and the client contact center.

The key challenge when it comes to growth, particularly through M&A, is making sure that it improves, as opposed to impairs, the combined institution’s culture. “It is important to be deliberate and thoughtful when aligning cultures,” says Matt Hutton, a partner at Deloitte. “It matters as soon as the deal is announced. Don’t miss the opportunity to build culture momentum by reinforcing the behaviors you expect before the deal is complete.”

Related to the focus on growth and talent is an increasingly sharp focus on environmental, social and governance issues. For decades, corporations were operated primarily for the benefit of their shareholders — a doctrine known as shareholder primacy. But this emphasis has begun to change and may accelerate alongside the unfolding health crisis. Over the past few years, large institutional investors have started promoting a more inclusive approach known as stakeholder capitalism, requiring companies to optimize returns across all their stakeholders, not just the owners of their stock.

The banks at the roundtable have embraced this call to action. First National Bank of Omaha, in Omaha, Nebraska, publishes an annual community impact report, detailing metrics that capture the positive impact it has in the communities it serves. Columbia promotes the link between corporate social responsibility and performance. And First Interstate, in addition to issuing an annual environmental, social and governance report, has taken multiple steps in recent years to improve employee compensation and engagement.

Despite the diversity of business lines and geographies of different banks, these regional lenders shared multiple common priorities and fundamental focuses going into this year. The coronavirus crisis has certainly caused banks to change course, but there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when they and others are able to return to these core focuses.

Connecting with Millennials By Going Beyond Traditional Services


technology-8-28-19.pngBanks are at a crossroads.

They have an opportunity to expand beyond traditional financial services, especially with younger customers that are used to top-notch user experiences from large technology companies. This may mean they need to revisit their strategy and approach to dealing with this customer segment, in response to changing consumer tastes.

Banks need to adjust their strategies in order to stay relevant among new competition: Accenture predicts that new business models could impact 80% of existing bank revenues by 2020. Many firms employ a “push” strategy, offering customers pre-determined bundles and services that align more with the institution’s corporate financial goals.

What’s missing, however, is an extensive “pull” strategy, where they take the time to understand their customers’ needs. By doing this, banks can make informed decisions about what to recommend to customers, based on their major consumer life milestones.

Only four in 10 millennials say that they would bundle services with financial institutions. Customers clearly do not feel that banks are putting them first. To re-attract customers, banks need to look at what they are truly willing to pay for — starting with subscription-based services. U.S consumers age 25 to 34 would be interested in paying subscription fees for the financial services they bundle through their bank such as loans, identity protection, checking accounts and more, according to a report from EY. With banks already providing incentives like lower interest rates or other perks to bundle their services, customers are likely to view a subscription of bundled services with a monthly or annual fee as the best value.

Subscription-based services are a model that’s already found success in the technology and lifestyle sector. This approach could increase revenue while re-engaging younger generations in a way that feels personal to them. Banks that decide to offer subscription-based services may be able to significantly improve relationships with their millennial customers.

But in order to gain a deeper understanding of what services millennials desire, banks will need to look at their current customer data. Banks can leverage this data with digital technology and partnerships with companies in sectors such as automotive, education or real estate, to create service offerings that capitalize on life events and ultimately increasing loyalty.

Student loans are one area where financial institutions could apply this approach. If a bank has customers going through medical school, they can offer a loan that doesn’t need to be repaid until after graduation. To take the relationship even further, banks can connect customers who are established medical professionals to those medical students to network and share advice, creating a more personal experience for everyone.

These structured customer interactions will give banks even more data they can use to improve their pull strategy. Banks gain a more holistic view of customers, can expand their menu of services with relevant products and services and improve the customer experience. Embracing a “pull” strategy allows banks to go above and beyond, offering products that foster loyalty with existing customers and drawing new ones in through expanded services. The banks that choose to evolve now will own the market, and demonstrate their value to customers early on.

Why Some Banks Purposefully Shun the Spotlight


strategy-8-9-19.pngFor as many banks that would love to be acquired, even more prefer to remain independent. Some within the second group have even taken steps to reduce their allure as acquisition targets.

I was reminded of this recently when I met with an executive at a mid-sized privately held community bank. We talked for a couple hours and then had lunch.

Ordinarily, I would go home after a conversation like that and write about the bank. In fact, that’s the expectation of most bank executives: If they’re going to give someone like me so much of their time, they expect something in return.

Most bank executives would welcome this type of attention as free advertising. It’s also a way to showcase a bank’s accomplishments to peers throughout the industry.

In this particular case, there was a lot to highlight. This is a well-run bank with talented executives, a unique culture, a growing balance sheet and a history of sound risk management.

But the executive specifically asked me not to write anything that could be used to identify the bank. The CEO and board believe that media attention — even if it’s laudatory — would serve as an invitation for unwanted offers to acquire the bank.

This bank in particular has a loan-to-deposit ratio that’s well below the average for its peer group. An acquiring bank could see that as a gold mine of liquidity that could be more profitably employed.

Because the board of this bank has no interest in selling, it also has no interest in fielding sufficiently lucrative offers that would make it hard for them to say “no.” This is why they avoid any unnecessary media exposure — thus the vague description.

This has come up for me on more than one occasion in the past few months. In each case, the bank executives aren’t worried about negative attention; it’s positive attention that worries them most.

The concern seems to stem from deeper, philosophical thoughts on banking.

In the case of the bank I recently visited, its executives and directors prioritize the bank’s customers over the other constituencies it serves. After that comes the bank’s communities, employees and regulators. Its shareholders, the biggest of which sit on the board, come last.

This is reflected in the bank’s loan-to-deposit ratio. If the bank focused on maximizing profits, it would lend out a larger share of deposits. But it wants to have liquidity when its customers and communities need it most – in times when credit is scarce.

Reading between the lines reveals an interesting way to gauge how a bank prioritizes between its customers and shareholders. One prioritization isn’t necessarily better than the other, as both constituencies must be appeased, but it’s indicative of an executive team’s philosophical approach to banking.

There are, of course, other ways to fend off unwanted acquisition attempts.

One is to run a highly efficient operation. That’s what Washington Federal does, as I wrote about in the latest issue of Bank Director magazine. In the two decades leading up to the financial crisis, it spent less than 20% of its revenue on expenses.

This may seem like it would make Washington Federal an attractive partner, given that efficiency tends to translate into profitability. From the perspective of a savvy acquirer, however, it means there are fewer cost saves that can be taken out to earn back any dilution.

Another way is to simply maintain a high concentration of ownership within the hands of a few shareholders. If a bank is closely held, the only way for it to sell is if its leading shareholders agree to do so. Widely dispersed ownership, on the other hand, can invite activists and proxy battles, bringing pressure to bear on the bank’s board of directors.

Other strategies are contractual in nature. “Poison pills” were in vogue during the hostile takeover frenzy of the 1980s. Change-of-control agreements for executives are another common approach. But neither of these are particularly savory ways to defend against unwanted acquisition offers. They’re a last line of defense; a shortcut in the face of a fait accompli.

Consequently, keeping a low media profile is one way that some top-performing banks choose to fend unwanted acquisition offers off at the proverbial pass.

While being acquired is certainly an attractive exit strategy for many banks, it isn’t for everyone. And for those banks that have earned their independence, there are things they can do to help sustain it.

A Common Trait Shared by Elite Bankers


investment-8-2-19.pngIf you talk to enough executives at top-performing banks, one thing you may notice is that not all of them see themselves as bankers. Many of them identify instead as investors who run banks.

It’s a subtle nuance. But it’s an important one that may help explain the extraordinary success of their institutions.

This came up in a conversation I had last week with the president and chief operating officer of a $2.6 billion asset bank based in New England. (I’d share the bank’s name, but they prefer to keep a low profile.)

His bank is among the most profitable in the country and is a regular fixture atop industry rankings, including our latest Bank Performance Scorecard.

Its profitability and earnings growth are consistently at the top of its peer group each year. More importantly, its total shareholder return (dividends plus share price appreciation) ranks in the top 3% of all publicly traded banks since the current leadership team gained control in 1993.

The distinction between investors and bankers seems to lay in how they prioritize operations and capital allocation.

For many bankers, capital allocation plays a supporting role to operations. It’s a pressure release valve that purges a bank’s balance sheet of the excess capital generated by operations. As capital builds up on the balance sheet, it impairs return on equity, which can foster the illusion that a bank isn’t earning its cost of capital.

To investors, the relationship between operating a bank and allocating its capital is inverted: The operations are the source of capital, while the efficient allocation of that capital is the ultimate objective.

Bankers who identify as investors also tend to be agnostic about banking. If a different industry offered better returns on their capital, they’d go elsewhere. They’ve gravitated to banking only because it’s a peculiarly profitable endeavor. In no other industry are businesses leveraged by a factor of 10 to 1 and financed with government-insured funds.

There are plenty of other bankers that fall into this categorization. The recently retired chairman of Citigroup, Michael O’Neill, is one of them. He said this when I interviewed him recently for a profile to be published in the upcoming issue of Bank Director magazine.

O’Neill’s time as chairman and CEO of Bank of Hawaii bears this out. A major objective of his, after refocusing its geographic footprint, was reducing the bank’s outstanding share count.

Bank of Hawaii had 80 million shares outstanding when O’Neill became CEO in 2000. When he left 4 years later, that had declined by 38% to only 55 million outstanding shares. This helped the bank’s stock price more than triple over the same stretch.

Another example is the Turner family, which has run Great Southern Bancorp for almost half a century. Since going public in 1991, Great Southern has repurchased nearly 40% of its original outstanding share count. A $2 million investment during the initial public offering would have been worth $140 million last year.

The Turners never said this when I talked with them last year, but it seems safe to infer that they view banking in a similar way. They’re not trying to build a banking empire for the sake of running a big bank. Instead, they’re focused on creating superior long-term value.

This philosophical approach coupled with meaningful skin in the game insulates a bank’s executives from external pressures to chase short-term growth and profitability at the expense of long-term solvency and performance.

“Having a big investment in the company … gives you credibility with institutional investors,” Great Southern CEO Joe Turner told me last year. “When we tell them we’re thinking long term, they believe us. We never meet with an investor that our family doesn’t own at least twice as much stock in the bank as they do.”

M&T Bank Corp. offers yet another textbook example of this. Of the largest 100 banks operating in 1983, when its current leadership team took over, only 23 remain today. Among those, M&T ranks first when it comes to stock price growth

I once asked its chairman and CEO René Jones what has enabled the bank to create so much value. One of the main reasons, he told me, was that they could gather 60% of the voting interests in the bank around the coffee table in his predecessor’s office.

And the bank in New England that I mentioned at the top of this article is the same way. The family that runs it, along with its directors, collectively hold 40% of the bank’s stock.

The moral of the story is that it’s tempting to think that capital allocation should play second fiddle to a bank’s operations. But many of the country’s best bankers see things the other way around.

Three Critical Strategies for Digital Wealth, Trust Success


strategy-7-31-19.pngThe robot (wealth advisors) are here.

The robo-advisor revolution promised to render legacy firms like broker-dealers, asset managers, and registered investment advisors obsolete.

The fear of being left behind motivated many companies across the wealth industry to respond with an open checkbook. BlackRock dropped $150 million to buy FutureAdvisor in 2015. Other firms, like JPMorgan & Chase Co., spent more than three years and millions of dollars building their own robo-advisors. And others, like Northwestern Mutual, spent $250 million to acquire and then ultimately shutter their offering.

Despite all the effort, money and time invested, these companies don’t have much to show for it. The amount of assets under management at these nascent efforts is underwhelming; when combined with ultra-low robo-fee rates, the revenue doesn’t come close to providing any real return on their upfront sizable investments.

What’s the real takeaway for banks? The problem isn’t the technology so much as it is the corresponding business strategy. When it comes to robo-advising, altering the strategy and deconstructing the technology will give banks the biggest returns on their investments. There will be benefits for the brokerage side of the bank, but even greater returns in the trust division, which typically relies on outdated processes based on paper and people.

If banks look at technology with a lens toward driving margin as well as revenue growth, the way they deploy robo-technology changes. Instead of launching robo-advisors and hoping customers stream in, a better strategy could be to become hyper-focused, using the technology in order to maximize its inherent value. Banks thinking about using digital solutions to improve their wealth and trust offerings can focus on three areas in order to get operational and revenue benefits:

  1. Eliminate paper-based trust account opening processes. Using digital trust account opening can dramatically reduce the total client onboarding time and begin the investing and billing processes sooner, accelerating the time it takes to generate revenue from a newly opened account. For example, the typical trust account takes about 40 days to get correctly opened and funded. Technology can reduce that time by 30 days, driving at least 8% more revenue with those extra days, while simultaneously decreasing the people- and paper-based costs.
  2. Automate existing smaller agency accounts. Automating processes like risk assessment, model management and rebalancing can significantly reduce the amount of time and people needed to manage those smaller, less profitable accounts. Banks can achieve higher customer satisfaction via the improved and streamlined process, as well as higher advisor satisfaction from the drastic reduction in operating time.
  3. Retain flight risk retail customers. Retail customers who do not meet the account minimums to utilize a bank’s wealth services often find wealth offerings elsewhere, taking their assets outside of your bank. By digitizing wealth offerings, banks can lower their operational costs and enable a profitable way to service smaller wealth accounts, retain more customers and increase revenue. The key is using technology to correctly segment customers to better predict when they are most likely to become a flight risk to consumer-facing robo-advisors like Betterment.

So, what should a bank do to digitize a wealth or trust offering?

Start by targeting efficiency. While you may be tempted by the siren song of new customers and revenue, the biggest short-term returns for technology always come through cost reduction and margin expansion. Find the areas of your business with the most friction and surgically target them with technology to notch meaningful gains. Once your operations are running faster and smoother, target existing at-risk customers. Yes, you’ll be repricing those deposits, but it’s always better to reprice, retain and ultimately grow deposits than it is to lose them to one of the consumer-facing robo-advisors.

Six Reasons to Have a Fintech Strategy


fintech-7-23-19.pngFinancial technology, or fintech, is rapidly and dramatically changing the financial services landscape, forcing banks to respond.

Banks are taking different approaches to capitalize on the opportunities presented by fintech, mitigating the risks and remaining competitive. Some of these approaches include partnering with fintech companies, investing in them, investing in internal innovation and development or creating or participating in fintech incubators and labs. Some banks focus on a single strategy, while some mix and match. But many have no plan at all.

The board of directors oversees the bank’s strategic direction and provides senior management with risk parameters to exercise their business discretion. Fintech must be part of that strategic direction. A thoughtful and deliberate fintech strategy is not only a best practice, it is a necessity. Here are six reasons why.

1. Fintech is Here to Stay. Bankers who have seen many trends come and go could be forgiven for initially writing off fintech as a fad. However, fintech is wholly reshaping the financial services industry through digital transformation, big data, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Fintech now goes far beyond core systems, enhancing capabilities throughout the bank.

2. Customers Expect It. Demographics are changing. Customers under 40 expect their banking services to be delivered by the same channels and at the same speed as their other retail and consumer services like online shopping and ride-hailing applications. Banks that cannot meet those expectations will force their younger customers to look elsewhere.

3. Competition and Differentiation. Community banks may not be able to compete with the largest banks on their technology spend, but they should be competitive with their peers. Developing and executing a thoughtful fintech strategy will enhance a bank’s identity and give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

4. Core Systems Management. Banks must have a strategy for their core banking systems. Replacing a legacy system can take years and requires extensive planning. Banks must weigh the maintenance expense, security vulnerability and reduced commercial flexibility of legacy systems against the cost, potential opportunities and long-term efficiencies of the next generation platforms.

5. Fiduciary Duty Demands It. A board’s fiduciary duty includes having a fintech strategy. The board is accountable to the bank’s shareholders and must create sustainable, long-term value. Director are bound by the fiduciary duty of care to act in the best interest of the bank. Given fintech’s rapid expansion, heightened customer expectations and the need to remain competitive, it is prudent and in the long-term best interest of the bank to have a fintech strategy.

6. Regulatory expectations. Boards are also accountable to bank regulators. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a bulletin in 2017 to address the need for directors to understand the impact of new fintech activities because of the rapid pace of development. The OCC is not the only regulator emphasizing that insufficient strategic planning in product and service innovation can lead to inadequate board oversight and control. A deliberate fintech strategy from the board can direct a bank’s fintech activities and develop a risk management process that meets regulatory expectations.

The best fintech strategy for a bank is one that considers an institution’s assets, capabilities, and overall business strategy and allows it to stay competitive and relevant. Not having a fintech strategy is not an option.

Why It’s Hard for Banks to Get Answers From Their Systems


core-7-17-19.pngIt starts with a simple question from a director or regulator about the bank’s loans, deposits or customers. It should be easy to answer but for some reason, it takes days or weeks to get the information.

The struggle of bank executives to pull answers from their core systems has been on my mind lately, so I asked a few how often they encounter this problem:

“Just recently, our examiners asked for a detailed listing showing applicable data around brokered, listing service and money desk deposits. I needed a way to get the answers quickly.” – Chief operating officer at a Texas bank, $4 billion in assets

“It’s definitely a pain point for us. We spend so much time assembling data to get basic intelligence about our business activities; those delays add up in terms of delayed decision making. We want to make faster, more informed decisions.” – CEO at a Missouri bank, $2 billion in assets

It has always been surprising to me that it is so difficult for executives to answer basic questions using their systems. The process to extract this information is often manual and painfully slow, involving subordinates who push down the request to their subordinates, and the manual aggregation of data from various systems and even paper files. The actual question can take days or weeks to get answered.

In our experience, bankers are hampered by three big problems. Here’s what they can do about them.

Systems Designed for Processing Only
Banks in the U.S. live and die with their core, but these systems were designed for processing, not reporting. While the core vendors often supply reporting and business intelligence tools, they may not include or store information from other systems or providers. Ease of use can also be a problem; many systems require someone with technical know-how to coax out the answers so they can be manually merged with results from other systems. To fix this, banks should consider implementing a simple enterprise reporting solution that consolidates information from multiple systems, including the core.

Disparate Systems Can’t Communicate
During a recent conversion, one of our clients discovered 72 different systems that were connected to their legacy core system. These systems were not well integrated or configured so executives could poll them for an answer. Banks often accumulate these systems as individual departments select solutions that fit their specific needs, such as loan review, credit administration or lending. But this creates massive information redundancy, which flourishes because no one is charged with addressing this holistically.

To help remedy this problem, banks should consider hiring a solution architect to analyze their existing systems for redundancies, and then craft a roadmap for eliminating and consolidating systems. A smart workaround at banks where a full-time systems architect may not be practical would be to select and implement a system that has built-in best practices. These systems can’t eliminate all the redundancies but can address them by integrating different systems and clearly identifying the systems of record for critical business information.

Failed System Implementations
Vendors are good at selling software with slick demonstrations that seem easy to use. But many bankers have experienced failed implementations, which can happen when vendors are more focused on setup and configuration and less on the adoption process. Vendors need to serve as true partners for clients, guiding them through the mine fields and providing solutions when issues arise.

That puts the onus on bank executives when it comes to vendor selection. Bankers need to consider a vendor’s willingness and ability to be a true consulting partner, and how it will work to understand a bank’s business and incorporate its unique needs into their system.

Implementing a solution that can seamlessly generate answers to bankers’ questions can be a sizable undertaking, but banks can make vast improvements by implementing a consolidated reporting solution, eliminating redundancies across systems and selecting vendors that are known for their ability to partner with clients.