How Innovative Banks Are Reimagining the Core


core-7-10-19.pngNew developments in technology have heightened bank customers’ expectations of speed, service and customization from their financial institutions—and cores are struggling to keep up.

Consumer expectations for banks are so high that it’s difficult—if not impossible—to meet them using existing core banking systems. Luckily, the landscape of core providers is growing rapidly too, and some banks are already taking the plunge.

The “Big Three” core providers as they’re known in the industry—Fiserv, Jack Henry & Associates and Fidelity National Information Services—serve just over 71 percent of U.S. banks according to data company FedFis. They’re criticized for providing poor service and lagging significantly behind smaller, more nimble fintechs when it comes to innovation. And their recent acquisition streaks have bank clients worried that it could erode service levels, reduce choice and increase cost.

James “Chip” Mahan III, chairman and CEO of Live Oak Bancshares, described the situation aptly: “It just seemed like every time we wanted to do something, it’s impossible. It’s ‘stand in line and write a big check.’ And it’s really, fundamentally, putting lipstick on a pig.”

That’s why the bank, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, invested in an emerging competitor—Finxact—and courted creators and industry veterans Frank and Michael Sanchez out of semi-retirement to take on the challenge of reinventing the core.

Finxact is an inventory management system that’s been architected from scratch on Amazon Web Services. Finxact and other alternative core providers offer three key features that banks should demand from a 21st century core processor.

Open Architecture
Nearly every core has some type of application programming interface (API) that allows its technology to connect to third-party applications, though the availability of those APIs is still tightly controlled in legacy systems.

Most challenger cores embrace open architecture—a quality that stands in stark contrast to the situation with incumbent cores. Deland, Florida based Surety Bank wasn’t able to negotiate with its legacy provider to use a third-party remote deposit capture solution.

CEO Ryan James says that was “a deal killer” because the bank does a large volume of deposits with that provider, had tailored it to their needs and had undergone examinations with it as well.

“It just was absurd that [our legacy core] didn’t even want to take that file, because they were greedy. They wanted to charge the [remote deposit] rates on that even though they couldn’t do what we needed,” he says. “That was an eye opener.”

Surety Bank eventually chose to undergo a full core conversion. It only took four months for the bank to launch on a cloud-based system from NYMBUS at the beginning of 2018.

Cloud Native
In addition to featuring open architecture, many challenger cores are cloud native. Although most legacy cores have some ability to run some of their system within a cloud environment, truly cloud-native companies offer banks greater advantages.

“There are different services that the cloud provides that will enable you to scale without drastically increasing your costs,” says Eugene Danilkis, co-founder and CEO of Berlin-based core technology provider Mambu. “That allow [cores] to have the best practices in terms of security, in terms of disaster recovery and also the sort of operations you can support.”

One of the operational advantages a cloud-native system provides is the ability to deploy updates within a day or two, Danilkis says.

Being cloud native is synonymous with scalability; a system can handle one hundred accounts as easily as it can handle one hundred thousand. This significant benefit means core providers don’t need to charge banks for each new account or service they add, and often use software-as-a-service models or other simple, transparent pricing schemes.

Configurable
Perhaps the most important hallmark of a modern core system is configurability. Modern cores give banks the ability to create their own ecosystems, workflows and bespoke financial products that differentiate them from competitors.

Banks on a core like Finxact could build a new type of savings account that automatically raises its interest rate when the balance reaches a certain level. In contrast, legacy cores only offer out-of-the-box products that can be tweaked to meet a bank’s risk appetite or other basic requirements, without changing the product.

Changing the Game
Modern core processors approach banking technology in radically different ways from legacy core providers. They’ve built new systems from scratch, instead of bolting on acquired products. They run in realtime instead of overnight batches. They look and feel like websites instead of flat green screens. They’re open, cloud-native and highly configurable—and they’re finally coming into their own. Innovative banks should explore these options now so that they can leapfrog their peers in the near future.

Potential Technology Partners

Finxact

Currently in limited use at Live Oak Bancshares and engaged in discussions with several other U.S. banks.

NYMBUS

The SmartCore platform is powering at least one community bank, and its SmartLaunch product uses SmartCore to support digital-only brands for additional institutions.

EdgeVerve

The Infosys Finacle core is used in over 100 countries and made waves in the U.S. when Discover Financial Services left Fiserv to use this core for its direct banking business in late 2014.

Smiley Technologies

The SIBanking platform is currently in use in several U.S. banks with assets up to $1.3 billion.

Thought Machine

This London-based company wrote its cloud-native Vault core from scratch. The company states that it has clients in the U.S., but is unable to identify them publicly.

Mambu

Mambu has bank clients in 15 countries. In the U.S., current clients include non-bank lenders, and the company is planning to use its latest funding round, in part, to grow its footprint in the U.S.

Mbanq

The founder of NYMBUS just joined this operation to help the company expand into the U.S. They currently serve 15 banks primarily in Europe and Asia.

Learn more about each of the technology providers in this piece by accessing their profiles in Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect platform.

How U.S. Bank Helps Distressed Borrowers


mortgage-7-4-18.pngLike many lenders during the Great Recession, U.S. Bank found itself with a large number of mortgage loan borrowers who couldn’t keep up with their payments, and it had little help to offer. This was bad for the bank and borrowers alike because mortgage loans that went into default often ended up in foreclosure, which drove up the bank’s costs while putting the borrower at risk of losing their home.

Scott Rodeman, a senior vice president for consumer loan servicing who joined the Minneapolis-based bank in 2014, knew there were resources available to distressed borrowers from his experience at a previous bank employer, and he reached out to SpringFour, a 13-year-old company headquartered in Chicago. SpringFour acts as a conduit to agencies and organizations that work directly with borrowers having trouble making their loan payments because of other financial issues, like the loss of a job or mounting medical bills from a serious illness.

“Coming out of the mortgage crisis, mortgage servicers were somewhat limited in how they could help their homeowners…stay in their homes,” says Rodeman, who is responsible or U.S. Bank’s mortgage, auto and consumer loan collections, repossession, recovery and loss mitigation operations. The bank could offer solutions to homeowners who still had some cash flow, but it had little advice for those who couldn’t even make a partial payment. “Really, our loan counselors had very few options to help them improve their financial cash flow to pay for home-related expenses, housing and things like that,” Rodeman says.

That’s where SpringFour comes in. The company provides a cloud-based technology solution called the S4 Desktop that allows lenders like U.S. Bank to refer distressed borrowers to nonprofit organizations and government agencies that can help them get their financial affairs in order. “When people get behind and can’t pay their bills, it’s really because of something that’s happening in their financial lives,” says SpringFour CEO and co-founder Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey. “There’s a lot of shame attached to financial challenges, so they don’t reach out and get help. We believe that when people are living paycheck to paycheck, they need and deserve to be connected to local resources that can help.”

U.S. Bank and SpringFour were co-finalists in Bank Director’s 2018 Best of FinXTech Innovative Solution of the Year award.

The S4 Desktop solution can be accessed by U.S. Bank service representatives by logging into the service via the web. From there, they can direct the borrower to agencies and organizations that can help that individual work through their financial crisis. A link to SpringFour can also be found on the U.S. Bank website. The SpringFour database contains over 10,000 resources in all 50 states, and Gorey says her firm is constantly vetting and curating the data to keep it up to date. “We have a professional data team that is assessing the nonprofits for track record, reputation, funding and capacity to assist,” she says. “We’ve built a strong track record of trust with our financial institution clients. They know when they make a referral through SpringFour, it’s going to be accurate.”

Because the S4 solution is cloud-based, there were no implementation issues to speak of, according to Rodeman. “There was no technical work or development work really,” he says. “It was all customer-facing edits to our existing processes. Then, of course, training our employees to offer the service and manage that just like any other call center function.”

U.S. Bank has been working with SpringFour for about two years, and Rodeman says the program has shown tangible results. “Consumers that receive these referrals are twice as likely to engage in some kind of loan workout strategy with us rather than just allow the house to go into foreclosure,” he says. “That’s a significant number.” Mortgage borrowers that receive referrals are also 10 percent more likely to remain current with their mortgage. An equally important if less tangible benefit is that the program has enabled the bank to build a deeper relationship with its customers. “Coming out of the crisis, consumers were afraid of their mortgage servicers,” says Rodeman. “For us to see that kind of engagement rate increase shows that we’re building rapport and trust with our customers.”

If U.S. Bank had access to the SpringFour program during the mortgage crisis, Rodeman believes it would have helped reduce the number of foreclosures. The economy is much healthier today, of course. But even now there are borrowers who need help making their loan payments, “Based on our numbers in an improving economy, I don’t see why it wouldn’t have [helped] back then.”