Harness the Power of Tech to Win Business Banking

The process for opening a consumer account at most financial institutions is pretty standard. It’s not uncommon for banks to provide a fully digital account opening experience for retail customers, while falling back on manual and fragmented processes for business accounts.

Common elements in business account opening include contact forms, days of back-and-forth communication or trips to a branch, sending documents via secure email systems that require someone to set up a whole new account and a highly manual document review process once the bank finally receives those files. This can take anywhere from days to multiple weeks for complex accounts.

Until very recently, the greatest competitor for banks in acquiring and growing business accounts was other banks. But in recent years, digital business banks have quickly emerged as a more formidable competitor. And these digital business banks empower users to open business accounts in minutes.

We researched some of the top digital business banks to learn more about how these companies are winning the business of small businesses. We discovered there are three key ways digital banks are rapidly growing by acquiring business accounts:

1. Seamless, intuitive user experiences. Business clients can instantly open accounts from a digital bank website. There’s no need to travel to a branch or pick up a phone; all documents can be submitted online.
2. Leveraging third-party technology. Digital banks aren’t building their own internal tech stacks from the ground up. They’re using best-in-class workflow tools to construct a client onboarding journey that is streamlined from end to end.
3. Modern aesthetics. Digital business banks use design and aesthetics to their advantage by featuring bright and engaging colors, clean user interfaces and exceptional branding.

The result? Digital banks are pushing their more traditional counterparts to grow and innovate in ways never before experienced in financial services.

Understanding what small businesses need from your bank
A business account is a must-have for any small business. But a flashy brand and a great user experience aren’t key to opening an account. Small businesses are really looking for the right tools to help them run their business.

While digital banks offer a seamless online experience, community banks shouldn’t sell themselves short. Traditional banks have robust product offerings and the unique ability to deal with more complex needs, which many businesses require. Some of the ways businesses need their financial institutions to help include:

  • Banking and accounting administration.
  • Financing, especially when it comes to invoices and loan repayment.
  • Rewards programs based on their unique needs.
  • Payments, specifically accepting more forms of payment without fees.

It’s important to keep in mind that your bank can’t be all things to all clients. Your expertise in your particular geography, industry or offerings plays a huge role in defining your niche in business banking. It’s what a lot of fintechs — including most digital banks — do: identify a specific niche audience and need, solve the need with technology, and let it go viral.

While digital banks might snap up basic small and medium businesses, the bar to compete in the greater market is not as high as perceived — especially when it comes to differentiated, high-risk complex entities. But it requires a shift in thinking, and the overlaying the right tech on top of the power of a community based financial institution.

It’s important that community bank executives adopt a smart, agile approach when choosing technology partners. To avoid vendor lock-in, explore technologies with integration layers that can seamlessly plug new software into your bank’s core, loan origination system, digital banking treasury management system and all other platforms and services. This means your bank can adopt whatever new tech is best for your business, without letting legacy vendors effectively dictate what you can or can’t do.

Your level of success in winning at digital banking comes down to keeping the client in focus and providing the best experiences for their ongoing needs with the right technology. While the account itself might be a commodity, the journeys, services and offerings your bank provides to small businesses are critical to growing and nurturing your client base.

3 Ways to Drive Radical Efficiency in Business Lending

Community banks find themselves in a high-pressure lending environment, as businesses rebound from the depths of the pandemic and grapple with inflation levels that have not been seen for 40 years.

This economic landscape has created ample opportunity for growth among business lenders, but the rising demand for capital has also invited stiffer competition. In a crowded market, tech-savvy, radically efficient lenders — be they traditional financial institutions or alternative lenders — will outperform their counterparts to win more relationships in an increasingly digitizing industry. Banks can achieve this efficiency by modernizing three important areas of lending: Small Business Administration programs, small credits and self-service lending.

Enhancing SBA Lending
After successfully issuing Paycheck Protection Program loans, many financial institutions are considering offering other types of SBA loans to their business customers. Unfortunately, many balk at the risk associated with issuing government-backed loans and the overhead that goes along with them. But the right technology can create digital guardrails that help banks ensure that loans are documented correctly and that the collected data is accurate — ultimately reducing work by more than 75%.

When looking for tools that drive efficiency in SBA lending, bank executives should prioritize features like guided application experiences that enforce SBA policies, rules engines that recommend offers based on SBA eligibility and platforms that automatically generate execution-ready documents.

Small Credits Efficiencies
Most of the demand for small business loans are for credits under $100,000; more than half of such loans are originated by just five national lenders. The one thing all five of these lenders have in common is the ability to originate business loans online.

Loans that are less than $100,000 are customer acquisition opportunities for banks and can help grow small business portfolios. They’re also a key piece of creating long-term relationships that financial institutions covet. But to compete in this space, community institutions need to combine their strength in local markets with digital tools that deliver a winning experience.

Omnichannel support here is crucial. Providing borrowers with a choice of in person, online or over-the-phone service creates a competitive advantage that alternative lenders can’t replicate with an online-only business model.

A best-in-class customer experience is equally critical. Business customers’ expectations of convenience and service are often shaped by their experiences as consumers. They need a lending experience that is efficient and easy to navigate from beginning to end.

It will be difficult for banks to drive efficiency in small credits without transforming their sales processes. Many lenders began their digital transformations during the pandemic, but there is still significant room for continued innovation. To maximize customer interactions, every relationship manager, retail banker, and call center employee should be able to begin the process of applying for a small business loan. Banks need to ensure their application process is simple enough to enable this service across their organization.

Self-Service Experiences
From credit cards to auto financing to mortgages, a loan or line of credit is usually only a few clicks away for consumers. Business owners who are seeking a new loan or line of credit, however, have fewer options available to them and can likely expect a more arduous process. That’s because business banking products are more complicated to sell and require more interactions between business owners and their lending partners before closing documents can be signed.

This means there are many opportunities for banks to find efficiency within this process; the right technology can even allow institutions to offer self-service business loans.

The appetite for self-service business loans exists: Two years of an expectation-shifting pandemic led many business borrowers to prioritize speed, efficiency and ease of use for all their customer experiences — business banking included. Digitizing the front end for borrowers provides a modern experience that accelerates data gathering and risk review, without requiring an institution to compromise or modify their existing underwriting workflow.

In the crowded market of small business lending, efficiency is an absolute must for success. Many banks have plenty of opportunities to improve their efficiency in the small business lending process using a number of tools available today. Regardless of tech choice, community banks will find their best and greatest return on investment by focusing on gains in SBA lending, small credits and self-service lending.

The Key to Creating Transformational Financial Products, Services

Banks need to offer products that address unmet needs of current and prospective customers to gain a meaningful competitive advantage and retain market share.

But upgrading the “front end” experience is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to competing in this increasingly crowded financial services landscape. Still, this can often be a nearly impossible step for banks with legacy delivery and core systems; these dated technologies typically don’t enable banks to customize products and services or have the combination of capabilities that they require to meet niche needs of customers.

To truly launch impactful products and services, banks must first fully understand who their customers are and where the gaps lie. This doesn’t just mean creating generic customer segments, such as Generation Z, urban dwellers and mass affluent, among others. It means determining niche groups based on their unmet needs. It’s time to look beyond traditional demographics like age, household income, gender and life cycle to uncover narrow customer behaviors.

Executives can ascertain such insight from mining many data sources, including the bank’s delivery channels, payment systems and core banking systems. However, it’s often necessary for banks to identify and use previously untapped data sources as well, such as payroll, assets or even health insurance. To effectively do so, banks must have the proper infrastructure and technology in place. But facing existing challenges like constraints on resources and tech talent shortages, many financial institutions instead rely on trusted fintech partnerships to collect, organize and analyze the data.

Once banks or their partners analyze the data, they can form niche groups based on what unique user needs are not being met with traditional financial services. This segmentation gives banks the opportunity to provide new value for those customers by offering meaningful, relevant features or products that can fill the gaps. This is a stark contrast to the generic mass mailing offer for a debit card or auto loan that some institutions send out on a regular basis.

For example, some customers value sustainability as one their core principles. These customers might drive hybrid cars, only shop at small businesses or prefer organic produce. Banks can use this insight to create empathetic products and services that support these customers’ lifestyles and beliefs. Maybe the bank decides to provide loans for purchases that directly support clean energy. Such innovative products and services show that the bank understands and shares their customers’ values, building stronger customer relationships.

Or, consider that a bank uncovers a niche group of young adults that tend to take advantage of buy now, pay later (BNPL) services. To meet this group’s specific needs, a bank might develop a feature within its digital banking interface that notifies the user when a new BNPL charge appears on their statement. The bank could provide a more holistic view of the customers’  BNPL purchases and upcoming payments by tracking and categorizing each purchase. Or, perhaps the bank could recommend credit cards to help build the user’s credit instead of using BNPL programs. In these scenarios, the bank is offering products and services that meet this niche group’s specific situation and needs.

In both examples, the new products and services resonated with customers because they demonstrate the institution’s empathetic understanding of the niche group’s unmet needs. These are the types of digital transformations banks need in order to remain competitive in a landscape full of disruptors. Those banks that are carefully evaluating their data, launch products and services designed for niche groups and are tapping trusted, proven consultants and fintech partners for analysis and development when needed will be well positioned to increase wallet share and increase and deepen customer loyalty.

Should You Invest in a Venture Fund?

Community banks needing to innovate are hoping they can gain an edge — and valuable exposure — by investing in venture capital funds focused on early-stage financial technology companies.

Investing directly or indirectly in fintechs is a new undertaking for many community banks that may lack the expertise or bandwidth to take this next step toward innovation. VC funds give small banks a way to learn about emerging technologies, connect with new potential partners and even capture some of the financial upside of the investment. But is this opportunity right for all banks?

The investments can jump start “a virtuous circle” of improvements and returns, Anton Schutz, president at Mendon Capital Advisors Corp., argues in the second quarter issue of Bank Director magazine. Schutz is one of the partners behind Mendon Ventures’ BankTech Fund, which has about 40 banks invested as limited partners, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

If there is a return, it might not appear solely as a line item on the bank’s balance sheet, in other words. A bank that implements the technology from a fintech following a fund introduction might become more effective or productive or secure over time. The impact of these funds on bank innovation could be less of a transformation and more of an evolution — if the investments play out as predicted.

But these bets still carry drawbacks and risks. Venture capital dollars have flocked to the fintech space, pushing up valuations. In 2021, $1 out of every $5 in venture capital investments went to the fintech space, making up 21% of all investments, according to CB Insight’s Global State of Venture report for 2021. Participating in a VC fund might distract management teams from their existing digital transformation plan, and the investments could fail to produce attractive returns — or even record a loss.

Bank Director has created the following discussion guide for boards at institutions that are exploring whether to invest in venture capital funds. This list of questions is by no means exhaustive; directors and executives should engage with external resources for specific concerns and strategies that are appropriate for their bank.

1. How does venture capital investing fit into our innovation strategy?
How do we approach innovation and fintech partnerships in general? How would a fund help us innovate? Do we expect the fund to direct our innovation, or do we have a clear strategy and idea of what we need?

2. What are we trying to change?
What pain points does our institution need to solve through technology? What solutions or fintech partners have we explored on our own? Do we need help meeting potential partners from a VC fund, or can we do it through other avenues, such as partnering with an accelerator or attending conferences?

3. What fund or funds should we invest in?
What venture capital funds are raising capital from community bank investors? Who leads and advises those funds? What is their approach to due diligence? Do they have nonbank or big bank investors? What companies have they invested in, and are those companies aligned with our values? What is the capital commitment to join a fund? Should we join multiple funds?

4. What is our risk tolerance?
What other ways could we use this capital, and what would the return on investment be? How important are financial returns? What is our risk tolerance for financial losses? Is our due diligence approach sufficient, or do we need some assistance?

5. What is our bandwidth and level of commitment?
What do we want to get out of our participation in a fund? Who from our bank will participate in fund calls, meetings or conferences? Would the bank use a product from an invested fintech, and if so, who would oversee that implantation or collaboration with the fintech? Do bank employees have the bandwidth and skills to take advantage of projects or collaborations that come from the fund?

Busting Community Bank Credit Card Myths

Credit card programs continue to be among the most significant opportunities for the nation’s largest banks; is the same true for community banks?

After a slowdown in 2020, credit card applications grew back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. It is projected that credit cards will experience strong growth in 2022, particularly in small business and commercial segments. While a few community banks recognize the business opportunity in credit cards, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports, over 83% do not own any credit card assets on their books.

The potential rewards of issuing credit cards are huge. Customers who have more financial products with their bank show improved retention, with more activity across the products, leading to higher profitability. It can help community banks serve their local community and improve their customers’ financial health. And community banks can realize a high return on assets (ROA) from their credit card program.

Despite these benefits, community bank executives hold back their institutions from issuing credit cards due to several myths and misconceptions about the space. Credit card issuing is no easy task — but with available technology and servicing innovations makes it possible to bust these myths.

Myth 1: The Upfront Investment is Too High
While it would be a significant investment for a financial institution to put together a credit card program from scratch, there is no need to do that. A bank can leverage capabilities built and offered by companies who offer credit cards as a service. In fact, community banks need to make little to no upfront investment to add innovative solutions to their offerings.

Myth 2: Customers are Well Served by Agent Banks
In the past, many community banks opted to work with an agent bank to offer credit cards because it was the only option available. But participating in an agent bank referral program meant they essentially lost their customer relationship to the issuing bank. Additionally, the community banks cannot make their own credit decisions or access the credit card data for their own customers in this model. Alternative options means that banks should consider whether to start or continue their agent bank credit card offering, and how it could affect their franchise in the long run.

Myth 3: Credit Card Programs are Too Risky
A handful of community banks have chosen to issue subprime credit cards with high fees and interest rates — and indeed have higher risk. However, sub-prime lending is not the focus of vast majority of community banks. Relationship lending is key; credit cards are a great product to deepen the relationships with customers. Relationship-based credit card portfolios tend to have lower credit losses compared to national credit card programs, particularly in economic downturns. This can provide comfort to conservative bankers that still want to serve their customers.

Myth 4: Credit Card Programs are Unprofitable
This could not be further from the truth. The average ROA ratio overall for banks increased from 0.72% in 2020 to 1.23% in 2021, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; credit cards could be five times more profitable. In fact, business credit cards and commercial cards tend to achieve an ROA of 8% or higher. Commercial cards, in particular, are in high demand and expected to grow faster due to digital payment trends that the pandemic accelerated among businesses. Virtual cards provide significant benefits to businesses; in turn, they increase spend volume and lead to higher interchange and lower risk to the bank.

Myth 5: Managing Credit Cards is Complex, Time-Consuming and Expensive
Banks can bust this myth by partnering with a organizations that specialize in modern technology and program management of credit cards. There is technology available across all card management disciplines, including origination, credit decision making, processing, sales/servicing interfaces, detailed reporting, integrated rewards, marketing and risk management. Partners can provide expertise on policies and procedures that banks will require for the program. Community banks can launch and own credit card programs in 120 days or less with innovative turnkey solutions — no new hires required.

Considering the past challenges and perceptions about credit cards, it is no surprise that these misconceptions persist. But the future of credit cards for community banks is bright. Community banks armed with knowledge and foresight will be positioned for success in credit cards. Help from the right expertise will allow them to enhance their customer experiences while enjoying high profitability in the long run.

How to Build a Bank From Scratch

Corey LeBlanc is best known as the man behind the @InkedBanker Twitter handle, inspired by his affection for tattoos. He’s also co-founder, chief operating officer and chief technology officer of Locality Bank, a newly chartered digital bank based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the interview below, which has been edited for length, clarity and flow, he talks about the value of standing out and the process of standing up a de novo digital bank.

BD: How did you become known as the InkedBanker?
CL: A few years ago, Jim Marous, co-publisher of The Financial Brand, told me that I had to get on Twitter. When my wife and I created the profile, we needed something that made sense. I’ve had tattoos since I was 18 – full sleeves on both arms, on my back and chest — so that’s what we picked. It’s turned out to be incredibly important for my career. People remember me. It gives me an edge and helps me stand out in an industry where it’s easy to get lost in the mix.

             Corey LeBlanc, Locality Bank

BD: What’s your vision for Locality Bank?
CL: The best way to think about Locality is as a digital bank that’s focused on the south Florida market. There’s a void left in a community after its locally owned banks are either bought by bigger, out-of-state rivals or grow so much that they no longer pay attention to their legacy markets. Our vision is to fill that void using digital distribution channels.

BD: Was it hard to raise capital?
CL: Not especially. Our CEO, Keith Costello, has been a banker for many years and was able to raise an initial $1.8 million in December 2020 from local investors to get us off the ground. We later went back to that same group to raise the actual capital for the bank, and they committed another $18 million. Altogether, including additional investors, we raised $35 million between October and November of 2021. Because that was more than the $28 million we had committed to raise, we had to go back to the regulators to make adjustments to our business plan, which delayed our opening.

BD: How long did it take to get your charter?
CL: It was about 10 months. We filed our charter application on St. Patrick’s Day of 2021. We received our conditional approvals from the state in mid-September, and then we had our conditional approval from the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] in early November. Our full approval came on Jan. 11, 2022.

BD: What was it like working with the regulators?
CL: You hear bankers say that regulators make everything difficult and stop you from doing what you want to do. But we didn’t find that to be the case. Just the opposite. They served more like partners to us. They worked with us to fine-tune our business plan to better meet the needs of the customers and markets we’re targeting, while still trying to accomplish our original objectives.

BD: What’s your go-to-market strategy?
CL: We’re going to be a lend-first institution. Our primary focus is on the south Florida commercial market — small to medium-sized businesses all the way up to early stage, larger enterprises. We’ll expand as we grow, but we want to be hyper-focused on serving that market. To start out, we’re offering two commercial accounts: a basic commercial checking account and a money market account. Then we’ll expand to providing accounts with more sophisticated capabilities as well as [Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts] for lawyers. Because of the markets we’re in, those two accounts are absolutely necessary.

BD: As a new bank, how do you ensure that you’re making good loans?
CL: It was a top priority for us to recruit good, trusted bankers who understand that you need to balance the needs of the bank and the needs of the market. The bankers we’ve hired know how to do that. On top of this, if you can get a banker who’s been successful with the tool set that most traditional institutions give them, and then you give them a better set of tools, imagine the experience that you’re creating for those bankers and their customers. You’re empowering them to do something exponentially greater than they could in the past. And by giving them that set of tools, you’ve now inspired and motivated them to push even further and start challenging systems that otherwise they would have never challenged. We see it very much as a virtuous circle.

Preventing the 3 ROI Killers in Digital Transformation From the Start

Digital transformation at community banks is often a complicated, time-consuming and costly process.

With the right approach, however, community banks can increase the value and return on investment of their digital transformation initiatives. The key to maximizing ROI is to take a systematic approach and avoid common pitfalls that could become barriers to success.

Any technology investment that a bank makes needs to meet — rather than hinder — its business goals. Adopting a customer-centric point of view and proceeding incrementally are essential to ensure a successful outcome. Digital transformation is ultimately about future-proofing the business, so it’s critical to choose technologies that can grow, scale and evolve.

The three most common ROI killers in digital transformation are:

  • Doing too much, too quickly.
  • Failing to connect with the customer.
  • Not selecting a connected and experienced partner.

Doing Too Much Too Quickly
The number and variety of technology solutions for the banking industry to choose from is nothing short of mind-boggling. But successful digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Not all features are suitable for every bank’s needs or budget — or their customers.

Resist becoming blinded by the shiny objects some vendors will flash. Buying into all the bells and whistles isn’t always necessary at the outset of a transformation initiative. If the implementation fails, it will kill any ROI and team morale, and risks overloading staff and systems with immature solutions before the bank has confirmed they work.

A better strategy is implementing features and solutions incrementally using process improvement and customer satisfaction to quantify value. Taking smaller steps improves stakeholder buy-in and allows a bank to test-drive new initiatives with customers. Taking smaller steps towards digital transformation: implementing sidecar offerings and managed services instead of ripping out and replacing cores or launching products that the bank can’t fully support. New offerings must enable value without losing quality, security or customer satisfaction. Bank executives should establish clear and measurable key performance indicators to track progress, and only move on to the next step when the first is satisfied. There are few things worse than investing in technology that is too difficult to use or doesn’t achieve promised results.

Failing to Connect with the Customer
Misaligning technology choices with customer preference and digital banking needs sets up almost any initiative for failure before it’s out of the starting gate.

Banks typically cater to a broad demographic, making research and strategic planning critical at the procurement stage. Focusing implementations on tools favored by one specific group but not by others limits an organization’s capabilities and alienating others in the process. Customers groups have their own particular concerns and preferences, and it can be challenging to apply a single strategy that pleases everyone.

To avoid this pitfall, executives need to research, strategize, plan and focus to launch products that their customers truly want and need. Open dialogue with customers is the key to success, as priorities will differ vastly  in every community. It’s not enough to emulate competitors, although that is a helpful benchmark. Ideally, banks should seek customer feedback through surveys, direct market research and speaking with them when they interact with the branch or brand to understand their priorities.

Not Selecting a Connected and Experienced Partner
Finding technology companies to support digital transformation isn’t difficult. It’s estimated that companies in the United States waste up to 40% of their technology spend on poorly-made decisions, like investing in technology based on a pitch from a sales professional that does not understand or have expertise in the institution’s particular needs.

Community banks have unique needs, concerns and customers, and should seek technology providers that speak their language, with solutions and insights to advance their goals. Select providers with experience in your niche — one that understands the particular challenges of community banking in the post-pandemic world. They should be experts that are well-versed in the banking industry, provide all technical documentation, satisfy regulatory and compliance need, and offer technology solutions that create excellent user experiences while being flexible, scalable and within budget.

Should Your Bank Hire an Influencer?

Banks looking to reach a niche or younger demographic may want to consider partnering with a trusted voice: an influencer.

Capitalizing on the ubiquity of social media, influencer marketing is a way for brands to target groups of younger consumers through a partnership. The size of the influencer industry is expected to grow to $16.4 billion globally in 2022, up from $1.7 billion in 2016, according to a 2022 benchmark report from Influencer Marketing Hub. The explosion of influencers means banks have a variety of potential marketing partners that share their values, needs or concerns — at price points that community banks could afford.

“Engaging influencers, particularly local ones, is a great way to lend their authenticity and local followers to your brand,” writes Flynn Zaiger, CEO of marketing firm Online Optimism, in an email.

Influencers are individuals who affect another’s purchasing decisions, due to their “authority, knowledge, position, or relationship” with their audience, according to the website Influencer Marketing Hub. Influencers have a distinct, often niche, audience, with which they actively cultivate and engage.

Influencer partnerships are an alternative marketing approach that banks can use to highlight specific products or services for targeted audiences: a local business owner could talk about loans or business accounts, or a family blogger can discuss college savings accounts. Some big banks, including Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., American Express Co. and U.S. Bancorp, have partnered with influencers for specific campaigns like charitable food drives, credit cards and savings accounts. But the range of influencers has expanded beyond celebrities and athletes to individuals sharing their lifestyle, creations or cultivating profiles for their pets, giving banks a variety of personalities — and price points — to choose from.

Source: Influencer content on Instagram, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and American Express Co.

Influencer partnerships, with Youtubers like MrBeast, have long been part of the business strategy at mobile banking fintech Current. Adam Hadi, vice president of marketing, says using influencers fits in the company’s understanding of its millennial and Generation Z audience. Current is careful to identify influencers that align with the company’s values.

“If you don’t know where [your audience’s] attention is, you’re never going to reach them,” he says. “If you don’t know what they care about, you won’t be able to be impactful with your message.”

Influencer marketing is a relationship between a brand and the content creator, and requires a lot of trust on both ends, he says. Managing influencer relationships takes a number of analytical, creative and business development skills; like all marketing campaigns, it can be tough to strike the balance between commercial appeal and authentic connection. Additionally, influencing partnerships can involve more upfront research and ongoing maintenance and monitoring than running Google Ads or other forms of online advertising, Zaiger writes.

Social Media User Demographics:

  • Instagram: More than 75% of the photo sharing app’s users are between 18 and 34 years old; 43% of the app’s users are women between those age ranges.
  • TikTok: 46% of the video platform’s users are girls and women aged 13 to 24.
  • YouTube: Male millennials make up a fifth of all YouTube viewers — double their female counterparts. Source: Influencer Marketing Hub 2022 benchmark report.

“Influencer campaigns are an interesting option for community banks that are looking for more impact from their digital campaigns, but might not have previously invested in growing their social media audiences,” Zaiger writes.

Before launching an influencer campaign, community bank executives should think about their community — both in the geographic sense but also the identities and affiliations of their current and prospective customers. The bank should have a strong sense of its values and strategic goals and find influencers who speak to both the customer communities and are aligned with the bank.

Once they’ve identified potential influencers, executives will need to conduct due diligence on the individual to address any potential reputational risks. They should also discuss related compliance concerns or other advertising laws that may apply to the agreement. Like all marketing endeavors, executives should set the goals and objectives of an influencer partnership, as well as how they will measure success. Common metrics include views, engagement or conversion metrics like new accounts opened through a referral link or growth in deposits.

The ubiquity of social media means influencer marketing is likely to grow, as more brands try to connect with customers through their devices. Influencer marketing is one way banks can evolve their image, and place in the community, to reach today’s mobile-first consumers.

Using Modern Compliance to Serve Niche Audiences

Financial institutions are increasingly looking beyond their zip code to target niche populations who are demanding better financial services. These forward-thinking institutions recognize the importance of providing the right products and tools to meet the needs of underrepresented and underbanked segments.

By definition, niche banking is intended to serve a unique population of individuals brought together by a commonality that extends beyond location. A big opportunity exists for these banks to create new relationships, resulting in higher returns on investment and increased customer loyalty. But some worry that target marketing and segmentation could bring about new regulatory headaches and increase compliance burdens overall.

“The traditional community bank mindset is to think about the opportunity within a defined geography,” explains Nymbus CEO Jeffery Kendall. “However, the definition of what makes a community has evolved from a geographic term to an identity or affinity to a common cause, brand or goal.”

Distinguishing the defining commonality and building a unique banking experience requires a bank to have in-depth knowledge of the end user, including hobbies, habits, likes, dislikes and a true understanding of what makes them who they are.

Niche concepts are designed to fill a gap. Some examples of niche concepts geared toward specific communities or market segments include:

  • Banking services for immigrant employees and international students who may lack a Social Security number.
  • Banking services geared toward new couples managing their funds together for the first time, like Hitched.
  • Payment and money-management services for long-haul truck drivers or gig economy workers, like Gig Money or Convoy.
  • Banking platforms that provide capital, access and resources to Black-owned businesses.

Targeting prospective niche communities in the digital age is an increasingly complex and risk-driven proposition — not just as a result of financial advertising regulations but also because of new ad requirements from Facebook parent Meta Platforms and Alphabet’s Google. Niche offerings pose a unique opportunity for banks to serve individuals and businesses based on what matters most to them, rather than solely based on where they live. This could impact a bank’s compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Acts. The lack of geography challenges compliance teams to ensure that marketing and services catering to specific concepts or customers do not inadvertently fall afoul of CRA, HMDA or other unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices.

Niche banking enables financial institutions to innovate beyond the boundaries of traditional banking with minimal risk. Banks can unlock new revenue streams and obtain new growth by acquiring new customers segments and providing the right services at the right time. When developing or evaluating a niche banking concept, compliance officers should consider:

  • Performing a product and services risk assessment to understand how the niche banking concept deviates from existing banking operations.
  • Identifying process, procedure or system enhancements that can be implemented to mitigate any additional compliance risk incurred by offering new solutions to customers.
  • Presenting its overarching risk analysis to cross-functional leads within the organization to obtain alignment and a path forward.

Now is the time for financial institutions to start asking “Did I serve my consumers?” and stop asking, “Did I break any rules?” When I led a risk and compliance team for a small financial institution, these were questions we asked ourselves every day. I now challenge financial institutions to reassess their current models and have open conversations with regulators and compliance leaders about meeting in the middle when it comes to niche banking. With the appropriate safeguards, banks can capitalize on the opportunity to deliver innovative, stable and affordable financial services.

Creating a Better Business Banking Experience

Banks should be positioning themselves to be trusted partners for entrepreneurs, helping their businesses run smoothy, from account onboarding and beyond.

Too often however, what many business owners experience are complex, inefficient processes that require a litany of repetitive details and data points that can take days — or even weeks — to complete. In many cases, small and medium business owners have been forced to look to other institutions as a result of slow, manual process at their existing bank. The industry has seen how those institutions that invested in automation and better business banking experiences actually grew in terms of customers during the pandemic. But the growing number of banks that recognize the need to offer better experiences through enhanced user interfaces and automation must overcome the main hurdle of how best to implement it.

Today’s business owners expect the same quick and simple banking experiences they receive from their personal accounts from their business accounts. Banks that recognize this need often still fail to close the gaps. A major issue is that most of the process is still driven by paper forms. By automating some of these more manual and tedious steps, banks can speed up and streamline the process. Allowing the customer to directly fill out the necessary information online, all at once, rather than have them complete PDFs that need to be rekeyed by a bank employee later can save vast amounts of time.

Even once the account is live, business banking can still often be a clunky and complicated experience, especially on the back-end where each function lives on a different platform or service hosted by different vendors. Electing these options may take the user out of the bank’s system, with an environment that may look and function very differently than the initial account interface. Banks want systems that are attractive, transparent and user-friendly on the front-end, but still have all the functionality and capabilities users need.

The truth is that there is no single platform currently available that can check every box and solve every issue. However, banks should focus on the full end-to-end experience and look for solutions that can support their most current, important needs and offer the flexibility to adapt as the bank grows. Banks need to build architecture that reflects a more modern, app store that keeps the user in its cultivated experience without an obvious and often jarring transition between functions or screens, creating an overall better experience for the business banking user. Solutions and platforms that are flexible and scalable mean that banks can adjust these looks and functions as both the technologies and user needs shift, changing and controlling the experience to match it.

While some banks would prefer to develop their solutions in house, they may lack the dedicated talent and resources to do so, but “off-the-shelf” solutions may not have the necessary flexibility and scalability. For many community banks, this has increased interested in partnering with fintechs. Banks considering this option must ensure the fintech can meet all their functionality needs, as well as their risk and regulatory requirements — no small feat. A good place to start is by evaluating how a fintech’s level of compatibility with the bank’s existing core system.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of “core agnostic” fintechs that can work effectively with a variety of technology platforms and organizations, offering malleable products that can match the individual rules and procedures of each bank. Banks can then control the user experience and tailor it to their specific client demographic. From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, recent “low-code” or “no-code” solutions from an innovative fintechs give banks the ability to handle these changes in-house, without an extensive IT team. These solutions can bring greater efficiencies for banks that are now able to manage and shape their technology systems to solve complications that once required advanced technology experts.

Building and strengthening the relationships with business account holders is becoming a bigger priority for all banks. Banks that prioritize their needs and expectations by focusing on the end-to-end user experience and offering their business customers a better, faster and seamless experience will be positioned to meet their demands, possibly changing the road map of its technology future.