Four Digital Lessons from the Pandemic

2020, so far, is the year of digital interactions.

Without the ability to interact in the physical world, digital channels became the focal point of contact for everyone. Industries like retail and restaurants experienced a surge in the use of digital services like Instacart, DoorDash and others.

This trend is the same for banks and their customers. In a survey conducted by Aite Group, 63% of U.S. consumers log into financial accounts on a desktop or laptop computer to check accounts at least once a week, while 61% use a smartphone.

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly accelerated the move to the digital channel, as well. In a Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) survey, 45% of respondents report changing the way they interacted with their financial institution because of the pandemic. The increased adoption of the digital channel is here to stay: 30% of respondents from the same survey noting they plan to continue using online and mobile banking channels moving forward.

The same is true for payments. FIS finds that consumers are flocking to mobile wallets and contactless payment to minimize virus risks, with 45% reporting using a mobile wallet and 31% planning to continue using the payment method post-pandemic.

This pandemic-induced shift in consumer preferences provides a few important lessons:

1. Experience Matters
Customers’ experiences in other industries will inform what they come to expect from their bank. Marketing guru Warren Tomlin once said, “a person’s last experience is their new expectation.” No matter where it came from, a great digital experience sets the standard for all others.

Banks should look to other industries to see what solutions can offer a great customer experience in your online and mobile banking channels. Customers’ service experiences with companies like Amazon.com’s set the bar for how they expect to interact with you. Their experience making payments with tools from PayPal Holdings, like Venmo, may inform their impression of how to make payments through the bank.

2. Personalization is Key
Providing a personalized experience for customers is key to the success of your bank, both now and in the future. Your bank’s online and mobile tools must generate a personalized experience for each customer. This makes them feel valued and well served — regardless of whether they are inside a branch or transacting through a mobile app.

Technologies like artificial intelligence can learn each customer’s unique habits and anticipate specific needs they might have. In payments, this might look like learning bill pay habits and helping customers manage those funds wisely. AI can even make recommendations on how users can ensure they have enough funds to cover the month’s bills or save anything they have left over.

AI is also able to look at customer data and anticipate any services they might need next, like mortgages, car loans or saving accounts. It brings the personal banker experience to customers in the digital world.

3. Weave the Branch Into the Digital
The ability to interweave the personalized, in-branch experience into the digital world is crucial. There are positives and negatives in both the branch and digital channels. The challenge for banks is to take the best of both worlds and provide customers with an experience that shines.

Customers want to know that someone is looking out for them, whether they can see that person or not. A digital assistant keeps customers engaged with the bank and provides the peace of mind that, whether they are in the branch or 100 miles away, there is always someone looking out for their financial well-being.

4. Embrace the “Now” Normal
To state that the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world would be a big understatement. It has disrupted what we thought was “business as usual,” and irrevocably changed the future.

The “new normal” changes day by day, so much that we choose to more accurately refer to it as the “now normal.” The increased dependency on digital has made it critical to have the right infrastructure in place . You truly never know what is coming down the line.

Customers enjoy the ease of digital and, more than likely, will not go “back to normal” when it comes to banking and payments. Now, more than ever, is the time to examine the digital experiences that your bank offers to further ensure its prepared for this endless paradigm shift that is the “now normal.”

2020 Technology Survey Results: Accelerating the Drive to Digital

The Covid-19 pandemic has bankers reexamining the value of their branches.

While branch networks remain vital, their preeminence as a delivery channel has been diminished through the coronavirus crisis.

Bank Director’s 2020 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, finds that bank executives and directors indicating that the digital channel is most important to their bank’s growth (50%) outnumber those who place equal value on both the digital and branch channels (46%).

In last year’s survey, those numbers were essentially flipped, with 51% indicating that the two channels were equally important, and 38% prioritizing mobile and online channels.

This accelerates the evolution that the industry has undergone for years. Nearly all respondents — 97% — say their bank has seen increased adoption and use of digital channels due to Covid-19.

The survey was distributed in June and July, after a period of time when many banks upgraded their technology to better serve customers digitally, facilitate remote work by their employees and respond to the high demand for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Sixty-five percent say their bank implemented or upgraded technology due to the coronavirus crisis. Of these respondents, 70% say their bank adopted technology to issue PPP loans.

These executives and directors also report installing or upgrading customer-facing virtual meeting technology and/or interactive teller machines (39%), or enabling customers to apply for loans (35%) and/or open deposit accounts digitally (32%).  

Yet, just 37% sought new technology providers as a result of the pandemic.

The survey also reveals that fewer banks rely on their core provider to drive their technology strategy forward. Forty-one percent indicate that their bank relies on its core to introduce innovative solutions, down from 60% in last year’s survey. Sixty percent look to non-core providers for new solutions.

Key Findings

Focus on Experience
Eighty-one percent of respondents say improving the customer experience drives their bank’s technology strategy; 79% seek efficiencies.

Driving the Strategy Forward
For 64% of respondents, modernizing digital applications represents an important piece of their bank’s overall technology strategy. While banks look to third-party providers for the solutions they need, they’re also participating in industry groups (37%), designating a high-level executive to focus on innovation (37%) and engaging directors through a board-level technology committee (35%). A few are taking internal innovation even further by hiring developers (12%) and/or data scientists (9%), or building an innovation lab or team (15%).

Room for Improvement
Just 13% of respondents say their small business lending process is fully digital, and 55% say commercial customers can’t apply for a loan digitally. Retail lending shows more progress; three-quarters say their process is at least partially digital.

Spending Continues to Rise
Banks budgeted a median of $900,000 for technology spending in fiscal year 2020, up from $750,000 last year. But financial institutions spent above and beyond that to respond to Covid-19, with 64% reporting increased spending due to the pandemic.

Impact on Technology Roadmaps
More than half say their bank adjusted its technology roadmap in response to the current crisis. Of these respondents, 74% want to enhance online and mobile banking capabilities. Two-thirds plan to upgrade — or have upgraded — existing technology, and 55% prioritize adding new digital lending capabilities.

Remote Work Permanent for Some
Forty-two percent say their institution plans to permanently shift more of its employees to remote work arrangements following the Covid-19 crisis; another 23% haven’t made a decision.

To view the full results of the survey, click here.

Designing a Pandemic-Proof Compensation Plan

The ability to pivot and adapt to a changing landscape is critical to the success of an organization.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a unique challenge for banks in particular. Government stimulus through the Paycheck Protection Program tasked banks with processing loans at an unheard-of rate, turning bankers working 20-hour days into economic first responders. Simultaneously, the altered landscape forced businesses to adopt a remote work environment, virtual meetings and increase flexibility — amplifying the need for safe and reliable technology platforms, enhanced data security measures and appropriate cyber insurance programs as standard operating procedure.

Prior to Covid-19, a major driver of change was the demographic shift in the workforce as baby boomers retire and Generation X and millennials take over management and leadership positions. Many businesses were focused on ways to attract and retain these workers by adapting their cultures and policies to offer them meaningful rewards. The pandemic will likely make this demographic shift more relevant, as the workforce continues adapting to the impending change. 

Gen X and millennial employees are more likely than previous generations to value flexibility in when and where they work. They may seek greater  alignment in their career and life, according to Gallup. The pandemic has forced businesses to either adapt — or risk the economic consequences of losing their top performers to competitors.

Many employees find they are more productive when working remotely compared to the traditional office setting, which could translate into increased employee engagement. In fact, the Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” study finds that employees who spend 60% to  80% of their time working remotely reported the highest engagement. Engagement relates to the level of involvement and the relationship an employee has with their position and employer. Gallup finds that engaged employees are more productive because they have increased autonomy, job satisfaction and desire to make a difference. Simply put, increase engagement and performance will rise.

The demographic shift and a force-placed virtual office culture means that designing programs to attract and retain today’s workers require a well thought out combination of strategies. An inexpensive — though not necessarily simple — method of employee retention includes providing recognition when appropriate and deserved. Recognition is a critical aspect in employee engagement, regardless of demographic. Employees who feel recognized are more likely to be retained, satisfied and highly engaged. Without appropriate recognition, employee turnover could increase, which contributes to decreased morale and reduced productivity.

In addition to showing appreciation and recognizing employees who perform well, compensating them appropriately is fundamental to attracting and retaining the best. The flexibility of a non-qualified deferred compensation program allows employers to customize the design to respond to changing needs.

Though still relevant, the traditional Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan has been used to attract and retain leadership positions. It is an unsecured promise to pay a future benefit in retirement, with a vesting schedule structured to promote retention. Because Gen X and millennials may have 25 years or more until retirement, the value of a benefit starting at age 65 or later could miss the mark; they may find a more near-term, personally focused, approach to be more meaningful.

Taking into consideration what a younger employee in a leadership, management, or production position values is the guide to developing an effective plan. Does the employee have young children, student loan debt or other current expenses? Using personalized criteria, the employer can structure a deferred compensation program to customize payments timed to coincide with tuition or student loan debt repayment assistance. Importantly, the employer is in control of how these programs vest, can include forfeiture provision features and require the employee perform to earn the benefits.

These benefits are designed to be mutually beneficial. The rewards must be meaningful to the recipient while providing value to the sponsoring employer. The employer attracts and retains top talent while increasing productivity, and the employee is engaged and compensated appropriately. Banks can increase their potential success and avoid the financial consequences of turnover.

Ultimately, the pandemic could be the catalyst that brings the workplace of tomorrow to the present day. Nimbleness as we face the new reality of a virtual office, flexibility, and reliance on technology will holistically increase our ability to navigate uncertainty.

Exploring Customer Service in the Pandemic Age

Banks across the country are grappling with the right approach to branch banking as the Covid-19 pandemic lingers.

Management concerns surrounding logistics and safety must give way to longer-term considerations aimed squarely at the bottom line. Executives need to contemplate the future of their branch operations and  business model, incorporating the guidance that large-scale pandemics may persist in some shape or form in the future. Read on to explore key considerations relating to the long-term implication of pandemics on customer service delivery.

Will customers ever come back into our branches? How will that impact our bank?
Branch visits have irrevocably changed. A recent study asked consumers to rank their preference of seven different banking channels, before, during and post-pandemic. Six months after the start of the pandemic, branch banking has settled into sixth place. The study predicts “a rapid decrease in the importance of the physical branch as customers become more habituated to the use of digital, which is a behavior that will linger long term.”

Jimmy Ton, senior vice president and director of digital channels at Irvine, California-based First Foundation Bank, agrees. “For those who adopted digital services during this time, they’ll probably stick with them. It takes 60 days to form a habit and people have been reconditioned during the pandemic. There’s no reason to believe they will abandon these services,” said Ton.

Novantas highlights another concern. “The branch network’s competitive advantage for sales has been eliminated overnight, possibly forever. Although sales were already shifting away from branches, they will now need to be even more digital.”

Banks must prepare for a permanent, significant reduction of branch visits. They should discuss this impact on their business models and what changes, internally and customer-facing, will need to occur.

Highly personalized service is our hallmark. How can we possibly digitize that?
Many banks have long leveraged high-touch customer service as a differentiator when competing with national banks. This was often delivered through branch networks and sales teams — until now.

Bankers have witnessed pandemic-induced migration to digital channels. But this is no time to celebrate;  J. D. Power shows overall satisfaction has declined as customers transition from branch to digital channels. That’s because banks have so far been unable to replicate the personalized nature of in-branch experiences digitally.

But it can be done.

Think of it this way: branch staff can glance at a screen filled with information about the customer sitting in front of them to personalize the conversation. That same data can be used to craft a personalized conversation, delivered via email or text message instead. Both methods communicate to the customer that you know who they are, and can offer ways to help them.

Digital engagement platforms offering deep personalization delivered via individualized websites, text messages, video and online chats exist today. They deliver a positive, digital experience with minimal effort, even for data-challenged banks.

A significant chunk of interactions can move to digital. A great parallel is what we saw happen with telehealth, moving routine physical in-person appointments to virtual ones,” said John Philpott, a partner at FINTOP Capital. “It’s a great example of how professional conversations can be digital; banks can absolutely do the same.”

Banks should plan to shift all or a significant portion of sales and service delivery away from their branch networks and to digital engagement and sales platforms that are ideally powered by insightful data to hyper-personalize the experience.

Strategically speaking, what else should we consider?
With branch-based account opening limited and most banks flush with cash, the pressure for new deposits has lessened. Now is an opportune time to focus on the existing customer base to minimize attrition and boost profitability of those relationships.

Ted Brown, CEO of Digital Onboarding, founded the company based on the idea that opening a new account does not mean you’ve established a relationship.

“[The ] number of new checking accounts is the wrong metric to obsess over,” Brown said. “Are your customers fully utilizing the products and services they’ve signed up for? Are they turning to your bank to satisfy additional needs? Starting with Day One, successful onboarding — and continuous engagement thereafter — increases product usage, cross-sell success and ultimately drives profits.”

Zeroing in on customer engagement and retention, instead of new customer growth, may be a smart, strategic and profitable move in the current environment. Responsible bank leadership must contemplate what changes and investments they will need to make to stay relevant with customers post-COVID 19.

Fee Income at Premium as Crisis Threatens Credit

Companies today have to work smarter and harder to survive the coronavirus crisis, said Green Dot Corp. CEO Daniel Henry in the company’s recent earnings call.

Henry joined Pasadena, California-based Green Dot as CEO on March 26, and has been working remotely to get up to speed on the $3 billion financial company’s operations, which include prepaid cards, tax processing and a banking platform. Those diversified business lines are a source of strength, he said.

“We’re in a much better position than just kind of a monoline neo-bank to weather the storm,” he says. “We’ve got positive free cash flows, strong revenues and cash in the bank.”

After a couple of years of moderately rising interest rates, the Federal Reserve began to back off mid-2019. They dramatically dropped them to zero in February as one tool to fight the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and have promised to keep them low until the economy shows firm signs of recovery. Now, it looks like the industry needs to strap in for another lengthy period of low interest rates.

All this puts further pressure on already-squeezed net interest margins.

While the spread between deposits and loans represents a bank’s traditional method of generating revenue, banks also focus on fee income sources to drive profitability. Business lines that expand non-interest income opportunities could be particularly valuable in the current environment.

With this in mind, Bank Director ranked publicly traded institutions based on noninterest income as a percentage of net income, using year-end 2019 data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. We focused on profitable retail banks with a return on average assets exceeding 1.3%.

Many of these banks rely on traditional sources of noninterest income — mortgages, insurance, asset management — but two differentiate themselves through unique business models.

Green Dot topped the ranking, with the bulk of its fees generated through prepaid card transactions. It also earns revenue through its Banking-as-a-Service arrangements with companies such as Uber Technologies, Apple, Intuit and long-term partner Walmart.

Meta Financial Group deploys a similar model, offering prepaid cards and tax products. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based bank will soon issue federal stimulus payments via prepaid cards to almost four million Americans through a partnership with the U.S. Treasury.

The remaining banks in our list take a more traditional approach.

Institutions like Dallas-based Hilltop Holdings primarily generate fee income through mortgage lending. Keefe, Bruyette & Wood’s managing director Brady Gailey believes the low-rate environment will favor similar financial institutions. “Hilltop has a very strong mortgage operation … which should do even better this year, given the lower rate backdrop that we have now,” he says.

The $15.7 billion bank announced the sale of its insurance unit, National Lloyds Corp., earlier this year; that deal is expected to close in the second quarter. Even without its insurance division, Hilltop maintains diverse fee income streams, says Gailey, through mortgage, investment banking (HilltopSecurities) and commercial banking.

Hilltop CEO Jeremy Ford said in a January earnings call that the insurance business wasn’t “core. … this will allow us to really focus more on those three businesses and grow them.”

As the fifth-largest insurance broker in the U.S., Charlotte, North Carolina-based Truist Financial Corp. enjoys operating leverage and pricing power, according to Christopher Marinac, the director of research at Janney Montgomery Scott. “[Insurance will] be a key piece of that income stream,” he says. “I think insurance is going to be something that every bank wishes they had — but Truist truly does have it, and I think you’re going to see them take advantage of that.”

In Green Dot’s earnings call, Henry said he’s still evaluating the company’s various business lines. But with Covid-19 pushing consumers to dramatically increase their use of electronic payment methods — both for online shopping and more hygienic in-person transactions — he’s bullish on payments.

Covid is really forcing a lot of consumers [to] search out a digital solution,” Henry said. Visa recently reported that while face-to-face transactions declined significantly in April, there was an 18% uptick in digital commerce spending.

Recently, Green Dot investigated a spike in card sales in a particular area. It turned out that a local cable company’s offices were closed due to Covid-19. A sign on the company’s door instructed customers wanting to make in-person payments to go to a store across the street and buy a Green Dot card so they could make their payment electronically.

“A lot of the consumers that were hanging on to cash over the last few months really didn’t have an option and got pushed into the electronic payments world,” he said. “That will definitely benefit us at Green Dot.”

 

Top Fee Income Generators

Rank Bank Name Ticker Primary Fee Income Source Total Noninterest Income ($000s), YE 2019
#1 Green Dot Corp. GDOT Card $1,071,063
#2 Hilltop Holdings HTH Mortgage $1,206,974
#3 Waterstone Financial WSBF Mortgage $129,099
#4 HarborOne Bancorp HONE Mortgage $59,411
#5 Meta Financial Group CASH Card $221,760
#6 Truist Financial Corp. TFC Insurance $5,337,000
#7 FB Financial Corp. FBK Mortgage $135,038
#8 JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM Asset management $58,456,000
#9 PNC Financial Services Group PNC Corporate services $7,817,138
#10 U.S. Bancorp USB Payments $9,761,000

Sources: S&P Global Market Intelligence, bank 10-Ks

Coronavirus Ushers Banks Into New Digital Banking Era

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced dramatic changes in the U.S. economy at a breakneck speed that seemed impossible only a few short months ago.

The banking industry has risen to the challenge, managing more than a million applications for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, modifying countless loan terms, deferring payments and redesigning the customer experience to minimize in-branch foot traffic — all while shifting a significant portion of operations to employees’ home offices.   

We are in uncharted territory. The business decisions your bank is making now impact your institution’s ability to meet customers where they are today, but also where they expect you to be in the future. The digital bridge you build for online account opening can help take you there.

Even before most of us learned the term “coronavirus,” few banks would have disagreed with the need to automate digital account opening and invest in systems to support the online customer experience. Your institution may have already identified this as a strategic objective for 2020. And even if you already offer the service, shutdowns and closures stemming from Covid-19 may have highlighted friction in the account opening experience that either previously lacked visibility or was considered acceptable for the limited number of customers who took advantage of it. With customers now primarily directed toward a digital channel, you should reconsider the metrics used to define a satisfactory user experience.

The right channel. Online account opening may have been one of several customer channels your bank offered, but it may not have been marketed as the primary or best channel — especially when compared to the high-touch experience of in-person banking. It’s become clear, though, that a digital model that complements, and works cohesively with, a branch model is necessary to meet customers where they are. The steps you take to cultivate online account opening as the right channel for your bank should also establish the hallmarks of a preferred user experience.

An end-to-end strategy. Do your customers need to visit a branch or make a phone call to complete application paperwork? Does your solution provide for safe digital identity verification? Does it support electronic signing? Are your account opening documents optimized for viewing on mobile devices? An online account opening strategy that does not consider these questions will likely reduce efficiency, resulting in a poor user experience that may cause customers to abandon the account opening process before completing it.

Continuing the relationship. Online service must be full service and seamlessly dovetail with your in-person customer model. Offering an online account opening experience that then requires a phone call or a branch trip to manage name or address changes is the sort of partial digital transformation that unnecessarily complicates customer service. Online account maintenance must have the option to be fully driven by customers as an embedded component of your online account experience. Fully embracing a well-conceived online strategy will include opportunities for marketing and cross-selling as part of the digital maintenance experience. If your bank cannot fully service customer needs remotely, they may seek institutions that better address their banking usability preferences.

Continuing the investment. Investment priorities for your organization have undoubtedly been revisited two, potentially three, times in the last few months. Use these opportunities to reevaluate your digital delivery model and the technology that supports it. Technology that speeds up identity verification processes and solutions that support the digital signing of mobile-optimized documents are critical components of your digital architecture that will reduce friction for your customers as they move through the online process.

You have already made vast changes to your operating model to meet the needs of your customers during very trying times. Now is the time to maximize your return on those changes and continue developing your digital strategy.

Six Timeless Tenets of Extraordinary Banks

flywheel-image-v4.pngIf you want to understand innovation and success, a good person to ask is Jeff Bezos, the chairman and CEO of Amazon.com.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question,” Bezos said in 2012. “I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two, because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

In few industries is this truer than banking.

Much of the conversation in banking in recent years has focused on the ever-evolving technological, regulatory and operational landscapes. The vast majority of deposit transactions at large banks nowadays are made over digital channels, we’re told, as are a growing share of loan originations. As a result, banks that don’t change could soon go the way of the dinosaurs.

This argument has merit. But it also needs to be kept in perspective. Technology is not an end in itself for banks, it’s a means to an end — the end being to help people better manage their financial lives. Doing this in a sustainable way calls for a marriage of technology with the timeless tenets of banking.

It’s with this in mind that Bank Director and nCino, a provider of cloud-based services to banks, collaborated on a new report, The Flywheel of Banking: Six Timeless Tenets of Extraordinary Banks.

The report is based on interviews of more than a dozen CEOs from top-performing financial institutions, including Brian Moynihan at Bank of America Corp., Rene Jones at M&T Bank Corp. and Greg Carmichael at Fifth Third Bancorp. It offers unique and invaluable insights on leadership, growth, risk management, culture, stakeholder prioritization and capital allocation.

The future of banking is hard to predict. There is no roadmap to reveal the way. But a mastery of these tenets will help banks charge ahead with confidence and, in Bezos’ words, build business strategies around things that are stable in time.

 

The Six Tenets of Extraordinary Banks

Jonathan Rowe of nCino describes the traits that set exceptional banks — and their leaders — apart from the industry.

To download the free report, simply click here now.

The Biggest Priorities for Banks in Normal Times

Banks are caught in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the United States.

As they care for hurting customers in a dynamic and rapidly evolving environment, they cannot forget the fundamentals needed to steer any successful bank: maintaining discipline in a competitive lending market, attracting and retaining high-quality talent and improving their digital distribution channels.

Uncovering bankers’ biggest long-term priorities was one of the purposes of a roundtable conversation between executives and officers from a half dozen banks with between $10 billion and $30 billion in assets. The roundtable was sponsored by Deloitte LLP and took place at Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference at the end of January, before the brunt of the new coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Kevin Riley, CEO of First Interstate BancSystem, noted that customers throughout the $14.6 billion bank’s western footprint were generally optimistic prior to the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Washington, Oregon and Idaho at the time were doing best. With trade tensions and fear of an inverted yield curve easing, and with interest rates reversing course, businesses entered 2020 with more confidence than they entered 2019.

The growth efforts reflect a broader trend. “In our 2020 M&A Trends survey, corporate respondents cited ‘efficiency and effectiveness in change management’ and ‘aligning cultures’ as the top concerns for new acquisitions,” says Liz Fennessey, M&A principal at Deloitte Consulting.

A major benefit that flows from an acquisition is talent. “More and more, we’re seeing M&A used as a lever to access talent, which presents a new set of cultural challenges,” Fennessey continues. “In the very early stages of the deal, the acquirer should consider the aspects core to the culture that will help drive long-term retention in order to preserve deal value.”

One benefit of the benign credit environment that banks enjoyed at the end of last year is that it enabled them to focus on core issues like talent and culture. Tacoma, Washington-based Columbia Banking System has been particularly aggressive in this regard, said CEO Clint Stein.

The $14.1 billion bank added three new people to its executive committee this year, with a heavy emphasis on technology. The first is the bank’s chief digital and technology officer, who focuses on innovation, information security and digital expansion. The second is the bank’s chief marketing and experience officer, who oversees marketing efforts and leads both a new employee experience team and a new client experience team. The third is the director of retail banking and digital integration, whose responsibilities include oversight of retail branches and digital services.

Riley at First Interstate has employed similar tactics, realigning the bank’s executive team at the beginning of 2020 to add a chief strategy officer. The position includes leading the digital and product teams, data and analytics, as well as overseeing marketing, communications and the client contact center.

The key challenge when it comes to growth, particularly through M&A, is making sure that it improves, as opposed to impairs, the combined institution’s culture. “It is important to be deliberate and thoughtful when aligning cultures,” says Matt Hutton, a partner at Deloitte. “It matters as soon as the deal is announced. Don’t miss the opportunity to build culture momentum by reinforcing the behaviors you expect before the deal is complete.”

Related to the focus on growth and talent is an increasingly sharp focus on environmental, social and governance issues. For decades, corporations were operated primarily for the benefit of their shareholders — a doctrine known as shareholder primacy. But this emphasis has begun to change and may accelerate alongside the unfolding health crisis. Over the past few years, large institutional investors have started promoting a more inclusive approach known as stakeholder capitalism, requiring companies to optimize returns across all their stakeholders, not just the owners of their stock.

The banks at the roundtable have embraced this call to action. First National Bank of Omaha, in Omaha, Nebraska, publishes an annual community impact report, detailing metrics that capture the positive impact it has in the communities it serves. Columbia promotes the link between corporate social responsibility and performance. And First Interstate, in addition to issuing an annual environmental, social and governance report, has taken multiple steps in recent years to improve employee compensation and engagement.

Despite the diversity of business lines and geographies of different banks, these regional lenders shared multiple common priorities and fundamental focuses going into this year. The coronavirus crisis has certainly caused banks to change course, but there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when they and others are able to return to these core focuses.

Coronavirus Underlines Digital Transformation Urgency

The passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act means up to $350 billion in loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration is set to flow to small businesses by the June 30 funding deadline.

Community and regional institutions are, of course, the logical partners for distribution of this capital. But a challenge remains: How will those financial institutions reach out to the market when their lobbies may not be open, and businesses may not be comfortable with face-to-face interactions?

Banks have done little to change the way they interact with their business customers in the digital age. In good times, this lack of transformation allowed large technology companies like Amazon.com, PayPal Holdings and Square to siphon customers away. The current environment complicates efforts for banks that have not already transformed to be responsive to their customers immediate needs.

Customers prioritized convenience — now banks will be forced to. Even prior to social distancing, consumers prioritized speed and convenience, whether it came to new technology or where they banked.

Winning at business banking was always going to require banks to offer business customers a frictionless experience. But the ability to operate business banking functions digitally has taken on new meaning — from defining quality service to becoming a necessity during a pandemic.

Three Critical Points of Friction in Business Banking
Now more than ever, it should be every institution’s goal to make working with businesses as easy as possible, especially when distribution of SBA dollars is at stake.

To meet this moment, banks need to remove three critical friction points from their business banking experience:

  • The Application: Paper applications are long and tedious, and the process is even more difficult for SBA 7(a) loans. To remove friction, institutions need to focus on data and access. They should use available data and technology to pre-fill applications as much as possible, and provide them digitally either for self-service or with banker assistance.
  • The Decisioning: Underwriting loans is a labor-intensive process that can delay decisions for weeks. An influx of Paycheck Protection Program loan applications will only compound the inefficiencies of the underwriting process. Banks need to automate as much of the underwriting and decisioning process as possible, while keeping their risk exposure in mind. It’s critical that banks select companies that allow them to use their own, unique credit policies.
  • The Account Opening: Banks also need to think about long-term relationships with the businesses they serve during this time. That means eliminating common obstacles associated with opening a business deposit account. For example: If a business has already completed a loan application, their bank should have all the information they need for a new account application and shouldn’t ask for it twice. They need to ensure businesses can complete as much of this process remotely as possible.

At Numerated, the sense of urgency we hear from bank leaders is palpable. Our team has been working overtime — remotely — to provide banks with a quick-to-implement CARES Act Lending Automation solution. Banks have been working just as fast to understand the current environment and build strategies that will help them meet their customers’ rapidly shifting needs.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced banks to consider digital transformation as a solution to this problem. Still, many firms have held off for any number of reasons. Institutions that have focused on digital transformation will be the most successful in improving the business banking customer experience and will lead the way during this pandemic as a result.

From Eastern Bank Corp. in Boston that used digital lending to become the No. 1 small to midsized business lender in their competitive market, to First Federal Lakewood, in Lakewood, Ohio, that is using digital experiences to retain and grow strategic relationships, institutions of all sizes have launched new digital capabilities, better positioning them to face what’s ahead.

As the nation’s businesses grapple with this new reality, these financial institutions are examples for others exploring how to serve business customers when they can’t see them face to face. Doing so will require a reimagining of the way we do business banking.

Defending Commercial Deposits From Emerging Risks

The competition for commercial deposits has become fiercer in the new decade.

The rate of noninterest deposits growth has been declining over the last three years, according to quarterly reports from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The percentage of noninterest deposits to total deposits has also dropped over 250 basis points since 2016. This comes as the cost of funding earning assets continues to rise, creating pressure on banks’ net interest margins.  

At the same time, corporate customers are facing changes in their receipt of payments. Emerging payment trends are shifting payers from paper-based payments to other methods and avenues. Checks and paper-based payments — historically the most popular method — continue to decline as payers’ preferred payment method. Electronic payments have grown year-over-year by 9.4%.

Newer payment channels include mobile, point of presentment and payment portals. However, these new payment channels can increase the cost of processing electronic payments: 88% of these payments must be manually re-keyed by the accounting staff, according to one study. This inefficiency in manually processing payments increases costs and often leads to customer service issues.

Treasurers and senior corporate managers want automated solutions to handle increased electronic payment trends. Historically, banks have served their corporate customers for years with wholesale and retail lockbox services. But many legacy lockbox services are designed for paper-based payments, which are outdated and cannot handle electronic payments. Research shows that these corporate customers are turning to fintechs to solve their new payment processing challenges. Payments were the No. 1 threat that risked moving to fintechs, according to a 2017 Global Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Corporate customers are dissatisfied with their current process and are looking to use technology to modernize, future-proof, and upgrade their accounts receivable process. The top five needs of today’s treasurer include: enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration, automated payment matching, support for all payment channels, consolidated reporting and a single historical archive of their payments. 

Integrated receivables have three primary elements: payment matching, ERP integration and a single reporting archive. Automation matches payments from all channels using artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to eliminate the manual keying process. The use of flexible business rules allows the corporate to tailor their operation to meet their needs and increase automated payments over time. A consolidated payment file updates the corporates’ ERP system after completing the payment reconciliation process. Finally, integrated receivable provides a single source of all payment data, including analytics and reporting. An integrated receivables platform eliminates many disparate processes (most manual, some automated) that plague most businesses today. In fact, in one recent survey, almost 60% of treasurers were dissatisfied with their company’s current level of AR automation.

Banks can play a pivotal role in the new payment world by partnering with a fintech. Fintechs have been building platforms to serve the more-complex needs of corporate treasury, but pose a threat to the banks’ corporate customers. A corporate treasurer using a fintech for integrated receivables ultimately disintermediates the bank and now has the flexibility to choose where to place their depository and borrowing relationships. 

The good news is that the treasurer of your corporate customer would prefer to do business with their bank. According to Aite Research, 73% of treasurers believe their bank should offer integrated receivables, with 31% believing the bank will provide these services over the next five years. Moreover, 54% of the treasurers surveyed have planned investments to update their AR platform in the next few years. 

Many fintechs offer integrated receivables today, with new entrants coming to market every year. But bankers need to review the background and experience of their fintech partner. Banks should look for partners with expertise and programs that will enable the bank’s success. Banks should also be wary of providers that compete directly against them in the corporate market. Partnering with the right fintech provides your bank with a valuable service that your corporate customers need today, and future-proofs your treasury function for new and emerging payment channels. Most importantly, integrated receivables will allow your bank to continue retaining and attracting corporate deposits.