The Future of Banking

Open banking is bigger in the United States than it is in Europe, says Lee Wetherington, the senior director of corporate strategy for Jack Henry & Associates, one of the banking industry’s largest technology solution providers. For financial technology companies, that means an unlimited potential to access data, and offer products and services that customers would like or will like in the future.

Wetherington answers three questions in this video:

  • How can fintechs leverage open-banking rails to improve their offerings and reach?
  • What will the banking industry look like in 10 years?
  • Looking beyond 10 years, will there be a banking industry as we know it now?

How Bankers Can Use Relativity to Power Tech Decisioning

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” – Gen. George Patton Jr.

Banking has been around for thousands of years, but digitization of the industry is new and moving fast. The changes have left some bankers feeling stuck, overwhelmed with the sheer number of technology choices, and envious of competitors rocketing into the future.

Back in the boardroom, directors are insisting the team design its own rocket, built for speed and safety, and get it to the launch pad ASAP. The gravity of this charge, plus the myriad other strategic initiatives, means that the bank is assessing its tech choices and outlook with the same exhaustive analytical vigor as other issues the bank is facing, and at the same speed. This is a subtle, but significant, error.

Based on experience leading both financial institutions and fintechs, I’ve seen how a few firms escaped this trap and outperformed their competitors. The secret is that they approach tech decisions on a different timescale, operationalizing a core principle of Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity known as time dilation: that, put very simply, time slows down as velocity increases.

How can executives apply relativity to banking?
Our industry exercises its colossal analytical muscles every day, but this strength becomes a weakness when we overanalyze. Early in my career, I reported to a credit officer who routinely agonized over every small business loan. Each one seemed unique and worthy of lengthy discussion. He would only issue a decline after investing many hours of the team’s time analyzing together; the team lost money on loans the bank never made.

The same mistake can occur when banks assess their fintech options. Afraid of missing a risk factor and anxious to please the board, executives fall into the trap of overanalyzing. There’s good reason to justify this approach; major projects like a core conversion are truly worthy of great care and deliberation.

But most tech decisions are not as risky and irreversible as a new core. Just as we can download apps to a phone and later remove them, the industry has embraced the concept popularized by Amazon’s former CEO Jeff Bezos of a “two-way door” to deliver turnkey solutions that are fully configured and ready to use in a matter of hours. Developers are writing new code and deploying to the cloud continuously, with no downtime. A few companies, including Cirrus, even offer money-back guarantees, to eliminate a bank’s perceived risk from the decision.

Tech moves fast. What can happen when a bank accepts this challenge and invests in rapid tech decisioning? There are three important aspects of time dilation to consider:

1. Even at only a slightly higher velocity, it has been empirically proven that time marginally slows down. The rate of change in time increases parabolically as velocity increases.
This means that increasing the speed with which your bank makes decisions, even a tiny bit, pays off immediately, and the learning curve will magnify payoffs as the bank improves its decision-making process. There’s a significant compounding effect to this discipline.

2. When traveling at faster speeds, time appears to be passing no differently; to an outside observer, your clock is ticking slower.
Once the team is accustomed to making good tech decisions rapidly, its normative behaviors may seem odd to outsiders. Your colleagues in other internal departments who have become jaded by previous approval cycles may not be able to believe how rapidly your bank is now able to stand up new solutions. Your firm will accomplish much more than before.

3. The faster your velocity, the more mass you accrue.
Making decisions quickly frees up time for more decisions. Decision-making is a force multiplier. It’s not just your clients who will appreciate the upgrade — your vendors will be energized as well, and far more likely to treat you as a valued partner than a counterparty.

Intrinsically, banking exists to solve problems, but to solve problems, we must make decisions. Decision-making is a core competency of good banking. The bankers who are winning — and, candidly, having a lot more fun these days — approach their tech decision process with the same care and weight as their credit decision process. They no longer make tech decisions on a banking timetable; instead, they are creating time by moving faster.

What the Heck is Web3?

With increased interest around Web3, making sense of the latest and newest technology trend — and its potential impact on financial services —  could add value to strategic discussions as leadership teams and boards consider their long-term strategies.

For early and seed stage venture capital, the top 15 firms invested $1.3 billion in Web3 and decentralized finance in the third quarter 2021, according to Pitchbook. The research company said investment in the space — which includes $900 million into the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and $120 million in Offchain Labs, a blockchain-based, smart contracts platform — beat out the separate fintech category, which landed in the No. 2 spot with $860 million invested.

Not everyone is convinced. In a December 2021 tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called Web3 “more marketing buzzword than reality right now.” He was responding to a video of a 1995 interview of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates with David Letterman, in which the TV host asked, “What about this internet thing?”

That question seems quaint today. Amazon.com had just opened for business as an online bookstore; Mark Zuckerberg would start Facebook roughly a decade later.

Facebook represents the current state of the internet, characterized by centralized platforms that own or leverage user content. But the web continues to evolve; venture capital firms and tech titans are using the term “Web3” to discuss this next phase. These changes encompass concepts that bank leadership teams and boards should be watching and regularly discussing.

“Web3 is really just a rebranding of a lot of the things we’ve already been talking about for a while,” says Alex Johnson, director, fintech research at Cornerstone Advisors. “It’s the collision of the internet and crypto in a way that allows for users of the internet to have verifiable ownership over the companies and products that they interact with.”

The expansion of digital assets underpinned by blockchain — including cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which represent ownership in art, music or even real estate — are reshaping the way that internet users think about ownership.

“There will now be the capability to give verifiable ownership — over content, over relationships, over access to special features, over [intellectual property] — to customers or users. And the potential impact of that is that companies that do that will have a significant marketing advantage and retention advantage,” says Johnson. Companies could use tokens to build loyalty and community, granting partial ownership to customers of products or ideas, similar to a referral bonus or share of stock.

Leveraging blockchain technology, investor Ryan Zacharia envisions consumers and businesses building digital identities. “People are going to effectively own and control their own identities and information, and hold that information in a digital wallet,” providing access when applying for a loan, for example. Zacharia is general partner at JAM Special Opportunity Ventures, which invests in up-and-coming bank technologies on behalf of partner institutions.

At the same time, a few banks are using blockchain to power real-time transactions. Last month, I watched the first real-time interbank transfer of stablecoins — cryptocurrency pegged to a stable currency or commodity — between two banks, $53 billion Western Alliance Bancorp., based in Phoenix, and $2.5 billion Coastal Financial Corp. in Everett, Washington. The transaction was facilitated by Tassat Group, which provides blockchain-based payment solutions for banks.

“The ability to have programmable money is a game changer for the whole economy,” says Chris Nichols, director of capital markets for SouthState Bank. “It’s the first time where you have value, the message and the ability to program all in one unit of code. … [T]his opens up a whole new set of products for banks.” Signature Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Customers Bancorp and New York Community Bancorp are among the banks exploring blockchain-based products and services focused on payments and asset securitization.

Fintechs competing with banks are also taking advantage of the disintermediation trends promised by a Web3 economy. In March 2021, Block (formerly Square) acquired TIDAL. The artist-centered music streaming platform allows the Jack Dorsey-led digital payments provider to tap into another niche. In a press release, current TIDAL head and Square executive Jesse Dorogusker said the two platforms would “explore new artist tools, listener experiences, and access to financial systems that help artists be successful.”

Musicians and artists have been early movers on NFTs. Just last month, Ozzy Osbourne launched a “CryptoBatz” collection of NFTs, commemorating the notorious 1982 gig where the rocker bit the head off a bat. Earlier in 2021, the band Kings of Leon released the first NFT album.

“There is an opportunity for content creators, music creators, owners and writers and musicians to eliminate intermediation, connect directly to their fans [and] sell their music as NFTs,” says Zacharia. “That can generate revenue for the musician, and the NFT holders can receive programmatic royalties based on [a song] being played …  or what have you.”

Web3 requires an open mind and a firm foot in reality. Research into these concepts quickly unearth ideas that seem more like science fiction than traditional economics and finance. Facebook, for example, recently changed its corporate name to Meta Platforms as Zuckerberg expects people to interact more in the metaverse. Will part of the economy take place in a digital world, where we interact via avatars in a virtual space?

”It’s important to have conversations that contemplate what the world could look like in five or 10 years,” says Zacharia. The metaverse is an unlikely next step for a typical bank, but he could see an early-mover advantage for an enterprising financial institution that figures out how to bank the space. And despite the sci-fi luster, the evolution of the web promises to soldier on, bringing opportunities and risks for banks to consider, including fraud and cybersecurity. “There’s a tremendous amount of talent and effort and capital that’s going into this,” he says. “Frankly, I don’t think it’s a fad.”

2018 L. William Seidman CEO Panel



Former FDIC chairman and Bank Director’s publisher, the late L. William Seidman, advocated for a strong and healthy U.S. banking market. In this panel discussion led by Bank Director CEO Al Dominick, three CEOs—Greg Carmichael of Fifth Third Bancorp, Gilles Gade of Cross River Bank and Greg Steffens of Southern Missouri Bancorp—share their views on the opportunities and threats facing banks today.

Highlights from this video:

  • Reaching Today’s Consumer
  • Front and Back-Office Technologies That Matter
  • Competitive Threats Facing the Industry
  • The Future of Community Banking

 

Banking Compliance and the Cloud: Can They Coexist?


cloud-computing-8-3-15.pngBusinesses large and small are enamored with cloud computing. After all, it promises less information technology expense, delivering cheap, on-demand, and elastic processing power, disk storage and memory, while cutting down on energy use. By meshing their services with the cloud, companies gain social and mobile capabilities that can connect them more closely with their customers. But is it right for financial institutions?

In short, it depends—both on what systems your financial institution is considering and what types of data will be processed, stored or transmitted by the cloud service provider. With careful monitoring and attention to key risk areas, cloud computing can work, and it can be a solid, budget-friendly choice for financial institutions seeking computing power and the ability to scale quickly as business grows.

Cloud Deployment
When considering a cloud solution, you’ll first need to choose a deployment model. Your bank may select from private clouds, which belong to a single organization; public clouds, offered by companies including Amazon and Microsoft; and hybrid clouds, which use a mix of public and private clouds.

Second, consider your service model:

  • Software as a service (SaaS): Your bank uses the provider’s applications and operates them on the provider’s infrastructure.
  • Platform as a service (PaaS): Your bank deploys its own applications onto a cloud infrastructure using the provider’s programming tools—a good choice for banks that develop their own applications.
  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): Your bank runs operating systems and applications on the cloud provider’s infrastructure.

Are Cloud Solutions Secure?
For banks, data security is paramount, and you must comply with the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC)’s Outsourcing Technology Services Booklet, federal and industry protection regulations, and payment card data requirements under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, among others.

Though FFIEC and other guidelines give some clarity on how banks should approach data security, they miss some key nuances of cloud computing. Specifically, banking institutions will also need to consider:

Provider and Data Location
Where your institution’s provider is located and where your data is stored, processed or transmitted can trigger a variety of state, federal or international privacy compliance concerns and issues.

Multiple Levels and Layers of Risk
Cloud providers commonly resell other providers’ services or rely on other subservice providers, which makes risk assessment extremely difficult. Furthermore, data could be backed up and stored by multiple service providers and facilities.

Vendor Risk
Your vendors may use cloud services to store your customers’ information. As a result, you may need to spell out in your contracts what your cloud computing policies are, or at least incorporate questions about cloud computing practices into your vendor risk management program.

Institutions that implement cloud technology will need to address these risks specifically, requiring all parties involved to conform to the security and privacy mandates outlined in their contracts. You’ll also need to develop plans to continually monitor the activities and performance of both service providers and third parties.

Moving to the Cloud
Cloud computing is likely here to stay. And while the shift may be too large for some banks’ tastes, it does come with certain benefits. Keeping compliance and regulations in mind, embracing the cloud may mean increased agility, speed and competitiveness for financial institutions of all sizes.