2021 Technology Survey Results: Tracking Spending and Strategy at America’s Banks

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon recognizes the enormous competitive pressures facing the banking industry, particularly from big technology companies and emerging startups.

“The landscape is changing dramatically,” Dimon said at a June 2021 conference, where he described the bank’s growth strategy as “three yards and a cloud of dust” —  a phrase that described football coach Woody Hayes’ penchant for calling running plays that gain just a few yards at a time. Adding technology, along with bankers and branches, will drive revenues at Chase — and also costs. The megabank spends around $11 billion a year on technology. Products recently launched include a digital investing app in 2019, and a buy now, pay later installment loan called “My Chase Plan” in November 2020. It’s also invested in more than 100 fintech companies.

“We think we have [a] huge competitive advantage,” Dimon said, “and huge competition … way beyond anything the banks have seen in the last 50 [to] 75 years.”

Community banks’ spending on technology won’t get within field-goal distance of JPMorgan Chase’s technology spend, but budgets are rising. More than three-quarters of the executives and board members responding to Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, say their technology budget for fiscal year 2021 increased from 2020, at a median of 10%. The survey, conducted in June and July, explores how banks with less than $100 billion in assets leverage their technology investment to respond to competitive threats, along with the adoption of specific technologies.

Those surveyed budgeted an overall median of almost $1.7 million in FY 2021 for technology, which works out to 1% of assets, according to respondents. A median 40% of that budget goes to core systems.

However, smaller banks with less than $500 million in assets are spending more, at a median of 3% of assets. Further, larger banks with more than $1 billion in assets spend more on expertise, in the form of internal staffing and managed services — indicating a widening expertise gap for community banks.

Key Findings

Competitive Concerns
Despite rising competition outside the traditional banking sphere — including digital payment providers such as Square, which launched a small business banking suite shortly after the survey closed in July — respondents say they consider local banks and credit unions (54%), and/or large and superregional banks (45%), to be the greatest competitive threats to their bank.

Digital Evolution Continues
Fifty-four percent of respondents believe their customers prefer to interact through digital channels, compared to 41% who believe their clients prefer face-to-face interactions. Banks continued to ramp up their digital capabilities in the third and fourth quarters of last year and into the first half of 2021, with 41% upgrading or implementing digital deposit account opening, and 30% already offering this capability. More than a third upgraded or implemented digital loan applications, and 27% already had this option in place.

Data Dilemma
One-third upgraded or implemented data analytics capabilities at their bank over the past four quarters, and another third say these capabilities were already in place. However, when asked about their bank’s internal technology expertise, more than half say they’re concerned the bank isn’t effectively using and/or aggregating its data. Less than 20% have a chief data officer on staff, and just 13% employ data scientists.

Cryptocurrency
More than 40% say their bank’s leadership team has discussed cryptocurrency and are weighing the potential opportunities and risks. A quarter don’t expect cryptocurrency to affect their bank; a third haven’t discussed it.

Behind the Times
Thirty-six percent of respondents worry that bank leaders have an inadequate understanding of how emerging technologies could impact their institution. Further, 31% express concern about their reliance on outdated technology.

Serving Digital Natives
Are banks ready to serve younger generations? Just 43% believe their bank effectively serves millennial customers, who are between 25 and 40 years old. But most (57%) believe their banks are taking the right steps with the next generation — Gen Z, the oldest of whom are 24 years old. It’s important that financial institutions start getting this right: More than half of Americans are millennials or younger.

To view the full results of the survey, click here.

Building a Digital Masterpiece on Top of the Core

Digital banking has become a must-have feature. The coronavirus pandemic forced consumers to accelerate their adoption of digital banking tools; now they love the convenience and flexibility these products provide.

But what is troubling for banks is that many consumers do not care if these services are met by a traditional financial institution or a fintech challenger bank. U.S. consumers are increasingly comfortable transacting with an increasing number of financial service providers to get the specific products and features that are most important to them.

According to a recent survey conducted by Cornerstone Advisors, 35% of consumers now have more than one checking account, led by the 42% of millennials who have two or more accounts. The report found that challenger banks hold a growing number of these accounts by offering specific features that consumers can’t get from their existing financial institution.

This pressure is particularly high on community and regional banks, which lack the budgets and IT resources of the global banks. However, the technology powering challenger banks has also created an emerging option that enables banks to accelerate product innovation and effectively compete with larger financial institutions and challenger banks: modular banking.

Challenger Bank Tech, One Block at a Time

Community and regional banks in pursuit of innovation are often left to choose between two equally unappealing options: wait on a core that may not innovate at the speed they want or take on the risk of a massive core conversion.

Modular banking, on the other hand, applies the challenger bank approach of building hyper-focused services to the realities of a bank’s existing core and IT landscape. Modular banking platforms typically offer the same functionality as a modern core banking system. However, instead of building the entire platform at once, modular banking approaches service much like a set of building blocks. Banks only need to select the products and services that complement their existing systems’ functionality or build new digital products on top of it.

Put simply, modular banking looks at each piece of a bank’s functionality — such as Know Your Customer, card issuance, P2P or rewards — as a collection of loosely coupled microservices and application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be combined and deployed in a cloud environment to facilitate specific use cases.

Modular banking enables institutions to build specific products to meet the specific needs of their customers and quickly adjust as market conditions change. For example, a regional bank could solve an immediate need for banking products to offer contract workers with a pre-built module, before shifting to bring innovative features for families that make up most of the service area with teen and children accounts. A modular approach to digital transformation benefits small and mid-size community banks in two keys ways.

Quickly Develop New Products
By decoupling critical infrastructure, like the systems and processes that need to work reliably but don’t confer competitive differentiation, from the people, processes and technology focused on product innovation, modular banking provides a potential solution to execution challenges that banks face.

Productive Fintech Partnerships
Creating productive, long-term partnerships requires financial institutions to build mutually beneficial relationships with fintech companies. Innovating through fintech partnerships also requires banks to move fast, which is where modular banking comes in.

The open architecture of a modular banking platform can facilitate the rapid integration of third-party partners, by giving potential partners a modern API to connect to and build on top of. Bank leaders can take a much more proactive approach to pursuing and operationalizing new partnerships.

By building these strategic partnerships, they can create a competitive differentiator to fuel growth for the coming years.

Four Things to Do if Your Bank Is Eyeing Digital Assets

Digital banking is evolving in the wake of guidance from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as it concerns digital assets and their underpinning technology.

The regulator issued an interpretative letter last July authorizing OCC-regulated national banks to hold digital assets and another one in early 2021 allowing such banks to use blockchain and stablecoin infrastructures. Consumers and commercial entities continue to demand offerings and services for digital assets, and the pandemic has accelerated this push.

This rise of digital assets will have far-reaching implications for the entire banking sector for years to come. It’s crucial for executive teams at traditional banks to understand how best to capitalize on these changes, where the risks lie and how to prepare for the future of banking. For banks weighing how and when to start offering digital asset services, here are four key things leadership teams should do:

  1. Prepare to stake a claim. The evolution of money toward digital assets is affecting bank and fintech organizations globally. Companies should proactively think through adjustments now that will enable them to keep up with this rapid pace of change. At the start of this century, when mobile banking apps first began appearing and banks started offering remote deposit captures for checks, organizations that were slow to adopt these technologies wound up being left behind. The OCC guidance explicitly authorizing the use of digital assets should alleviate any doubts around whether such currencies will be a major disruption.
  2. Assess technology investments. A crucial determinant in how successful a bank will be in deploying digital asset-related services is how well-equipped and properly aligned its technology platforms, vendors, policies and procedures are. One of the primary concerns for traditional banks will be assessing their existing core banking platform; many leading vendors do not have blockchain and digital asset capabilities available at this time. This type of readiness is key if bank management hopes to avoid significant technology debt into the next decade. Additionally, banks will need to assess whether it makes sense to partner, buy or build the necessary technology components to transact, custody, settle and potentially issue digital assets.
  3. Prepare for growing demand. As digital assets become more mainstream, there will be significant growth in institutional adoption and growth in consumer demand, especially from millennials and Generation Z customers. The OCC’s recent interpretative letters and the rapid growth of digital assets even just in the last year only emphasize that the adoption of such assets will be the next phase of evolution for banks. That also involves added responsibilities and regulatory compliance that executives need to start understanding now.
  4. Mind the regulator. The era of digital assets is new, and as such, there is heightened scrutiny around related services and offerings. Executives will need to assess existing “know your customer” compliance obligations and update accordingly. Banks also need to understand necessary capital expenditures related to deploying digital asset services. Regulators will be especially interested in not just what’s under the hood, but how banks are managing these new parts and pieces.

What’s next?
Banks that are contemplating or already in the process of deploying digital asset services will need to understand the regulatory requirements in this space and make upgrades to their core banking platforms to make sure those systems can interface with blockchain and other distributed web (sometimes called Web 3.0) technologies. To learn more about how your executive team can prepare, register now for BankDirector’s May 11 webcast — sponsored by RSM — on the future of bitcoin and digital assets.

Positive Outlook for Bank M&A as the Pandemic Subsides

Will there be an acceleration of bank merger and acquisition activity in 2021 and beyond?

The short answer is yes.

As the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, we expect bank M&A activity to rebound, both in terms of branch and whole-bank acquisitions. Banks and their advisors have evolved since the pandemic’s onset forced office closures and the implementation of a new remote working environment. In the past year, institutions and their boards of directors improved technology and online banking capabilities in response to customer needs and expectations. They also gained substantial experience providing banking products and services in a remote environment. This familiarity with technology and remote operations should cause acquirors and sellers alike to reconsider where they stand in the M&A market in 2021 and beyond.

We see a number of factors supporting an improved M&A market in 2021. First, many acquirors and potential deals were sidelined in the spring of 2020, as the pandemic’s uncertainty setting in and the markets were in turmoil. We expect a number of these deals to be rekindled in mid- to late-2021, if they haven’t already resurfaced. We also expect a robust set of acquirors to return to the market looking to add deposits, retail and commercial customers, lending teams, and additional capabilities.

Second, there remains a growing number of small banks struggling to compete that would likely consider potential merger partners with similar cultures and in similar geographic markets. Similarly, risk management and compliance costs continue to challenge bank managers amid tough competition from community banks, credit unions and other non-bank financial institutions. Some small banks have also struggled to provide the digital offerings that have become commonplace since the pandemic began. These challenges are sure to have smaller banks considering merger partners or new investors.

Third, larger banks are looking to grow deposits and market share as they look to compete with more regional players that have the necessary compliance infrastructure and digital offerings. We expect these more regional players to use acquisition partners as a way to grow core deposits and increase efficiencies. Acquiring new deposits and customers also affords these regional banks the ability to cross-sell other products that smaller banks may not have been able to offer the same customers before — increasing revenue in a sustained low-interest rate environment.

Finally, the low-interest rate environment has opened the capital markets to banks of all sizes looking to raise subordinated debt, which may support community bank M&A. Many subordinated debt offerings are priced in the 4% to 5% range, and often are oversubscribed within just a few days. Banks have found these offerings to be an attractive tool to pay off debt with higher interest rates, fund investments in digital infrastructure, provide liquidity to shareholders through buyback programs and seek branch or whole-bank acquisition targets.

We are already seeing activity pick up in bank M&A, and expect that as the economy — and life itself — begins to normalize in 2021, more transactions to be announced. The prospects for an active merger market in 2020 were cut off before spring arrived. This year, as we approach spring once again, the M&A market is not likely to return to pre-pandemic levels, but the outlook is certainly much more optimistic for bank M&A.

2021 Risk Survey Results: High Anxiety

An outsized crisis requires bold action. The banking industry responded in kind when the economy spiraled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Financial institutions across the country assisted small businesses by issuing Paycheck Protection Program loans. Banks also almost universally modified loans to help borrowers weather the storm, according to Bank Director’s 2021 Risk Survey, sponsored by Moss Adams LLP. At the peak of the downturn, 43% of the directors, CEOs, chief risk officers and other senior executives responding to the survey say their bank modified more than 10% of the loans in their portfolio.

Conducted on the heels of a tumultuous 2020 — with the pandemic, social strife and political change continuing into January — the survey reveals high levels of anxiety across the risk spectrum. In particular, respondents indicate greater unease regarding cybersecurity (92%) and credit (89%), as well as strategic (62%) and operational (52%) risks.

Almost half of respondents indicate that some or most of the loan modifications extended into the fourth quarter 2020, and two-thirds reveal concerns about concentrations in their loan portfolio, with most pointing to commercial real estate (43%) and/or the hospitality industry (31%).

Forty-three percent indicate that their bank tightened underwriting standards during the downturn. Looking ahead, many are unsure whether they’ll ease their standards to lend to business customers in 2021 and 2022. The challenges to bankers have been deep during the past year.

As the CEO of a small, southeastern community bank put it: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Despite this uncertainty, bankers express some optimism. More than three-quarters believe that supporting their communities during the pandemic has positively affected their bank’s reputation. Eighty-seven percent expect fewer than 10% of their bank’s business customers to fail. And 84% will improve their bank’s business continuity plan due to what they’ve experienced.

Key Findings

More Robust Stress Testing
More than 80% say their bank conducts an annual stress test. Of these, 60% have expanded the quantity and/or depth of economic scenarios examined in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cybersecurity Gaps
Sixty-three percent say their institution increased its oversight of cybersecurity and data privacy in 2020. Most say the bank needs to improve its cybersecurity program by training staff (68%) and implementing technology to better detect or deter threats and intrusions (65%).

Pandemic Plans Adjusted
Respondents identify several areas where they’ll enhance their business continuity plan as a result of the pandemic. The majority point to formalizing remote work procedures and policies (77%), educating and training employees (56%) and/or providing the right tools to staff (55%). Roughly half say that fewer than a quarter of employees will work remotely when the pandemic abates; 25% say that no employees will work remotely.

Banking Marijuana
Forty-one percent of respondents represent a bank headquartered where marijuana use is at least partly legal. Overall, one-third are unsure if their bank would be willing to serve marijuana businesses. Just 7% serve these businesses; 34% have discussed banking this industry but don’t work with these companies yet.

Climate Change Still Not a Hot Topic
Just 14% say their board discusses the risks posed by climate change at least annually; this is up slightly from 11% in last year’s survey. Fewer than 10% say an executive reports to the board about the risks and opportunities that climate change presents to the institution.

To view the full results of the survey, click here.

Rethinking the Core with Nimble Digital Banking Technology

When it comes to the core, banks spend years evaluating their systems and making sure they align with the current and future needs of customers.

From personal financial management tools to card controls, customers select banks that offer the highest tech and robust options. This can be a challenge for banks, especially on the smaller side or those with a limited budget. But when a bank’s core can no longer keep up with the demands of digital banking trends, the cost, expense and risk of a total core conversion is often too high for institutions to justify making a wholesale change.

Instead, banks are bolting on a variety of tools that attempt to provide the functionality they need to meet customer demands and run efficiently behind the scenes. This can be a challenge for many banks, especially those that are light on staff and are assigned to manage multiple vendors. Vendor management is can be a meticulous and time-consuming task, as there are many separate and segmented parts that need coordination in order to run smoothly with close monitoring. This may require additional staff or additional tasks for executives that already wear many hats.

The future in core banking
As they look ahead at the future of digital banking, bankers are seeking ways to work around the core and still have comprehensive banking capabilities. These systems must be robust and fully run through the cloud while maintaining security. This explains the rise of challenger and neo banks that focus more on technology and security, rather than the brick and mortar. What also sets these companies apart is the way they utilize their core — it goes beyond the legacy systems that require many additional outside services for simple banking needs.

The modern core needs to evolve into a hub that serves as the foundation for digital banking, embedded banking and other customer-focused capabilities, working seamlessly across channels while also giving consumers individualized services.

How customers prefer to utilize banking
Bank customers are continuing to seek options that are tailored to their needs. Hyper-personalized services have continued gaining momentum as customers seek services that match their differentiated and unique situations.

Different customer segments have different needs and requirements; a small business owner’s needs will look different compared to a college student. The small business owner may look for options that can better track purchases or need loans for his or her business. The college student may be looking at more options like P2P payments and card controls to monitor their financial behaviors. Hyper-personalization means cores need to be more flexible and adaptable, with streamlined processes that make updates to technology and features seamless.

The pandemic has challenged and complicated some customers’ ability to work with their banks, given that branches have undergone significant changes to operations to ensure the safety of staff and customers. In response, customers have had to rely more on customer service options in a digital environment — which can be a turn off for many. Many customers avoid using a chat function or calling a helpline at all costs, as they believe it will be a time suck or it will not resolve the issue. So in addition to building in hyper-personalized services, banks must also take these preferences into consideration as they assist customers by offering methods that best suit their preferences.

Nimble and robust from the bottom to the top
As banks continue working toward their goals for 2021, it is important they examine their current offerings against their roadmap for the future. By working with technology partners that create a one-stop shop for services, they can eliminate the need for multiple vendors and moving parts while tightening their security measures through nimble cloud-based solutions. Now is the time for banks to make the switch and evaluate how they can provide the highest level of banking for their customers.

How Banks Kept Customers During the Pandemic, Even Commercial Ones

Digital transformation and strategy are examined as part of Bank Director’s Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired. Click here to access the content on BankDirector.com.

Despite closed branches and masked interactions, the coronavirus pandemic may have actually improved customers’ relationships with their banks. They have digital channels to thank.

That’s a shift from the mentality pervading the industry before the pandemic. Business lines like commercial lending seemed firmly set in the physical world: a relationship-driven process with high-touch customer service. The Paycheck Protection Program from the U.S. Small Business Administration completely uprooted that approach. Banks needed to deliver loans “as fast as possible” to their small commercial customers, says Dan O’Malley, CEO of data and loan origination platform Numerated during Bank Director’s Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired. More than 100 banks are currently using the platform either for PPP applications or forgiveness.

The need for rapid adoption forced a number of community banks to aggressively dedicate enough resources to stand up online commercial loan applications. Sixty-five percent of respondents to Bank Director’s 2020 Technology Survey said their bank implemented or upgraded technology due to the coronavirus. Of those, 70% say their bank adopted technology to issue PPP loans. This experiment produced an important result: Business customers were all too happy to self-service their loan applications online, especially if it came from their bank of choice.

“Self-service changes in business banking will be driven by customer demand and efficiency,” O’Malley says, later adding: “Customers are willing to do the work themselves if banks provide them the tools.”

Digital capabilities like self-service platforms are one way for banks to meaningfully deepen existing relationships with commercial borrowers. Numerated found that borrowers, rather than bankers, completed 84% of PPP loan applications that were done using the company’s platform, and 94% of forgiveness applications. That is no small feat, given the complexity of the application and required calculations.

Those capabilities can carve out efficiencies by saving on data entry and input, requesting and receiving documentation, the occasional phone call and the elimination of other time-consuming processes. One regional bank that is “well known for being very relationship driven” was able to process 3,000 “self-service” PPP loan applications in a morning, O’Malley says. Standing up these systems helped community banks avoid customer attrition, or better yet, attract new customers, a topic that Bank Director magazine explored last year. Already, banks like St. Louis-based Midwest BankCentre are reaping the gains from digital investments. The $2.3 billion bank launched Rising Bank, an online-only bank, in February 2019, using fintech MANTL to open accounts online.

The impetus and inception for the online brand dates back more than three years, says President and CFO Dale Oberkfell during an Inspired By session. Midwest didn’t have a way to open accounts online, and it wanted to expand its customer base and grow deposits. It also didn’t want to replicate the branch experience of opening an account — Midwest wanted to compress the total time to three minutes or less, he says.

Creating the brand was quite an investment and undertaking. Still, Rising Bank has raised $160 million in deposits — as many deposits as 10 branches could — with only two additional employees.

“We didn’t spend the dollars we anticipated spending because of that efficiency,” Oberkfell says.

Midwest BankCentre is exploring other fintech partnerships to build out Rising Bank’s functionality and product lines. The bank is slated to add online loan portals for mortgages and home equity lines of credit — creating the potential for further growth and efficiencies while strengthening customer relationships. He adds that the bank is looking to improve efficiencies and add more tools and functionality for both customers and employees. And how are they going to fund all those technology investments?

Why, with the fees generated from PPP loans.

Keeping the Digital Accelerant Going

Digital transformation and strategy are further examined as part of Bank Director’s Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired, launched today on BankDirector.com. Click here to access the content.

The coronavirus pandemic has been an accelerant for digital bank transformations. Banks must now keep that fire going.

“There’s never been a more important time for bank executives to think strategically,” says Cornerstone Advisors cofounder Steve Williams. The pandemic accelerated digital transformation plans by about two to three years, he estimates. It will soon be up to opportunistic bankers to continue that transformation in order to better position their institutions for the future and increase shareholder value during what could be a prolonged economic recovery.

The pandemic’s impact on physical spaces like branches underscored the importance of digital channels, capabilities and products. No longer was it acceptable for institutions to tack digital offerings onto existing branch initiatives and force customers to do a cross-channel dance: Open an account or loan in the branch but service it online, for instance.

Going forward, outperformers will be the banks that successfully overhaul or transform legacy tech, expenses, buildings, organizational structures and vendor contracts into next-generation capabilities. Williams says smarter banks are led by executive teams with a focused strategy, that leverage data strategically and actively manage vendor partnerships, rather than relying on their core processors. They also attract the talent and skills that the bank will need in the future, rather than just filling the vacancies that exist today.

The first place that banks direct their energies and attention to continue their digital momentum is the legacy branch network, says Tim Reimink, a managing director at Crowe. Branches are expensive to operate, have been closed for an extended period of time and were potentially underperforming prior to the pandemic. Banks also have the data to prove that customers will continue banking with them if locations are closed, and that many are now comfortable using digital channels.

“Every single location must be evaluated,” says Crowe Senior Manager Robert Reggiannini. Executives should weigh the market opportunity, penetration and existing wallet share of small businesses and consumer customers, as well as how the branch fits in with the rest of the network. Rationalizing the network frees up capital to redeploy into digital transformation or other areas of operation that need greater investment in the post-pandemic economy.

Certainly some banks have gotten that message. It wasn’t uncommon to see banks across the country announce double-digit rationalizing efforts, often announcing they would cut 20%. In December 2020 alone, banks opened 43 branches but permanently closed 240, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. For the year, they opened 982 locations and closed 3,099.

Reducing the branch network will necessitate changes in how bank staff interact with customers, Reggiannini adds. Banks should not assume tellers at a branch will find the same success in the digital chat environment, call center or at in-person meetings conducted outside of the branch.

He says banks should train staff in developing the skills needed to service a customer outside of a branch and consider how they will manage and measure staff for flexibility and productivity. “Engagement with customers is going to be critical going forward,” Reggiannini says.

The branch network, and the foot traffic and relationships they used to attract, have been under pressure from digital banks, often focused on consumer and retail relationships. But Williams warns that the pandemic underlined the vulnerability of commercial relationships. Numerous fintechs competed successfully against banks in issuing Paycheck Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration, and a number of businesses are shifting more of their relationships to payment processors like Stripe and Square.

“Disruption will come to business banking – not as fast as retail banking but it’s coming,” Williams says. “If we lose the deposit and business relationship with commercial customers, will banks be able to keep their returns? We don’t think so.”

Inspired by The Joshua Tree

Thirty-four years ago, an Irish band came up with an album that sounded revolutionary for its time. U2’s “The Joshua Tree” went on to sell more than 25 million copies, firmly positioning it as one of the world’s best-selling albums. Hits like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” remain in heavy rotation on the radio, television and movies.

Talk about staying relevant. As it turns out, U2 has some wisdom for us all.

Relevance is one of those concepts that drives so many business decisions. For Bank Director, the term carries special importance, as we postpone our annual Acquire or Be Acquired Conference to January 30 through Feb. 1, 2022. In past years, this special event drew more than 1,300 bankers, bank directors and advisors to discuss concepts of relevance and competition in Phoenix.

While we wait for our return to the Arizona desert, we got to work on a new digital offering to fill the sizable peer-insight chasm that now exists.

The result: Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired.

This new, on-demand offering goes live on February 4. Available exclusively on BankDirector.com, it consists of timely short-form videos, CEO interviews, live “ask me anything”-type sessions and proprietary research. Topics range from raising capital to deal-making, pricing to culture and yes, technology’s continued impact on our industry.

Everything within this board-level intelligence package provides insight from exceptionally experienced investment bankers, attorneys, consultants, accountants, fintech executives and bank CEOs. So, with a nod towards Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) and his bandmates in U2, here’s a loose interpretation of how three of their songs from “The Joshua Tree” are relevant to bank leadership teams, together with our Spotify #AOBA21 playlist for your enjoyment.

With or Without You

(The question all dealmakers ask themselves.) 

Many aspects of an M&A deal are quantifiable: think dilution, valuation and cost savings. But perhaps the most important aspect — whether the deal ultimately makes strategic sense — is not. As regional banks continue to pair off with their peers, I talked with a successful dealmaker, D. Bryan Jordan, the CEO of First Horizon National Corp., about mergers of equals.

 

Where the Streets Have No Name

(Banks can help clients when they need it most.)

A flood of new small businesses emerged in 2020. In the third quarter 2020 alone, more than 1.5 million new business applications were filed in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly double the figure for the same period the year before. Small businesses need help from banks as they wander the streets of their new ventures. So, I asked Dorothy Savarese, the Chair and CEO of Cape Cod 5, how her community bank positions itself to help these new business customers. One part of her answer really resonated with me, as you’ll see in this short video clip.

 

Running to Stand Still

(Slow to embrace new opportunities? Don’t let this become your song.)

With the rising demand for more compelling delivery solutions, banks continue to find themselves in competition with technology companies. Here, open banking provides real opportunities for incumbents to partner with newer players. Ideally, such relationships provide customers greater ownership over their financial information, a point reinforced by Michael Coghlan, the CEO of BrightFi.

These short videos provide a snapshot of the conversations and presentations that will be available February 4. To find out more about Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired, I invite you to take a longer look at what’s on our two-week playlist.

Increasing Customer Engagement to Exceed Expectations

The new normal produced by the pandemic has underpinned the need for change and connection.

One impacted area are the adjustments organizations are making as they rediscover the benefits of connecting with consumers, rather than simply selling them a product. These businesses are on the right track, as one thing is becoming abundantly clear in the wake of Covid-19: This is not the time to solely sell and advertise.

While advertising and selling inevitably play a big role in business operations, companies are often too focused on these two aspects and it doesn’t always pay off. Now is the time to connect, reach and engage with consumers on a deeper level. The coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout has impacted nearly all areas of consumers’ lives, and their interactions and needs from their banks and financial institutions need to change as a result.

Focusing on advertising and selling may work for some organizations, but with growing consumer expectations, this just won’t do for banks. Customers choose banks partially because of their emphasis on customer service and will be annoyed if the institution tries to advertise or sell them a product that doesn’t match their financial needs.

Connection goes beyond having the best catchphrase or the sunniest stock photo. True engagement is driven by identifying customer needs and communicating relevant solutions, peaking their interest and building connections that will last.

Right now, traditional, product-focused promotional efforts and marketing don’t work because people’s daily lives have drastically changed. Their financial situations may have been altered. A more personal approach develops connections and loyalty that will last for years.

It is more important than ever that banks use customer and business intelligence effectively to promote relevant products and services. Some institutions may need to return to their roots and their initial goal: to serve their communities and the people that live in them. This approach may sound simplistic, but it can prove challenging to achieve.

And banks, like their customers, don’t want to merely survive this health crisis, they want to thrive in these unprecedented times. It takes a shift in strategy to do so. “In a matter of weeks, digital and mobile banking technologies went from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have.’” The pandemic was even the catalyst for tech adoption at some financial institutions. With the help of data-driven communication systems, one-on-one communication is both realistic and accessible. The massive drive for digital solutions allows banks to reassess digital access to products and services. This immediate boost in digital engagement offers a huge opportunity for institutions that are implementing digital marketing plans, perhaps for the first time.

Practically applied, banks need to turn to smart technology to create a clear path to build better customer relationships and return to the longstanding values of one-on-one communication. While this may seem straightforward, using forward-thinking, innovative technology as the way to “get back to their roots” is an approach not previously imagined by many bank executives.

Utilizing a data-driven digital infrastructure allows banks to reach customers personally, uniquely and instantly. Banks need to embrace comprehensive digital outreach to touch people where they are with the services they need most. Customers still need access to financial services, even if they are avoiding branch locations and ATM lines. The solution is simple: Be the bank that communicates what options are easily accessible and available to them. Be the branch that shows that they care. With the help of an intelligent digital experience platform and the right technology, banks can automate the relevant communications, so the right messages reach the right person at the right financial time for them.

The pandemic sparked a much-needed shift: from being overly focused on advertising, selling and pushing products and services to establishing and building better customer relationships, increasing customer engagement as well as gaining consumers’ trust and loyalty for years to come. Returning to your bank’s original mission of serving the community will give you the ability to target consumers at the exact right time in their financial journey – reaching each customer’s specific needs and allowing banks to engage with their customers.