2022 Technology Survey: Complete Results

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, surveyed 138 independent directors, chief executives, chief operating officers and senior technology executives of U.S. banks below $100 billion in assets to understand how these institutions leverage technology in response to the competitive landscape. The survey was conducted in June and July 2022, and primarily represents banks under $10 billion in assets. Members of the Bank Services program have exclusive access to the full results of the survey, including breakouts by asset category.

The survey finds that most respondents (81%) say their bank increased its 2022 technology budget over last year, reporting a median 11% increase. Banks have primarily prioritized investments in new technology features and updates in areas like security, or where customers frequently interact with the bank, like payments or digital loan applications. 

Leveraging technology to create a more competitive and efficient organization requires internal know-how, and directors and executives find this to be a key area for concern: 48% worry about an inadequate understanding within the bank of emerging technologies. Forty-five percent say they’re worried about their organization’s reliance on outdated technology. 

While directors aren’t involved in day-to-day decisions about the bank’s technology, the board needs to align technology with strategy and ensure that the bank has the resources it needs to achieve its goals. Forty-two percent of respondents say their board has at least one member they would consider to be an expert in technology, including digital transformation, user experience or data analytics. 

Click here to view the complete results.

Key Findings

The Competitive Landscape
Fifty-six percent of all respondents view local banks and credit unions as their top competitive threat, followed by big and superregional banks, at 46%. One-third worry about competition from big tech companies such as Apple, while an equal number are concerned about competition from digital, nonbank business lenders. 

Hit-or-Miss on Digital Applications
Nearly half of respondents say their bank has a fully digital process for opening retail deposit accounts, with larger shares representing banks over $1 billion reporting as much. Far fewer respondents report a fully digital process for retail loans, small business deposits or loans, or commercial loans. 

Generational Divides
Just 25% of the directors and executives surveyed say their bank has the tools it needs to effectively serve Generation Z (16-25 years old), and half believe their institution can effectively serve millennials (26-40). Eighty-five percent say as much about Generation X (41-56), and 93% say this of baby boomers (57-75). 

All-In on the Cloud
Eighty-eight percent say their bank uses cloud technology to generate efficiencies internally; 66% use application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow different applications or systems to exchange data. Robotic process automation (32%) and artificial intelligence or machine learning (19%) are far less commonly used. 

New Frontiers
Three-quarters say their board or leadership team has discussed risks or opportunities related to cryptocurrency or digital assets in the past 18 months. Sixty-four percent say the same of banking as a service (BaaS), and 69% say that of environmental, social and governance issues. Cannabis, on the minds of 58%, has been more commonly discussed at banks under $5 billion of assets. 

Views on Collaboration
More than half of respondents view technology companies as vendors only, as opposed to collaborating with or investing in these firms. Thirty-nine percent, primarily representing banks over $1 billion in assets, say their institution has collaborated with technology providers on specific solutions. Twenty percent have participated in a venture fund that invests in technology companies, and 11% have directly invested in one or more of these companies. 

2022 Technology Survey Results: Investing in Banking’s Future

In mid-July, at the peak of second quarter earnings, large regional banks showed off an array of technology initiatives. 

Providence, Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial Group, with $227 billion in assets, highlighted a new mobile app for its direct-to-consumer digital bank. And $591 billion U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis realized the benefits of its ongoing investments in digital payments capabilities over the years, reporting $996 million in payments services revenue, or a year-over-year increase of nearly 10%.

Community banks, with far fewer dollars to spend, have to budget wisely and invest where it makes the most sense. For many, that means prioritizing new technology features and updates in areas like security, or where customers frequently interact with the bank, like payments or digital loan applications.

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, delves into some of these strategies, asking bank senior executives and board members about the concerns and challenges that their institutions face, and where they’ve been investing their resources in technology.

Eighty-one percent of respondents say their bank increased its 2022 technology budget over last year, reporting a median 11% increase. Asked where their bank built more efficient processes by deploying new technology or upgrading capabilities in the past 18 months, 89% named cybersecurity as a key area for investment, followed by security and fraud (62%). During the same time period, 63% implemented or upgraded payments capabilities to improve the customer experience; 54% focused on enhancing digital retail account opening.

Leveraging technology to create a more competitive and efficient organization requires internal know-how, and directors and executives find this to be a key area for concern: 48% worry about an inadequate understanding within the bank of emerging technologies. Forty-five percent say they’re worried about their organization’s reliance on outdated technology.

While directors aren’t involved in day-to-day decisions about the bank’s technology, the board needs to align technology with strategy and ensure that the bank has the resources it needs to achieve its goals. Forty-two percent of respondents say their board has at least one member they would consider to be an expert in technology, including digital transformation, user experience or data analytics.

Following on the heels of Bank Director’s 2022 Compensation Survey, which found technology talent in demand, the 2022 Technology Survey indicates that most banks employ high-level executives focused on technology, particularly in the form of a chief information security officer (44%), chief technology officer (43%) and/or chief information officer (42%). However, few have a chief data officer or data scientists on staff — despite almost half expressing concerns that the bank doesn’t effectively use or aggregate the bank’s data.

Key Findings

The Competitive Landscape
Fifty-six percent of all respondents view local banks and credit unions as their top competitive threat, followed by big and superregional banks, at 46%. One-third worry about competition from big tech companies such as Apple, while an equal number are concerned about competition from digital, nonbank business lenders.

Hit-or-Miss on Digital Applications
Nearly half of respondents say their bank has a fully digital process for opening retail deposit accounts, with larger shares representing banks over $1 billion reporting as much. Far fewer respondents report a fully digital process for retail loans, small business deposits or loans, or commercial loans.

Generational Divides
Just 25% of the directors and executives surveyed say their bank has the tools it needs to effectively serve Generation Z (16-25 years old), and half believe their institution can effectively serve millennials (26-40). Eighty-five percent say as much about Generation X (41-56), and 93% say this of baby boomers (57-75).

All-In on the Cloud
Eighty-eight percent say their bank uses cloud technology to generate efficiencies internally; 66% use application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow different applications or systems to exchange data. Robotic process automation (32%) and artificial intelligence or machine learning (19%) are far less commonly used.

New Frontiers
Three-quarters say their board or leadership team has discussed risks or opportunities related to cryptocurrency or digital assets in the past 18 months. Sixty-four percent say the same of banking as a service (BaaS), and 69% say that of environmental, social and governance issues. Cannabis, on the minds of 58%, has been more commonly discussed at banks under $5 billion of assets.

Views on Collaboration
More than half of respondents view technology companies as vendors only, as opposed to collaborating with or investing in these firms. Thirty-nine percent, primarily representing banks over $1 billion in assets, say their institution has collaborated with technology providers on specific solutions. Twenty percent have participated in a venture fund that invests in technology companies, and 11% have directly invested in one or more of these companies.

To view the high-level findings, click here.

Bank Services members can access a deeper exploration of the survey results. Members can click here to view the complete results, broken out by asset category. If you want to find out how your bank can gain access to this exclusive report, contact bankservices@bankdirector.com.

Modernizing Total Rewards Programs to Attract, Retain Talent

The labor market has shifted dramatically and, in many ways, is more competitive than ever.

Low unemployment and decreasing labor force participation has caused high vacancy rates and increased the time to fill open positions. It’s also pressured employers to increase compensation and enhance their total rewards packages to keep up with changing employee expectations.

These market dynamics mean banks need to review their total rewards package. You may find your bank’s people strategy, and current and future workforce, have evolved beyond the total rewards offerings. You might be investing in benefits and programs that aren’t valuable to employees. Here are three top total rewards trends to consider for your bank.

Compensation
For most companies right now, compensation increases budgets that are already falling short due to rapidly rising inflation. Employers are frustrated that they are stretching budgets and profitability by spending more on wages, without necessarily seeing an increase in their ability to attract and retain. Employees are frustrated that their wage increases aren’t keeping pace with inflation; their personal budgets are stretching, particularly at entry-level positions.

In addition, certain specialized and high demand jobs that can be performed remotely — especially in areas such as technology and cybersecurity — means banks are facing competition from local, national and international companies.

Here are ways to succeed in compensation:

  • Short-term incentive programs: Are there ways to enhance your short-term or annual incentive programs? Currently, nearly 91% of employees receive some sort of variable pay, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 US Annual Incentive Plan Design Survey. Increasing the eligibility to additional groups can make the total compensation package more attractive and competitive, as long as it is clearly communicated and understood. Consider accelerating the payouts to semi-annually or quarterly, so employees receive the value more frequently than once a year.
  • Long-term incentive programs: Traditional long-term incentive plans are simply a compensation arrangement with a delayed timing element. While simple to administer, they can lack flexibility that connects employees to the benefits, which creates true retention.

A nonqualified retention program, or sometimes called a SERP (supplemental employee retirement plan) offers the additional benefits of investment discretion, where employees may self-direct their unvested balances across a 401(k)-type menu of funds. SERPs also offer distribution and taxation discretion that allows employees to control the timing of the distribution of benefits. Employers can give employees the opportunity to re-defer their benefits, keeping them invested in a tax-deferred vehicle after they’ve vested. Additionally, a nonqualified program allows plan sponsors a great deal of flexibility when it comes to vesting schedules. Participants can customize schedules and contribution occurrences to fit the organization’s objectives.

  • Compensation philosophy and communication: Employees will develop their own opinions if you don’t communicate with them directly about pay. In a world where it’s easy for employees to gather salary information online, being clear and transparent about the compensation program, including how you review and determine pay rates and market competitiveness, can give your employees confidence that they will be treated fairly and equitably.

Learning, Growth and Development
The “Great Reshuffle” is leading employees to examine their purpose, work lives and future like never before. Learning and development are a key focus for some employees’ future growth and fulfillment. At the same time, companies are faced with the reality that a significant portions of their workforce may leave or retire in the next five to 10 years. Not surprisingly, according to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, the primary focus areas of learning and development programs in 2022 are:

  • Leadership and management training.
  • Upskilling and reskilling employees.
  • Digital upskilling and digital transformation.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion.

With these core skills in mind, learning is becoming central to everyday work, and key to developing future talent. Employees who feel that their skills are not being put to good use in their current job are 10 times more likely to look for a new job than those who feel their skills are being put to good use, according to LinkedIn’s September 2021 survey.

Culture and Connection
Even the best total rewards package can’t make up for a toxic culture. It’s critical to focus on your people and provide opportunities to connect, collaborate and build relationships (whether in person or virtually). This will support your employee’s mental health while building connection with your organization, improving employee retention.

These three total rewards trends all share one thing: It’s important to have leadership and manager support to truly see success. Executives must also communicate early and often with employees in all of these areas, so they understand the true value of your bank’s offerings and have a positive and engaging employee experience. The right components of a total rewards package empowers banks to attract and retain high performing talent to drive performance to the next level.

Chief Risk Officers Help Community Banks Navigate Uncertain Environment

The role of chief risk officer is no longer relegated to the largest banks. Ever since the Great Recession of 2007 to 2008, banks of all sizes have begun incorporating chief risk officers into the C-suite.

Nowadays, the role could be more useful than ever as community banks confront an assortment of risks and opportunities, including cybersecurity, emerging business lines such as banking as a service, as well as rising inflation and a potential recession.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, Executive Vice President and Chief Risk Officer Karin Taylor and the teams that report to her helped executives at Grand Forks, North Dakota-based Alerus Financial Corp. understand the potential impacts on the business and coordinate the bank’s response. They addressed employee concerns, made decisions about how to sustain the business during the pandemic, performed stress tests and helped human resources with establishing new policies and communication.

“[CROs] bring some discipline in planning and operations because we facilitate discussion about risks, help identify risk and help risk owners determine if they’re going to accept risk or mitigate risk. And then we do a lot of reporting on it,” she says. “If anything changed in the pandemic, perhaps it was a better understanding of how [the risk group] could better support the organization.”

At $3.3 billion Alerus, Taylor reports directly to the CEO and serves as the executive liaison for the board’s risk and governance committees. Her reporting lines include the enterprise risk group as well as the bank’s legal, compliance, fraud teams, credit and internal audit teams (internal audit also reports to the audit committee). Those kinds of reporting lines allows CROs to help manage risk holistically and break down information silos, says Paul Davis, director of market intelligence at Strategic Resource Management. Their specific risk perspective makes them useful liaisons for community bank directors, who are usually local business people and not necessarily risk managers.

“You’re going to have one member of the management team [at board meetings] talk about opportunities,” he says. “It’s the CRO’s job to say, ‘Here are the tradeoffs, here the potential risks, here the pitfalls and the things we need to be mindful of.’”

Southern States Bancshares, a $1.8 billion institution based in Anniston, Alabama, decided to add a CRO in 2019 as the company prepared to go public. Credit presented the largest risk to the bank, so then-Chief Credit Officer Greg Smith was a natural fit.

His job includes reviewing risk that doesn’t neatly fit into other areas of the bank. He also serves as liaison for the risk committee and sits in on other meetings, like ALCO, to summarize the takeaways.

“While I was focused on risk the entire time I’ve been at the bank, this broadened that horizon and it expanded my perception of risk,” he says.

For instance, the bank’s rollout of the new loan loss accounting standard made him consider risk in the bond portfolio. Working with several attorneys on the board made him think about reputation risk when the bank launched new products and services. That expanded perspective allows him to raise considerations or concerns that different committees or areas of the bank may not be focused on. He can also help the bank price its risk appropriately.

Taylor sees her role as helping Alerus and its directors and executives make empowered decisions; her job isn’t just to say “No,” but to help the bank understand and explore opportunities based on its risk appetite. However, she doesn’t think all community banks need a CRO. Banks of similar asset sizes may have very different levels of complexity and strategies; adding another title may be a strain on limited resources or talent. The most important thing, she says, is that executives and the board feels that they have the right information to make decisions. To that end, Taylor shared a list of questions directors should ask when ascertaining if banks have appropriate risk personnel.

Questions for Directors and Executives to Ask:

  • Do you feel you have a holistic view of risk for your organization?
  • Do you think you have the information you need to understand your risk profile and identify potential pitfalls or risk to your strategy, as well as being able to address opportunities?
  • Is there a good understanding of the importance of, and accountability, for risk management throughout the organization?
  • Can these questions be answered by existing staff, or should we consider hiring for a chief risk officer position?

How to Find the Right Title Service Provider

In a highly competitive market, bank title service providers can have a tangible impact on business outcomes. Below are several considerations for selecting a title provider who can help institutions navigate today’s challenging market.

Stability
It’s important to know that the title provider your bank selects remains consistent, whether the market is up or down. Decades of experience, minimal claims and strong financial backing all contribute to the stability of a settlement service provider. “There’s an element of risk lenders can avoid by working with a title partner that has a history of producing instant title with minimal claims. How long have they been doing it?” says Jim Gladden, senior vice president of origination strategy at ServiceLink. “What does their track record look like?”

Service
Each file matters. After all, a home is likely your borrower’s biggest investment; making sure a purchase, refinance or home equity transaction goes smoothly is critical. For that reason, it’s important to ensure that title service providers take the unique needs of the bank’s team and borrowers into account, and prioritizes each transaction.

One way to do that is to work with a firm that dedicates individuals to working with the same lenders and loan officers, so they can understand the unique expectations each of them has, according to Kristy Folino, senior vice president of origination services at ServiceLink.

Prioritizing the Borrower Experience
The real estate lending industry is increasingly competitive; attracting and retaining borrowers is critical. Investigate how different title providers think about your borrowers, and whether their service ethos and technology prioritize the borrower throughout the transaction.

Check out the 2022 ServiceLink State of Homebuying Report to learn more about today’s borrowers. Dave Steinmetz, president of origination services at ServiceLink, says the study suggests a growing number of buyers embrace technology.

“Many are open to new pathways to achieve homeownership. This indicates there is an opportunity for lenders to provide more targeted resources and guidance to buyers throughout their home buying journey.”

Operational Efficiency
In leaner times, banks need to maximize margins on each transaction. Consider where your title service provider has automated their processes, and how that shows up in your bottom line. For example, instant title technology speeds decisioning and enables shorter rate lock periods by quickly clearing the way to the closing table. In fact, many lenders are surprised at how many of their loans qualify for fast-tracking through the instant title process.

Integrating technology and approaches like instant title into your processes could allow you to improve your workflows. Using instant title complexity decisions can help prioritize clear-to-close files, getting them to the closing table faster.

Scalability
In the past few years, the mortgage industry has seen how quickly volumes can change. In this volatile environment, it’s critical to partner with settlement service providers who can flex up or down with their financial institution partner as the market necessitates. The size of a provider’s signing agent panel impacts their scalability — as does their ability to allocate vendors to your operations at critical times, like month’s end.

Geographic Footprint
Being able to use one provider for transactions in all 50 states can simplify bank operations. Partnering with a title service provider with national scope ensures that a bank and its borrowers have a consistent experience, wherever they’re located. Gladden pointed out that national coverage is especially important for lenders with portfolios that are geographically diverse.

Security
Strict adherence to local, state and federal guidelines is critical to ensuring compliant transactions. Security around data must be airtight to protect lenders and their customers from potential breaches or other security incidents.

“Each title provider uses a platform that is aggregating both public and nonpublic consumer information. It’s important to know how that information is protected,” says Gladden.

Data quality
It’s important to look at the sources of title service providers’ data. While speed is essential, assurances from your title providers about data quality is paramount, particularly when it comes to instant title.

“The product is only as good as the data source, so the quality and depth of the data is the biggest factor to look out for. Instant title providers may all be racing toward the same goal, but the methodologies we’re using to get there — whether technologies, processes or the decisions we’re making — differ significantly,” says Sandeepa Sasimohan, vice president of title automation at ServiceLink.

Breadth of product offering
When you’re considering adding to your slate of providers, consider what value can be gained by onboarding a particular vendor. Banks that partner with organizations that offer a comprehensive suite of services — including uninsured and insured title products, flood and valuations — can benefit from increased efficiencies.

These considerations ladder up to one critical theme: partnership. Your title service provider should be a strategic ally who works alongside you to navigate market conditions.

3 Things Business Customers Want From Their Banks

Just like the best community bankers, we want to be the best for our customers: the community banks powering small businesses across the country. So reviews really matter.

Our most energizing reviews are the comments that community banks relay to us from their business customers, specifically regarding their business credit application experience. You are the best banker you can be when business customers are ecstatic about the end-to-end business credit application experience. What makes business customers go out of their way to tell a community banker how happy they are?

To answer that, let’s take a look at the reasons that really help a small business owner thrive. Take Rachel, a cafe owner looking to expand her operations. Here are three things that would make you a hero in her eyes:

1. Applying for Credit Feels as Easy as Ordering Takeout
Maybe it won’t be quite as easy as a takeout order, but the experience can have many things in common. Efforts to digitize the Paycheck Protection Program, along with the customer experience for a whole host of other industries, have permanently re-trained business customers to expect more. She can even sign up for a full-fledged marketing platform in mere minutes online. Business credit application that attempt to replicate something similar include:

  • A state-of-the-art application on the bank’s business product website.
  • The application for credit follows a logical, intuitive flow, with no questions that could stump the applicant or require unnecessary precision.
  • An easy way to checking the loan status. The platform offers a way to login to check the status, revise the application once it is submitted and add documents. Prospective borrowers know where their application stands every step along the way.

2. Quick Decisioning From the Bank
This does not mean that every applicant is ultimately approved. But a fantastic online digital experience helps applicants self-select away from what would never have a chance. Completed applications are thorough and include all the data and documentation necessary to tell the applicant where she stands in a day or two. Your bank may even be able to fund her that much more quickly, generating incredible satisfaction from business owners.

3. Closing is Electronic
Not unlike a mortgage, loan closing can be fully electronic — with a lot fewer forms. Customers, like Rachel, love that. The PPP closing was largely electronic for many business owners nationwide. Why should they ever go back?

Of course, these three things only happen when your bank’s underwriting team has everything they need at their fingertips: all documents and data in one place and a decisioning engine with a recommended offer while avoiding the “black box decisioning” from artificial intelligence. A robust analysis that leaves no detail to chance and recommends quality decisions can help your bank finalize decisions. You answer your business customer in mere days.

To do that, consider adding a nimble platform that is both quickly enabled and valued priced. Your bankers are the trusted advisor to your valued business customer; you can be the hero with your bank.

Poll Results: Digital Transformation’s Next Phase

NYDIG-Report.pngJPMorgan Chase & Co., which is the largest U.S. bank by assets, spends $12 billion a year on technology, investing in a vast array of technologies that include machine learning, artificial intelligence and blockchain. The second largest bank, Bank of America Corp., spends roughly $3.5 billion annually on new technology initiatives alone, according to Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan.

It’s a lot of money — and a level of spending that smaller banks can’t hope to achieve. Executives and directors primarily representing community banks under $10 billion in assets reported a median technology budget of $1.7 million for fiscal year 2021 in Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey, with a median increase in spending of 10% compared to the previous year.

Those limitations should have bank leaders thinking strategically about how to allocate those precious dollars. With that in mind, Bank Director’s FinXTech division polled bank executives in January and February 2022 about technology adoption trends, and asked about specific noncore solutions that have had a recent, significant impact toward achieving their goals.

Bankers identified 20 platforms as their favorites when it came to driving that change, ranging from digital lending solutions to data analysis. You can find the companies listed on page 7-8 of the report. To categorize the solutions by type, we relied on input from FinXTech Research Analyst Erika Bailey, who manages Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect platform, a guide to financial technology companies working with U.S. banks.

While the past 18 months found many banks putting digital account opening and lending platforms in place — in response to the digital acceleration brought about by the pandemic — banks shifted plans for the next 12 months to application programming interface (API) platforms, data aggregation and analysis, and workflow automation.

To gain additional perspective on these trends, we talked to the executives of three banks that are actively accelerating their digital journeys. Mascoma Bank, a $2.6 billion mutual in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is in the early stages of implementing an API-enabled, cloud-based core platform that will help the bank customize its product and service offerings. St. Louis-based Midwest BankCentre, with $2.4 billion in assets, leveraged its digital subsidiary to expand its capabilities to all of its customers; it will expand digital account opening to business clients in 2023. And West Reading, Pennsylvania-based Customers Bancorp, with $20 billion in assets, is using data-driven insights to fuel the next phase of its digital transformation.

Click here to access the poll results and learn more about how those banks are moving technology transformation forward in this special report.

Also included is a success checklist, questions that boards and leadership teams could ask to help strengthen their technology strategy.

Bank leaders should start by evaluating their organization’s strengths and how technology can align with strategy, advises Ron Shevlin, chief research officer at Cornerstone Advisors. “Stop thinking about technology adoption, and focus more on … the business opportunity,” he says. “Focus on the business results.”

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.

Improving Bank Culture By Being an Ally

Tuesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of women’s historical, social, economic, cultural and political achievements.

This day is also a call to action for accelerating gender equality in all aspects of life. The theme for 2022’s day is #breakthebias, to create a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, and that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

I feel tremendous pride when I see my fellow women leaders succeed, whether they lead a country or a company. I also feel tremendous pride at the steps Securian Financial has taken to draw on the diverse talents and creativity of our team to maintain our workforce and our commitments to our policyholders. One of the ways we’ve done that is through the gender equity work of our associate resource group, which seeks to foster an environment that supports, educates and empowers all women at our company and in the broader community.

Creating gender equitable cultures can result in stronger corporate reputation, earnings and a greater ability to attract and retain talent. A diverse and equitable workforce can increase creativity, increase collaboration and provide better job satisfaction for employees. But the right policies alone cannot shift culture; it’s critical that employees become part of the cause. That’s where being an ally comes in.

What does it mean to be an ally?
I get this question a lot. For too long, gender equity issues were seen as a women’s problem to solve. Yet, these issues are actually leadership issues for all to address and conquer. This involves action, advocacy and the desire to create change. It is an understanding of how power operates, and who has it. It is learning and appreciating the history and issues that women face in the workplace.

Being an ally means creating an environment that nurtures, builds community and demonstrates paths to successful career advancement. Here are some ways executives and employees at any company can practice allyship:

  • In the Moment: Speaking up in the moment when sexist comments are made is a great way to reaffirm that sexism won’t be tolerated in your organization.
  • Listen: Be a sounding board. Avoid offering your perspective unless asked, and resist the urge to fix the situation.
  • Ask: Don’t hesitate to ask female colleagues how you can be an ally. Ask about specific issues or changes that the workplace or management can make, and be willing to take responsibility for change.
  • Feedback: Provide specific and quality feedback to women for developmental goals.
  • Mentor and Sponsor Women: Commit the time and energy to mentor women in the company, and connect them with opportunities to network and showcase their talents.
  • Engage: Engage in women’s initiatives and events. Be present and be willing to be part of the conversation.

In addition to becoming an ally, executives can initiate a review of the following through a gender equity lens:

  • Job descriptions.
  • Marketing materials, including gender-inclusive imagery.
  • The types of meetings you are having — even conferences.

In today’s challenging environment of hiring and retention, an organization’s commitment to gender equity can make a substantial difference. While we regularly celebrate women’s milestones in the workplace, we still look to give women equal opportunities to exist and succeed in the workplace.

Having equal opportunities strengthens communities and the industry. With diversity of thought and background, as well as gender, we can find a well of strength in times of change and transformation.

The views expressed here are Jennifer Ortale’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Securian Financial.

Building Optimism in Times of Uncertainty

It is no secret that the past few years have lacked certainty or stability. It only takes a few seconds of searching the internet, watching the news or looking at social media to be reminded of some aspect of doom and gloom going on in the world. It can be easy for us to get focused on the negative, and it certainly does not help when headlines highlight this angle.

As a manager or leader within your organization, it has become increasingly important to home in on your abilities to find and bring optimism to your culture and team. Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.

For some people, this outlook may come more naturally; for many of us, this will take active effort.

“Some people are optimistic by nature, but many of us learn optimism as well. Anyone can learn to be optimistic. The trick is to find purpose in work and life,” says Dr. Leah Weiss, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who specializing in mindfulness in the workplace and was quoted in an NBC News article about optimism.

With the New Year upon us, here are seven steps that bank executives and directors can take to proactively move to a more-optimistic orientation in 2022.

  1. Reflect on 2021 and write down some things that you are grateful for. Try not to let your immediate thoughts or mood of the day drive your reflections.
  2. Evaluate who you spend your time with. Plan to spend more time around people that you consider positive.
  3. Communicate goals and what success looks like for your organization this year.
  4. Create a plan to celebrate the small wins that you will encounter in the year ahead. It will be easier to celebrate personally and with your team if you have a tentative plan ahead of time.
  5. Take time to acknowledge small things you appreciate about your employees and coworkers. If you are in a remote environment this may just be a quick text, team’s message or email.
  6. Everyone had their own version of 2021, and giving them an opportunity and outlet to express their experience and decompress could create more space for being optimistic about the future.
  7. Watch less news and read fewer headlines.

We may not know what this next year will bring exactly but certainly there will be a mix of good and bad to come. “Positive thinking does not mean that you ignore life’s stressors. You just approach hardship in a more productive way,” says Kimberly Hershenson, a licensed master social worker, in the same article.

With some small steps of proactiveness, hopefully we can help shift our own mindset and those around us to identify, appreciate and rally around the positive. If we can do this, we can inspire more unity and alignment within our organizations, drive more loyalty from our teams and in turn produce more positive results for our organizations.