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.

The Secret to Increasing Wallet Share

Quick, name a bank.

Did you name your bank, or another local or national bank? It is often easier for people to think of a national bank than a local one, thanks to name recognition through advertising and branches.

But as important as top of mind awareness is, staying top of wallet is even more important. When your organization comes to both customers and prospective customer’s minds, you increase the chances at becoming their primary financial institution (PFI).

At Wallit, we define PFI as a customer having an active checking account, a debit card and direct deposit with a financial institution. There are five ways banks can accomplish this objective, increase deposit growth and boost non-interest income in a way that maintains healthy, growing customer relationships.

1. Elevate the debit card. The debit card isn’t just a payment card, method or option. It is a powerful and valuable lifestyle tool that many community banks underutilize.

At the point of sale, consumers decide whether to use a credit or debit card, based on their own needs. They make this decision multiple times each day.

I’m sure that most community bank customers that have a checking account also have that bank’s debit card in their wallet. But do they use it? Do they use a competitor’s card? Do they reach for a credit card?

2. Be Visible. Consumers have more options than ever when choosing financial services providers. So many, in fact, that consumers actively avoid marketing and advertising. Community banks have to be more visible, but not pushy.

Look for opportunities to connect your brand to things your customers value by linking it to places that your customers already think deliver value. Connect your brand to local businesses in the communities you serve, building and growing relationships with these businesses.

Promoting local businesses and providing information people need extends your bank’s reach and gets your name out there. This also borrows the brand halo of those businesses and makes your brand top of mind and top of wallet in the process.

3. Capitalize on Connections. The best businesses succeed through collaboration. Leveraging current relationships and connecting local merchants to local consumers unlocks the trapped value of your bank in the digital age.

Your bank can create a sense of belonging for members of your community, with your institution at the center. Think about it this way – Connecting buyers and sellers is far more valuable than merely connecting the bank accounts of buyers and sellers.

4. Generate Word of Mouth. Consumers will always share what they think of brands, products and services with others in their network across a wide range of communication channels. These recommendations are highly credible and relevant; they’re generally more effective than the marketing and advertising your bank currently pays for.

The best tactic to generate word of mouth is to impress current customers with a card-linked, cash back offer when they visit one of your local businesses. Your customers already have your bank’s debit card with them, making it a tool for spreading positive word of mouth, building your brand and driving revenue by offering and rewarding unique, highly personal, share-worthy experiences.

5. Experiment. Create a culture of experimentation. Start small and learn fast. Having the courage to apply new technologies and reinvent existing ways of working can improve financial performance.

Develop and improve your bank’s ability to be hyper-relevant and serve customers more effectively by sensing and addressing their changing needs. Consider starting a pilot with employees, then extending to scale with a portion of your customers.

Increasing share of wallet and becoming a primary financial institution requires intention, commitment and experimentation.

By leveraging your bank’s current strengths and investing in your debit card and merchant services programs, such as offering and marketing cash back rewards to local businesses and consumers, you can tip the scale in your favor.

Customer Loyalty and the Competition for Stable Funding

It’s more important than ever for banks to compete on value and increase client loyalty.

Banks are increasing loan loss reserves to counteract eroding credit quality at the same time they are also contending with competitors’ high-yield savings accounts, which pay more than 0.60% APY in some cases. August’s consumer savings rate was 14%, albeit down from a high of nearly 34% in April.

It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of competing on value in this environment, even as cost-effective ways to retain funding are more necessary than ever.

When I managed cash and investment products for banks and brokerage firms, I was regularly asked to increase the interest rate we offered our clients — often because a large client was threatening to leave the firm. My response then is still relevant today: A client relationship is more than an interest rate. In fact, multiple research studies I’ve sponsored over my career showed that when it comes to their cash deposits, the majority of clients rank safety, in the form of deposit insurance protection, first; access to their cash when they need it second; and interest rate third.

It’s a given that the majority of banks are members of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and have debit cards linked to savings accounts, making clients’ funds accessible. According to the FDIC, the current average national savings rate at the end of October was 0.05% APY.

I ask potential bank partners the following key questions to understand what their strategy is to retain the excess deposits as long as possible on their balance sheet.

  • Does your bank create value with relationship pricing?
  • Does your institution have an easy-to-navigate website and app?
  • Can clients easily open an account online?
  • Does your bank offer a broad range of flexible products that meet clients’ cash needs?
  • When was the last time your institution launched an innovative savings product?

We’ve learned a lot about building more value for customers from successful consumer technology over the last few decades. Decisive points include that product attributes should be intuitive for use by front-line sales, be easily incorporated into a bank’s online experience, and allow clients to co-create a banking experience that meets their individual needs.

What would tech-inspired, easy-to-use, personalized products look like in retail banking?

Example 1:
A savings ladder strategy can meet clients’ needs for safety and access to their cash. This approach gains crucial additional value, however, when a bank deploys technology linking all the steps in the ladder into one account. Clients want to see what they’re getting in advance too: to test different inputs and compare potential strategies easily prior to  purchasing. Implementing new, individualized products should be as easy as clicking on the Amazon.com “Buy” button.

Example 2
In the face of economic uncertainty and job losses, many clients may look for flexibility. Some consumers will want to readily access cash for their already-known needs — for instance, parents with college-age children, small businesses, or homeowners with predictable renovation schedules. Advanced software lets banks meet these needs by creating customizable, fixed-term deposits with optimized rates that allow for flexible withdrawals.

Banks can consider adding value to their product offering beyond rate with time-deposit accounts that are easy for clients to implement and designed to meet their specific cash needs and terms. A product with such attributes both meets clients’ individualized needs and creates value in a competitive field.

Example 3
If a client prefers safety with some exposure to the market upside, a market-linked time deposit account also helps banks offer more value without increasing rate. An index or a basket of exchange traded funds can be constructed to align with your client’s values, which is especially attractive in today’s market. Consider the appeal of a time deposit account linked to a basket of green industry stocks, innovative technology companies, or any number of options for a segment of your clients. Offering products that align with your client’s broader worldview allows you to build a more holistic, longer-lasting relationship with them.

The ability to create customer value beyond rate will ultimately determine the long-term loyalty of banking clients. Fortunately, we can look to technology for successful models that show how to add value through simple, intuitive, and individual products. At the same time, tech already has many solutions, with software and IT services that banks can access to meet their clients’ personal needs, even at this challenging moment. Innovation has never been more relevant than now — as banks need to secure their communities, their client relationships, and their funding in a cost-effective manner.

The Promise, and Peril, of Risk Technology

The pandemic has underlined how essential risk technology is for proactive and responsive financial institutions.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, bank risk managers were already incorporating such technology to manage, sift and monitor various inputs and information. The pandemic has complicated those efforts to get a handle on emerging and persistent risks — even as it becomes increasingly critical to incorporate into day-to-day decision-making.

Data, and getting insights from it, has always been central to how risk managers have worked. That hasn’t changed,” says Sandeep Mangaraj, an industry executive at Microsoft who focuses on digital banking transformations.

Prior to the pandemic, concerns about operational risk had increased “somewhat” or “significantly” among 51% of CEOs, chief risk officers and directors responding to Bank Director’s 2020 Risk Survey, which was completed just before the pandemic. More than half also revealed heightened concerns around cybersecurity, credit and interest rate risk, and strategic risk.

That survey also found respondents indicating there was room for technology to improve their compliance with Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering rules (76%), know your customer (50%) requirements, and vendor management requirements.

One way executives and risk managers can keep up is by incorporating risk technology to help sift through reams of data to derive actionable insights. These technologies can create a unified view of risk across exposure types and aggregation levels — product, business line, region — so executives can see how risk manifests within the bank. Some of these solutions can also capture and provide real-time information, supplementing slower traditional sources or replacing end-of-day reports.

But the pandemic led more than half of respondents to Bank Director’s 2020 Technology Survey to alter or adjust their technology roadmaps — including 82% of respondents at institutions with more than $10 billion in assets. Two-thirds said they would upgrade existing technology; just 16% planned to add technology to improve regulatory compliance.

Artificial intelligence holds a lot of promise in helping banks more efficiently and effectively comply with regulations and manage risk. Many banks are still early in their risk technology journeys, and are working to identify areas or situations that can be serviced or assisted by risk technologies. Forty-six percent of respondents to Bank Director’s Technology Survey say they are not utilizing AI yet.

Those that have are applying it to situations like fraud monitoring, which generates large amounts of data that the bank can correlate and act on, Mangaraj says. Others have applied it to process intelligence and process improvement, or used it to enhance the control environment. Key to the success of any AI or risk-technology endeavor is finding the right, measurable application where a bank can capture value for heightened risk or capabilities.

“We have a client who uses AI to monitor trader conversations that can proactively flag any compliance issues that may be coming up,” he says. “There are lots and lots of ways in which you can start using it. Key is identify cases, make sure you have clear measurement of value, monitor it and celebrate it. Success breeds success.”

The addition and incorporation of innovative risk technologies coincides with many banks’ digital transformations. While these changes can often complement each other, they can also make it difficult for a bank to manage and measure its risk, or could even introduce risk.

A strong management team, effective controls and active monitoring of the results are essential keys to a bank’s success with these technology endeavors, says James Watkins, senior managing director at the Isaac-Milstein Group. Watkins served at the FDIC for nearly 40 years as the senior deputy director of supervisory examinations, overseeing the agency’s risk management examination program.

“It’s time for a fresh look of the safeguards and controls that banks have in place — the internal controls and the reliability of the bank system’s and monitoring apparatuses. All of those are extremely important,” he says.

Bank executives and boards of directors must have the processes and procedures in place to ensure they’re using this technology and contextualizing its outcomes in a prudent manner.

“I think the importance of general contingency planning, crisis management strategies, thinking strategically — these are all areas that boards of directors and senior management really need to be attuned to and be prepared for,” Watkins says.

Banks, Fintechs Uniting for Bottom-Line Wins

Banks have been losing consumer market share to fintechs for more than a decade. But in the middle of a pandemic, their focus has shifted to expediting consumer loan opportunities for balance sheet and bottom line wins. Why?

For one thing, deposit growth is well outpacing loan growth this year, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Quarterly Banking Profile. At the same time, tech companies like Apple and Amazon.com are dipping their big toes into the consumer finance industry. With less of a need to focus on growing bank deposits and an ever-growing list of competitors entering the lending market, banks should take — and are taking — more-calculated risks to maintain their relevance with digitally savvy customers at their points of financial need. To connect with prospective customers where they want to be reached, banks will need to rely on partners that can help them scale their offerings in a fast, frictionless and secure manner.

The easiest way for banks to lower customer acquisition costs and reach more prospective customers with loan opportunities is to use relevant plug-and-play technologies from fintechs. It’s hardly a new concept at this point; most leading banks have already adopted this methodology as the way to unlock more revenue. Per the Global Fintech Report, 94% of financial services companies said they were confident that fintechs would help grow their company’s revenue over the next two years; 95% of technology companies said the same.

The banks struggling to justify the need to partner are missing the big picture: growth opportunities and low-hanging fruit. Take business clients as an example. Far too many banks wait for a business to become frustrated at competitors before competing to win their business. A fintech partnership can help banks go on the offensive and create a strategy that positions businesses as the face of financing by offering point-of-need lending to consumers, driving revenue for the business and improving the bottom line at the bank.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – American industrial and business magnate Henry Ford

Being open-minded about fintech partnerships allows banks to offer valuable and attractive services to business clients and consumers, especially at a time when both are faced with a life-altering pandemic and natural disasters. Consumers need quick access to credit at reasonable rates; in the face of excess liquidity from deposits and a continued low-rate environment, banks should be look to provide better loans for their customers than their online finance competitors.

Banks that choose not to use fintechs partners may find themselves lacking the ability to get embedded into consumer loan deals and unable to offer consumers a frictionless experience during the process. They can’t leverage alternative data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to get a more-accurate portrayal of a consumer’s creditworthiness outside of their FICO credit scores. Accessing value-add technology and creative solutions allows banks to innovate rapidly to improve efficiencies and meet the future needs of businesses and consumers.

Fintechs have demonstrated their ability to meet banks’ third-party standards. Banks sitting on the partnership sidelines are cautioned to set aside their “sword and shield” mentality in favor of an approach that’s more inviting and open to collaborative innovation. Today’s current economic environment can act as a catalyst for this change.

Banks have proven they are capable of being highly responsive to meet business and consumer needs during recent challenges. This is an opportunity for them to think differently and invest in partnerships to quickly offer new experiences as demand for financial products and services increases.

Coronavirus Makes Community Count in Banking

In the face of an economic shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, small banks stepped up in a big way to ensure local businesses received government aid.

Over the past 50 years, the American community bank has become a threatened species. Yet these institutions rose to the occasion amid the coronavirus-induced economic shutdown. The Small Business Administration reported that 20% of loans made in the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, were funded by banks with less than $1 billion in assets, and 60% were funded by banks with less than $10 billion in assets. In total, the first round of lending delivered $300 billion to 1.7 million businesses.

There were just 5,177 bank or savings institutions insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp at the end of 2019 —a fraction of the 24,000 commercial banks in the U.S. in 1966. The majority of these institutions were local, community banks, some with only a single branch serving their market. But over the past 25 years, the banking industry has increasingly become the domain of large conglomerates that combine commercial banking, retail banking, investment banking, insurance, and securities trading under one roof.

Technology has accelerated this consolidation further as consumers select the institutions they can most easily access through their smartphone. Deposit market share tells this story most starkly: in 2019, over 40% of total assets were held by the four largest banks alone. From 2013 to 2017, total deposits at banks with assets of less than $1 billion fell by 7.5%.

Despite that erosion, small banks were willing and able to help hurting businesses. After the dust settled from the initial round of PPP loans, many of the nation’s largest banks faced lawsuits alleging they prioritized larger, more lucrative loans over those to small businesses with acute need.

Community banks filled in the gaps. USA Today reported that a food truck business with a long relationship with Wells Fargo & Co., but couldn’t get a banker on the phone during the second round of PPP. Instead, Bank of Colorado, a community bank in Fort Collins, Colorado, with about $5 billion in assets, funded their loan.

Another one of those banks, Evolve Bank & Trust, an institution with about $600 million in assets based in Memphis, Tennessee, answered the calls of customers and non-customers alike. Architecture firm Breland-Harper secured a loan through Evolve; firm principal Michael Breland the called the funds “crucial in meeting payroll.” Special education program The Center for Learning Unlimited was turned away at 15 banks for a PPP loan. Evolve funded their loan within days.

The coronavirus pandemic has proven two things for small financial institutions. First, community still counts — and it may expand beyond a bank’s local community. A bank’s willingness to work with small businesses and organizations proved to be the most important factor for many businesses seeking loans. Small banks were willing and able to serve these groups even as the nation’s biggest bank by assets, JPMorgan Chase & Co., reportedly advised many PPP loan applicants to look elsewhere at some points.

As big banks grow bigger, their interest in and ability to serve small businesses may fade further. The yoga studio, the restaurant and the small business accounting firm, may be best served by a community bank.

Second, community banks were empowered by technology. Technology is a lever with which big banks pried away small bank customers, but it was also crucial to small banks’ success amid the PPP program. Because of the pandemic many small banks accelerated innovation and digital solutions. During the crisis, Midwest BankCentre, a community bank in St. Louis with $2.3 billion in assets, fast-tracked the implementation of digital account openings for businesses, something they did not have in place previously.

By tapping tools created by fintech companies, small banks can use technology to support their efforts to assist the nation’s small businesses during and beyond these uncertain times.