FinXTech’s Need to Know: Augmented Intelligence

Banks are exploring how to best develop and retain personal relationships as financial interactions move online.

Here’s what they need to know.

Replicating in-branch experiences isn’t only about providing customers with tailored responses and greeting them by name. It’s also about giving those customers the ability to control their interactions: how, when and with whom they handle their financial situations.

Some customers may want to call, some may feel more comfortable texting and some may change their mind and want to head to their local branch in the middle of a conversation. Chatbots — often powered by rules-based artificial intelligence — can automatically populate responses, but may fall short when it comes to fluid and intuitive communications that customers want, potentially complicating their issue resolution.

To address this shortcoming and improve digital communication capabilities, some banks have decided to build their own technology. Umpqua Holdings Corp., which has $30.9 billion in assets and is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, launched its customized Umpqua Go-To platform in 2018. The stand-alone app was developed and built in-house at Umpqua’s innovation lab, Pivotus Ventures, according to The Financial Brand. Umpqua Go-To allows customers to personally select which banker they want to interact with based on who was available online.

But many banks don’t have the bandwidth, resources or budget to build their own technology from scratch. Instead, a bank can choose to partner with a financial technology company such as Agent IQ.

The San Francisco-based fintech helps banks communicate with their customers using augmented intelligence. Augmented intelligence is used to enhance and assist human-based communication, unlike artificial intelligence, which often aims to replace it.

At institutions that use Agent IQ, customers can choose a specific, personal banker to communicate with through digital channels, which can include mobile messaging, web chat and SMS text messaging, as well as social media channels like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger.

Agent IQ uses asynchronous technology: Customers and bankers can pick up conversations where they left off, at any time and through any channel. The conversation records are saved after a banker or customer leaves a session and can be referenced afterward by either party, by another banker or for compliance purposes.

Bankers are always looking to improve their customers’ experience. In fact, Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey found this to be the second most popular response driving banks’ technology strategy; 68% included it in their top three objectives.

And as it turns out, customers respond well to 24/7 access to personal bankers.

Independent Bank Corp., the $14.5 billion parent of Rockland Trust Company based in Rockland, Massachusetts, has seen significant engagement with the Agent IQ platform since its implementation. Since late May 2021, over 37,000 customers — approximately one fifth of their online customers — have used the platform without the bank marketing it or notifying customers of its presence, said Patrick Myron, Rockland’s senior vice president of retail network strategy and sales analytics, during a recent webinar hosted by Agent IQ. That’s an average of 500 to 600 weekly conversations that customers are opting into because they want to reach their banker digitally.

“We’ve done customer surveys,’’ he said. “The majority [of the results] are seven out of seven. They really like the engagement – the ability to talk to a banker any time they want.”

Chatbots are built to interact with customers with predetermined responses. That automation can be useful for directing traffic to certain webpages or answering yes and no questions, but many financial situations are complex and can’t be appropriately addressed solely by chatbots. Instead of being transferred to a bank representative 10 minutes into a conversation with a chatbot, Agent IQ will show the customer who’s available to communicate at the start of the interaction.

According to Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey, chatbots may not even be what banks want. Seventy-eight percent of respondents stated the bank doesn’t use chatbots. Only 15% had chatbots and 7% were unsure if the bank had them.

Augmented intelligence can enhance digital communication between banks and their customers, not replace it with algorithms. Firms that leverage it, like Agent IQ, may be an attractive solution for banks looking to create and maintain digital relationships with their customers.

Agent IQ is included in FinXTech Connect, a curated directory of technology companies who strategically partner with financial institutions of all sizes. For more information about how to gain access to the directory, please email finxtech@bankdirector.com.

Building a ‘Truly Great Place to Work and Bank’

FS Bancorp’s cultural revolution kicked off about a decade ago. It’s a journey that’s still ongoing for the holding company of 1st Security Bank of Washington, according to CEO Joseph Adams.

The predecessor of Mountlake Terrace, Washington-based FS Bancorp was a credit union from its founding in 1936 until 2004, when it converted to a mutual state savings bank. In 2012, upon converting from a mutual to stock ownership structure, Adams and his team began to reconsider the bank’s business lines and culture.

“We had to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up,” says Adams. “We had difficulty attracting top talent in our market.” The bank posted a 0.5% return on assets as of December 2011, according to S&P’s Capital IQ database.

But that has changed. “If you look at the financials of this organization, for the last 10 years, you will see a hockey stick,” says Adams. “You will just see it growing and growing.” FS Bancorp reported a return on assets of 2.1% at the end of 2020. Overall performance drove FS Bancorp to place No. 1 among the Best Community Banks in the 2022 RankingBanking study, based on a variety of metrics including profitability, growth and total shareholder return, which totaled 125% over five years (2015 to 2020). Executive leadership, board oversight, innovation and growth were also examined, with FS Bancorp topping the Best Leadership Teams subcategory.

The $2.2 billion bank focuses on five areas: deposits, home lending, indirect consumer lending, commercial & industrial (C&I) and commercial real estate. But its business lines aren’t the sole driver of the bank’s success. Adams points to a cultural shift that started around a decade ago, when Adams promoted Vickie Jarman — previously part of the consumer lending group — to lead a team focused on transforming the bank. They proposed a new set of core values, along with a mission and vision for the company. It’s pretty simple: FS Bancorp wanted to create a “truly great place to work and bank,” says Adams. “We believe if you build a great place to work, it will be a great place to bank. We intentionally put those words in that order.”

What’s developed is a culture that values collaboration and humility, according to three FS Bancorp executives I spoke with in October: Adams, Chief Financial Officer Matt Mullet and Jarman, the bank’s chief human resources officer. Self promoters often don’t feel at home there, explains Mullet.

FS Bancorp wants “smart, driven, nice” people, says Adams. “Jerks” need not apply. “We all have to work someplace. Why not work someplace where we have each other’s back, where you wake up every morning excited to go see the people you get to work with?” he says. Getting all three qualities isn’t easy, so the bank makes prospective hires go through hoops to join the organization — the more senior, the more hoops. “Our head of retail, she joined us about four years ago, and she had 16 interviews,” says Adams. “But she kept coming. And she’s here, she does a great job.”

By all appearances, the lengthy hiring process isn’t keeping FS Bancorp from adding the talent it needs to drive growth. The company had 78 employees when its transformation began, says Jarman; now it employs more than 500.

Building a strong culture requires constant work and attention. FS Bancorp has worked with a corporate coach for more than a decade; Adams is also an avid reader of books on leadership and organizational development, including Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” and Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last.” Combined, the books shine a light on leaders that put their organizations ahead of their egos. Adams wants to adapt those concepts to FS Bancorp, and he’s working with their corporate coach to do it. That will include building a training process to help FS further develop its leaders so they get the culture, too. “It’ll probably take us a year or two, as we move into the future, to get it to a point where we believe we’ve really nailed it,” says Adams.

And they’re putting practices in place that take care of employees, including raising the starting wage to $20 an hour in July — in line with rates paid by big banks such as Bank of America Corp. and First Republic Bank. It was Mullet’s idea, says Adams. “He was concerned — with how expensive things are in the Seattle area — that we have a livable wage,” says Adams.

Adams was an attorney before becoming a banker but says he’s truly passionate about organizational development — getting the right people in the right positions to excel. “We work really hard to get people in roles that play to their strengths, not their weaknesses,” he says. “If you get somebody in a role that plays to their strengths, they do wake up every morning excited to do that role.”

That passion for people comes through in how Adams leads the organization, according to Jarman. “Joe isn’t someone who comes in and says, ‘OK, what do you have on your plate today?’ … He says, ‘Hey, how can I help you? What are you working on?’ It’s from a different angle. It’s not at you. It’s with you, and it’s supportive.”

Playing to different strengths, and creating a collaborative environment where people are encouraged to think differently, builds a stronger bank,” Jarman continues. “We’ve created a space where people do feel safe saying, ‘I don’t agree with you’ or, ‘Can we try it this way?’” she says. Providing employees with the culture to foster those types of questions builds future leaders, and it comes from the top. “That’s what Joe does,” says Jarman. “He gives us the opportunity to grow.”

FS Bancorp CEO Joseph Adams will be part of a panel discussion at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired event in Phoenix, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2022. Click here to access the agenda or learn more about the conference.

How Engagement, Not Experience, Unlocks Customer Loyalty

In casual conversations, “customer engagement” and “customer experience” are often used interchangeably. But from a customer relationship perspective, they are absolutely not synonymous and it’s critical to understand the differences. Here’s how we define them:

Customer experience (CX) is the perception of an individual interaction, or set of interactions, delivered across various touch points via different channels. The customer interprets the experience as a “moment in time” feeling, based on the channel and that specific, or set of specific, interactions. A visit to an ATM is a customer experience, as is the wait time in a branch lobby on a Saturday morning or the experience of signing up for online banking.

Customer engagement, on the other hand, is the sum of all interactions that a customer has throughout their financial lifecycle: direct, indirect, online and offline interactions, face-to-face meetings, online account opening and financial consulting. Engagement with a customer over time and repeatedly through dozens of interactions should ideally build trust, loyalty and confidence. It should ultimately lead to a greater investment of the customers’ money in the bank’s product and service offerings.

Why the Difference Matters
As customers demanded and used self-service and digital banking capabilities, bank executives focused on the user experience (UX); however, that is merely a subset of CX and a poor substitute for actual customer engagement. Moreover, the promise of digital-first often doesn’t meet adoption and usage goals, worsening the customer experiences while underutilizing the technology. The addition of digital-first channels can also cause confusion, frustration and dead-ends — resulting in an even worse CX than before.

Take for example the experience of using an ATM. If the ATM is not operational, this singular transaction — occurring at one specific point in time — is unsatisfactory. The customer is unable to fulfill their transaction. However, it is doubtful that after this one experience the customer will move their accounts to another institution. But if these negative experiences compound — if the customer encounters multiple instances in which they are unable to complete their desired transactions, cannot reach the appropriate representative when additional assistance and expertise is needed or is not provided with the most up-to-date information to quickly resolve the issue — they are going to be more willing to move to a competitor.

When banks focus on experience, they tend to only look at point interactions in a customer’s journey and make channel-specific investments — missing the big picture of customer engagement. This myopic focus can produce negative outcomes for the institution. Consider the addition of a new loan origination system that produces unsustainable abandonment rates. Or introducing live chat, only to turn it off because the contact center cannot support the additional chat volume and its subsequent doubling of handle times. These are prime examples of how an investment in a one channel, and not the entire engagement experience, can backfire.

While banks often look at point interactions, or a customer’s experiences, to assess operational performance, bank customers themselves judge their bank based on the entire engagement. Engagement spans all customer interactions and touch points, from self-service to the employee-assisted and hyper personalized. Now is the time for bankers to consider things from the customers’ perspectives.

Instead, banks should prioritize engagement as being critical to their long-term success with customers. Great things happen when banks engage with their customers. Engagement strengthens emotional, ongoing banking relationships and fosters better individual customer experiences over account holders’ full financial lifecycle.

Engagement enables revenue growth, as new customers open accounts and existing consumers expand their relationship. Banks can also experience increased productivity and efficiency as each interaction yields better results. Improving customer engagement will naturally increase the satisfaction of individual customer experiences as well.

The distinction between customer engagement and customer experience is central to the concept of relationship banking. Rather than providing services that aim to simply fulfill customer needs, banks must consider a more holistic customer engagement strategy that connects individual experiences into a larger partnership — one that delights account holders and inspires long-term loyalty with each interaction.

Saving Your Customers’ Time While Saving Money

In the past 18 months, customers have needed guidance and advice more than ever on how to manage their financial lives, but unable to visit their local banker in the branch.

At the same time, banks have faced a dramatic shortage in available skilled resources. Combined, these factors have driven average call center wait times 7 minutes to more than 20 minutes, fueling dissatisfaction and frustration.

However, while most banking needs are important to the customer, they are typically not urgent. When brought to the attention of bank employees, they can be supported or resolved in a few minutes. Customers are frustrated not because their task is urgent, but because they are actively waiting to bring the task to the attention of bank employees. The bigger the discrepancy between the active wait time and time to complete the request, the bigger the frustration. Anything that banks can do to save time will lead to happier and more loyal customers.

The most elegant way to accomplish this is by eliminating the need for customers to actively wait for customer service, and replace it with more efficient, attention-free service model. Active waiting requires dedicated time and attention while waiting: while on the phone, you cannot make another call or do other activities that would require focus so you can respond within a few seconds once the call finally goes through. Another example customer service via web chat. Customers must keep the chat window open and respond to any messages sent by the service person within a minute or so, otherwise the session will end and they need to start over.

Attention-free waiting doesn’t require dedicated resources or attention while waiting. Some banks have a callback function that allows customers to hang up and receive a call once the service representative is available. Although burden of waiting is minimized, because customers can do other things.

Banks have traditionally tried to reduce customer active-waiting by hiring more employees and staffing them to match customer demand. This can take months to execute successfully and can be too complex to adjust resources to match changes in customer request on a daily basis.

Luckily, thanks to recent advances in servicing technology, there is a better way: replace the synchronous, or active-waiting, service model with an asynchronous one that allows for attention-free waiting. Synchronous means that both the customer and service provider need to be available at the same time; in an asynchronous model, only one person is needed to move the task forward.

For customers, the synchronous model means active waiting and the asynchronous service model is attention-free waiting. For banks, the synchronous model means staffing for peak customer demand and an asynchronous model means staffing for average customer demand.

This asynchronous model can mean a customer communicates a request to the bank using one of the methods describe below, and then continues their daily activity uninterrupted. The bank holds the request in a work queue until an employee that can handle the task becomes available. The employee works on the task and contacts the customer once it is completed. If the employee needs additional clarification, they contact the customer, put the request back in the queue and work on other tasks until they receive a response. The efficiency comes from both the customer and employee not needing to actively wait while the other is working on their task.

Tools banks need to enable an asynchronous service include:

  • A method for customers to communicate a request, such as an online portal, phone or similar channel.
  • The ability to keep track of open customer requests through something similar to a ticketing system.
  • A method for bank employees to contact the customer once the request has been completed, over email, phone, messaging or something similar.
  • A compliance and approval process to allow for asynchronous service requests to be processed — an important component banks cannot forget.

There are many vendors and existing solutions that make deploying the asynchronous service model easy. Several examples of asynchronous service currently in use include:

  • Self-service — customers finding solutions for their query through online or mobile channels.
  • Call back service — calling customers back, ideally coupled with a time estimate, instead of forcing them to hold.
  • Messaging — allowing customers to communicate with your institution via text or chat.
  • Secure email — the older cousin of messaging
  • Calendar scheduling — while not exactly asynchronous, it offers some benefits of attention-free waiting to customers.

Removing the synchronization burden in customer service results in not only happier customers, but less of a strain on resource planning and much higher scalability for institutions — a welcome strategy for every bank, at any time.

The Key to Upgrading Digital Experiences

The pandemic has accelerated a number of trends and digital roadmaps, momentum that continues today.

Microsoft Corp. Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella put it best when he said “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” In banking, 59% of consumers said the pandemic increased their expectations of their financial institutions’ digital capabilities. How can banks respond?  

A Non-Negotiable Experience
As customers, haven’t we all had an experience that left us confused? Many times it’s something obvious, like a marketing email urging us to download an app that we’ve had downloaded for years and use weekly. Customers expect that when they share their data, they get a better experience. A recent survey of Generation Z consumers reported that nearly 40% give a business only one chance to provide a satisfactory digital experience before moving onto a competitor.

Customers also expect their bank to be a strategic partner in money management, offering relevant services based on the data they have. These experiences can build loyalty by making customers feel taken care of by their financial institutions.

Common Challenges
When it comes to managing and optimizing their customers’ digital experiences, we see banks dealing with a few major issues:

  • Difficulty effectively cross-selling between products.
  • Disparate services where data lives in disconnected silos.
  • The scale of data, often exceeding legacy capabilities.

These challenges, along with many others, stem from the fact that customer data often live in numerous different systems. When data is scattered and siloed, it’s impossible to tie it together to understand customers or create personalized digital experiences that engender loyalty. This is why many banks are turning to customer data platforms (CDP).

Upgrading the Digital Experience
CDPs are powering some of the most cutting edge, customer-centric digital programs across leading financial institutions. An enterprise CDP makes data accessible and useful by bringing disparate data sources together, cleansing the data, and creating a singular view of the customer that can be used across the entire organization. It can become a bank’s single source of truth on customers. Marketing can connect to customers with personalized offers, analytics can explore data to find trends and areas of opportunity, customer service can access relevant information to assist customers, and finance can forecast with customer key performance indicators.

Should you consider a CDP?
Here are a few questions executives should ask to determine if their bank’s current setup is working:

  • Are customer data points and interactions centralized in one location?
  • How much time are analysts spending gathering customer data for reporting?
  • Is marketing able to easily use the same customer data to drive personalization?
  • How confident are teams in the data?
  • Is it easy to bring in a new data source?

If there is hesitation around any of the answers, looking at CDP options could be a really smart idea.

Capabilities to Look for

There are many companies using CDP terminology to describe products that aren’t exactly that. Banks should focus on a few key features when evaluating a CDP.

Speed to value. How long does it take to pull data together for a customer 360 degree view? When will data be ready to serve customers and power initiatives across the organization? The best way to accelerate these timelines is with a CDP that uses artificial intelligence to unify and organize records, which is much faster and more stable than rules-based data unification systems.

Enterprise functionality. A CDP should serve as the single source of truth for the entire organization, with a suite of tools that can accommodate the needs of different teams. Multiple views means teams are only presented with the data they need, with the methods that they prefer: robust SQL query engine for analysts, point-and-click segmentation for less technical users and dashboards for executive visibility.

Flexibility and interoperability. A CDP should work with your bank’s current technology investments, connecting easily to any tools or systems you add in the future. One sign of this is a CDP having many partnerships and easy integrations that can quickly allow you to take action.

You need to trust that a CDP can scale to the enterprise and compliance demands of a bank, accommodating vast stores of data that will only continue to grow.

A critical opportunity
There is unprecedented demand from banking leaders to stand up a CDP as a critical business driver. And no wonder. With so many customers using digital channels and generating more data, banks need to double down on increasing the lifetime value of existing customers while finding ways to attract new customers.

Can Banks Afford to Be Short-Sighted With Real-Time Payments?

The industry’s payments ecosystem is developing rapidly in response to increasing consumer demand for faster, smarter payments.

The need for real-time payments was accelerated by the global pandemic — but most banks are moving far too cautiously to respond to market demand, whether that is P2P, B2B, B2C or other segments. Currently, The Clearing House’s RTP® network is the only available real-time payments platform, while the Federal Reserve’s instant payments service, FedNow℠, is in a pilot phase with plans to launch in 2023. FedNow will equip financial institutions of all sizes with the ability to facilitate secure and efficient real-time payments round the clock.

For most banks, operating on core legacy technology has created a payments infrastructure that is heavy-handed, disjointed, costly and difficult to maintain, with no support for future innovation. Most banks, fearing the cost and effort of modernization, have settled for managing multiple payment networks that connect across disparate systems and require the support of numerous vendors. With the introduction of real-time payments, can these new payment rails afford to be a mere addendum to the already-byzantine payment architecture of banks?

Answering “yes” begets more questions. How resilient will the new offering be on the old infrastructure? Can banks afford to be myopic and treat real-time payments as a postscript? Are short-sighted payment transformations elastic enough to accommodate other innovations, like the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) that are in the offing?

Preparation starts with an overhauling of payments infrastructure. If banks are to place themselves at a vantage point, with a commanding perspective into the future of payments, they should consider the following as part of the roadmap to payments modernization:

  1. From transactions to experience. Payments are no longer merely functional transactions; they are expected to provide qualitative attributes like experience, speed and intelligence. Retail and business customers increasingly demand frictionless and intuitive real-time payments, requiring banks to refurbish the payment experiences delivered to clients.
  2. The significance of payment data. The ISO20022 data standard for payments is heavier and richer compared to legacy payments data, and is expected to be the global norm for all payments by 2025. Banks are under increasing pressure to comply, with players like SWIFT already migrating to this format and more than 70 countries already using ISO20022. Payment solutions that can create intuitive insights from centralized data stored in ISO20022 format, while also being able to convert, enrich and validate legacy messaging into ISO20022, are essential. Banks can benefit from innovative services like B2B invoices and supply chain finance, as Request for Payment overlay services is a key messaging capability for customers of real-time payments.
  3. Interoperability of payment systems. The interoperability between payment systems will be an imperative, especially with the ecosystem of different payment rails that banks have to support. Interoperable payment rails call for intelligent routing, insulating the payer and payee from the “how” of payment orchestration, and paving the way for more operational efficiency. Operating costs account for more than 68% of bank payment revenues; centralizing the management of multiple payment networks through an interoperable payment hub allows bankers to minimize these costs and improve their bottom lines.
  4. Streamlining payment operations. Work stream silos lead to fragmented, inefficient and redundant payment operations, including duplicated fraud and compliance elements. This is where payment hubs can add value by streamlining payment operations through a single, consolidated operation for all payment types. Payment hubs are a great precursor for subsequent modernization: intelligent payment hubs can handle omnichannel payments, as well as different payment types like ACH, Fedwire, RTP and FedNow in the future. This takes care of the entire payment lifecycle: initiation, authorization, clearing, settlement and returns.
  5. Future-proofing payment systems. Following the path of trendsetters, banks have to equip themselves with future-proof solutions that can adapt to real-time domestic and cross-border payment systems processing multiple currencies. As open-banking trends gain traction, it is important to consider that the winds of change will eventually find payments, too. It is imperative that banks are cloud based and API driven, so they can innovate while being future-ready.

The opportunity cost of not offering real-time payments is becoming more evident for banks, as they wait for their core providers to enable real-time payments. Calls for banks to modernize their payments infrastructure are swelling to a roar; now is the time for banks to define their payments modernization strategy and begin to act.

Unlocking the Value of Customers’ Data

A customer data platform is at the heart of the most cutting edge, customer-centric digital programs at leading financial institutions. This platform should clean, connect and share customer data so the business lines that need it most can create distinctive and relevant experiences. Amperity’s Jill Meuzelaar details the four key features banks should look for in a customer data platform, as well as common issues they may encounter when evaluating a current or prospective system.

  • How to Connect Customer Data
  • Incorporating Flexibility for Maximum Functionality
  • Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Small Business Checking, Repositioned

This is part two of a two-part post diving into the future of small business checking. Read part one, Small Business Checking, Reimagined.

Increasingly, small businesses see digital payment solutions as both a way to get paid faster and to satisfy customers who now prefer to pay that way. Indeed, this capability has become indispensable for most small businesses. And for banks, it is the key to capturing even more small and medium-sized business relationships moving forward.

However, there is one problem: Banks don’t offer a simple solution to help their small business customers meet this fundamental need. As a result, small business owners have had to resort to outside options (four of which we explored in part one). Over time, this reliance on fintech challengers can lead to disintermediation for the bank, as the non-banks begin to replace the financial institution with their own offerings.

At this point you may be wondering: Does my bank already offer this kind of solution, or something that’s similar enough? The answer, most likely, is no — or not yet.

The reality is that the ideal solution for a small business owner is a steep change from the small business accounts of today. Current accounts are built on transactional functionality. The many supporting, and sometimes dizzying, features that go along with it, such as transaction fees, minimum balances and item allowances, may be important to the bank, but miss the mark for a small business.

Simply put, small business owners need bank accounts designed for a very specific reason: to receive digital payments and easily track their critical cash flow in the process.

To be truly relevant, this reimagined small business checking account needs to include the following three crucial components:

  • Digital payment acceptance, including credit cards, and online invoicing, set up and ready for the small business owner to start getting paid faster into the very same account.
  • Manage and track customer payments, ranging from incoming, coming due, and past due, right inside the digital platform that’s comprises their checking account.
  • Expertise and high-touch support that a business owner can expect from a longstanding and trustworthy institution. This is an important differentiator, and one that fintech challengers can’t come close to matching.

This checking account product offers two significant benefits. For a small business owner, it represents exactly what they have been searching for: a complete small business solution that features receivables functionality, offered by the same trusted institution that they’ve come to rely on for so many other needs.

And for banks, this new account allows them to embrace a mindset focused on customer workflows and solving real-world challenges. It could even signal a way forward, and open the door to many more opportunities. Promoting such a markedly different product, however, would require some care. Unlike a typical account, with its mandatory list of bulleted features, a reimagined solution like this one requires positioning that highlights its problem-solving capabilities.

A generic framework for our hypothetical account, organized by customer need first and benefit(s) second, could go:

Get paid, the way they want to pay
Make it easy for paying customers. Accept online payments and credit cards, or send personalized digital invoices. Either way, get paid directly into your bank account for easy access to funds.

Better control of your cash flow
Track and manage it all automatically: incoming, coming due and past due customer payments. Know exactly who has paid and when, and get an up-to-date view of your cash flow.

Do it all, all in one place
More than a checking account. Everything you need for your small business is included with your account. And there’s no need to set up multiple accounts across multiple platforms — one easy enrollment is all you need.

You don’t have to go it alone
Because a great digital experience is only the beginning. Every successful business needs an accessible financial partner — your bank is available and ready to help.

Of course, a reimagined small business checking account needs to be designed and launched with supporting capabilities in mind. Look for partners that can help your institution go to market with a proven solution — inclusive of the product capabilities and go-to-market services — that enable small business owners to get paid, while staying ahead of the competition.

Learn more about Autobooks and download your free small business resources here.

Three Things Bankers Learned During the Pandemic

It’s been well documented how the pandemic lead to the digitization of banking on a grand scale.

But what bankers discovered about themselves and the capabilities of their staff was the real eye-opener. Firms such as RSM, an audit, tax and consulting company that works with banks nationwide, saw how teams came together in a crisis and did their jobs effectively in difficult circumstances. Banks pivoted toward remote working, lobby shut-downs, video conferencing and new security challenges while funneling billions in Paycheck Protection Program loans to customers. The C-suites and boards of financial institutions saw that the pandemic tested their processes but also created an opportunity to learn more about their customers.

Overall, the pandemic changed all of us. From our discussions with the leaders of financial institutions, here are three major things bankers learned about themselves and their customers during the pandemic.

1. Customers Want to Use Technology
Banks learned that customers, no matter their generation, were able to use technology effectively. Banks were able to successfully fulfill the needs of their customers, as more devices and technologies are available to banks at all price points and varying degrees of complexity. Post-pandemic, this practice will continue to help increase not only internal efficiencies but convenience for customers. As banks compete with many of the new digital providers, this helps even the playing field, says Christina Churchill, a principal and national lead for financial institutions at RSM US LLP.

Did you have a telemedicine appointment during the pandemic? Do you want to go back to driving to a doctor and sitting in a waiting room for a short appointment, given a choice? Probably not. Nor will bank customers want to come to a branch for a simple transaction, says Churchill.

The pandemic made that all too clear. Banks had to figure out a way to serve customers remotely and they did. Digital account opening soared. Banks stood up secure video conferencing appointments with their customers. They were successful on many counts.

2. Employees Can Work Remotely
The myth that bankers were all working effectively while in the office was exposed. Instead, some found employees were more effective while not in the office.

Technology helped bridge the gap in the existing skill set: Bankers learned how to use technology to work remotely and used it well, says Brandon Koeser, senior manager at RSM. Senior leaders are finding that getting employees back to the office on a strict 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule may be difficult. “Some bankers have asked me, ‘do we return to the office? Do we not go back?’” says Koeser. “And I think the answer is not full time, because that is the underlying desire of employees.”

After surveying 27,500 Americans for a March 2021 study, university researchers predicted that Covid-19’s mass social experiment in working from home will stick around. They estimate about 20% of full workdays will be supplied from home going forward, leading to a 6% boost in productivity based on optimized working arrangements such as less time commuting.

Still, many senior bank leaders feel the lack of in-person contact. It’s more difficult and time-consuming to coach staff, brainstorm or get to know new employees and customers. It’s likely that a hybrid of remote and in-person meetings will resume.

3. Banks Can Stand Up Digital Quickly
Banks used to spend months or years building systems from scratch. That’s no longer the case, says Churchill. Many banks discovered they can stand up technological improvements within days or weeks. Ancillary tools from third-party providers are available quickly and cost less than they did in the past. “You don’t have to build from scratch,” Koeser says. “The time required is not exponential.”

Recently, RSM helped a bank’s loan review process by building a bot to eliminate an hour of work per loan by simply pulling the documentation to a single location. That was low-value work but needed to be done; the bot increased efficiency and work-life quality for the bank team. A robotic process automation bot can cost less than $10,000 as a one-time expense, Churchill says.

Throughout this year, senior bankers discovered more about their staff and their capabilities than they had imagined. “It really helped people look at the way banks can process things,” Churchill says. “It helped gain efficiencies. The pandemic increased the reach of financial institutions, whom to connect with and how.”

The pandemic, it turned out, had lessons for all of us.

What Banks Can Learn From Retailers to Grow Loans

If success leaves clues, retail has dropped plenty of golden nuggets to help the banking industry refine its credit application process and increase customer loyalty.

While banks have come a long way with online and mobile features, credit and loan application procedures are still stuck in the early 2000s. Often, the process is unnecessarily bogged down by false pre-approvals and lengthy forms; bank processes drive how customer obtain loans, instead of by their individual preferences.

Savvy lenders have already adopted alternatives that curate an express, white-glove approval process that incorporates customer loyalty. It’s more of a catalog of options available any time the consumer wants or needs something. Companies like Amazon.com and Delta Air Lines don’t work to predict consumer’s every desire; instead, they empower the customer to shop whenever and wherever, and proactively offer them options to pay or finance based on their data. Consumers join loyalty programs, earn points and build profiles with companies; they can then apply for credit online, over the phone, in store — wherever it makes the most sense for them. If they provide the correct information, they typically find out whether they are approved for credit in 60 seconds or less — usually no heavy paperwork to complete, just verbal confirmations and an e-signature. Retailers have given consumers a sense of ease and confidence that endears them to a brand and inspires loyalty.

Banks, on the other hand, seem convinced that customers are monolithic and must be instructed in how to shop for loans. But they have much more consumer data and more lending expertise than retailers; they could go even further than retailers when it comes to extending loan offers and services to customers in a variety of formats.

For instance, a bank should never have to deny a customer’s loan application. Instead, they should have enough data to empower the consumer with personalized access to loans across multiple product lines, which can go further than a pre-approved offer. These guaranteed offers can eliminate the application process and wait time. It gives the consumer insight into their personal buying power, and instant access to loans where and when they need them. The process doesn’t require a lengthy applications or branch visit, and removes the fear of rejection.

What Keeps Banks from Offering Customers a Faster Process?
It’s not a completely failed strategy that banks throw multiple offers at a consumer to see which one sticks. Some consumers will open the direct mail piece, complete the forms online and receive approval for the credit line or loan they have been offered. That’s considered a successful conversion.

Other consumers won’t be so lucky. The quickest way to upset a consumer who needs a line of credit or loan for personal reasons is to send them an offer that they were never qualified to receive. It’s cruel, unjust, wastes the consumer’s time and jeopardizes any loyalty the consumer has for your bank. Your bank already has readily available data to ensure that consumers receive qualified loans — there’s no reason to disappoint a customer or prospect.

Additionally, consumers increasingly reward personalization, and the sense that an institution understands them. A survey from Infogroup found that 44% of consumers are willing to switch to brands that better-personalize marketing communications. And a recent survey from NCR finds that 86% of people would prefer their bank have greater access to their personal data, compared to big tech companies like Amazon.com and Alphabet’s Google. This is up 8%, from 78%, in a similar study in 2018.

Personalizing messages and offers is something retail brands do well; consumers are open to and increasingly expect this from their banks. This is a bank’s best strategy to stay ahead of retailers’ loan products: showing customers how well you know them and deepening those relationships with fast, guaranteed offers.

The U.S. economy is expected to expand more rapidly later this year, through 2023, according to the Federal Reserve. This is a far cry from the doom and gloom projected late last year. Banks looking to capitalize on the growth will have to adopt a more on-demand strategy from their retail brethren. The loyalty from customers will be sweet.