Is Your Digital Banking Sign Always On?

You’ve already heard the promises: The digital revolution is here, and it’s ushering in a new era of profitability, velocity and efficiency.

Or is it?

While you’ve likely seen your bank’s technology budget grow over the last few years, it may be harder to see how that spending translated into gains in business share, customer satisfaction or the bank’s bottom line. You may be hearing from frontline employees that operations feel more fractured than ever before. What’s wrong with this picture?

Your digital experience may be suffering from a chronic case of squeaky-wheel choices as competing objectives elbow for access to finite budget dollars and project resources. Improving online and mobile offerings may come at the cost of enhancing digital lending capabilities. Operational efficiencies — a grab bag that can include any number of disparate automation tools intended to reduce cost and improve productivity — may take dollars away from compliance and risk management. You’re not building your digital business from scratch; you’re methodically replacing and upgrading components across your technology stack. But as long as you still have static data siloes and bifurcated systems in your operational mix, your digital service will collide with stopping points that interfere with a smooth user experience.

Bank transaction supply chains are likely the result of decades-old decisions and solutions so entrenched within the operation that it feels inevitable. Reimagining the end-to-end solution requires a fresh look at some previous assumptions and a fresh look at the ecosystem of fintech partners. Executives need to determine if their providers and partners are willing to collaborate to identify and address digital stopping points.

One of the most revealing questions banks can ask their providers is about their own investment strategy. How much are they putting back into the development of their own solutions? Small, ongoing investments mean that your partners are spending money on things that don’t sustainably deliver benefits to your bank. It also means they aren’t looking ahead to solve the next round of technology challenges. If their CEOs aren’t actively positioning their solutions for future viability, then you may have found the weak links in your own supply chain.

The customers your bank is trying to reach want speed, ease of use and mobile enablement in everything they do, whether it’s one-touch shopping on Zappos or depositing a check into their savings account. While these requirements have defined consumer preferences in retail segments for years, they arguably define consumer preferences in every segment following the quick adaptations the industry made in digital banking in response to Covid-19.

The dream of 24/7/365 banking requires a precise definition of digital: always on. Not “mostly on” until your bank needs a compliance update. Not “pretty much on” until you need to manually advance the loan in the loan origination software or collect physical signature cards. Interconnected services are critical to the always-on digital experience.

Your digital offer should take its inspiration from innovative disrupters outside of the financial industry, like Uber Technologies and Netflix that rewrote the delivery and service aspects of their products with interconnected, cloud-based systems. Your bank needs to be able to deliver to customers, regardless of whether someone is sitting at your service desk. Static and bifurcated systems are, by definition, unconnected, and need human intervention for updates to keep you in business.

As your bank continues to invest in technologies to deliver digital banking, make sure you focus on the end game for your customers. Digital must be as reliable as turning on a light switch. Interconnected, cloud-based systems from partners who are looking forward with you will help you get there more quickly — and with fewer headaches.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Digital Lending Transformation

For many mid-size community banks, the shift to technology has been slower than expected. There can be a resistant mindset when it comes to implementing financial technology practices, hindering any results that the technology can provide. Bankers try to make the tech fit to their existing processes, rather than the other way around.

If you’re already considering a digital transformation, you might be tempted to run out and overhaul your entire system right away. However, this can be an overwhelming approach, destining the project for failure. One recent study finds that most financial institutions that have partnered with fintech firms have seen moderate gains, but there is still a need to distribute more dedicated resources to a true digital lending transformation. However, there are a few quick do’s and don’ts that every institution can benefit from:

Don’t try to overhaul the entire thing at once. Take an assessment of not only your bank’s current technology state, but also of your current practices and approaches. Too often, financial institutions want to focus on “the way it’s always been done,” rather than looking to see how digital solutions can make processes easier and more efficient. Keep what works in today (and tomorrow’s) environment and find ways to adapt the rest.

Do start with the most profitable areas. One of the best ways to see the most return on an investment in digital is to begin with the areas that drive revenue and profit to the institution. Your back office and credit department will benefit the most from technology that allows them to operate more efficiently and make decisions faster, making them logical starting points.

Don’t try to mix and match solutions. When it comes to implementing technology into the branches, many choose to try and piecemeal different products and systems together. While you might think this approach saves money by only buying certain products from certain vendors, your bank is most likely losing key integrations that can come from having a single solution.

Do trust your technology partners to guide you. Finding a partner that understands what it means to work in a bank, with these current processes, ensures that you’re getting support from folks that understand what you’re trying to do. The key here is trust. Too often, banks are resistant to the idea that their technology partners might be able to teach them a more efficient way.

Don’t try to change the technology. Rather than looking at how the bank can adopt the tech to its processes, consider leveraging technology partners to explore how your bank can simplify processes through technology. When you purchase a solution from a financial technology provider, you’re also paying for their expertise. Don’t throw your money away.

Do adjust your mindset when it comes to tech. Tech in the banking industry has made giant leaps in the last five years, let alone in the decades prior to that. If your bank’s mindset when it comes to implementing or adding technology into your processes is that certain things can’t be changed because it’s always been done this way, you’re setting yourself up to achieve fewer desirable results.

When the coronavirus pandemic sent everyone to their homes for months in 2020, many banks were forced to recognize that an online portal or a mobile app wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Adapting to a fully automated process has become necessary, not optional. Now is the time to learn from this and to take control of your technology. Don’t wait until the next unexpected issue forces you to adapt, when you can get ahead of the game.

About Baker Hill
Baker Hill empowers financial institutions to work smarter, reduce risk and drive more profitable relationships. The company delivers a single unified platform with modern solutions to streamline loan origination and risk management for commercial, small business and consumer lending. The Baker Hill NextGen® platform also delivers sophisticated analytics and marketing solutions that support sound business decisions to mitigate risk, generate growth and maximize profitability. For more information, visit www.bakerhill.com.

Five Ways to Challenge Digital Banks

Over the past several years, financial institutions have experimented with and implemented new technologies to improve efficiency, security and customer experience. Although online banking is currently challenging traditional banking practices in several aspects, there are ways that traditional banks can fight back. Here are a few key offerings of digital banking, along with ways traditional banks can beat them at their own game.

1. Improved service
Digital banks offer customers 24-hour service and the ability to conduct a variety of transactions in their own time. AI-powered chatbots allows customers to ask questions, perform transactions and create accounts through one platform, at any time. This on-demand service appeals to customers as saving time and effort in their banking experience.

However, one of the key missing components of an online banking platform is human interaction, which can be easier and more rewarding than filling out a checklist on a website. Customers can easily convey any special requests or needs. By providing excellent customer service with genuine and knowledgeable human interaction, traditional banks can offer a more complete service than online banks.

2. Heightened security
To keep up with innovative offerings like video chat and digital account operations, online banks can utilize SD-WAN solutions to maintain reliable connectivity and efficiency for their security needs. Solutions such as antivirus and anti-malware programming, firewalls and biometric and/or facial recognition technology provide additional levels of security to protect customer information.

Traditional banks may less susceptible to cybersecurity threats. Despite online banks’ level of security, their fully-digital presence makes them more vulnerable to cyberattacks compared to traditional banks. It may also be much more difficult to regain what has been lost in the event of a data breach, due to the ways cybercriminals can hide.

3. Streamlined services
Digital transformation is all about streamlining and improving operations; the concept of a digital banking solution is no different. Digital bank users can achieve their banking needs through a single platform. In one “visit,” customers can view their balance and recent transactions, transfer money between accounts and pay bills. Some digital banks also have the option to sync accounts with budgeting apps to further manage budgets and spending.

This streamlining allows digital banks to significantly reduce the number of different products and services they offer. By comparison, traditional banks can provide many more services and options to better fit the individual needs of their customers, and make sure they feel important and well looked after.

Moreover, traditional banks should not feel the need to provide all these services in-house. There are plenty of fintech partners they can lean on, with very specialized capabilities in these services, to help diversify their products and services.

4. Cost-effectiveness
There are often various costs associated with banking, both for the institution and the customer. The low overhead of digital banking allows for a significant reduction in cost and fees and may offer lower-cost options for individuals interested in opening multiple accounts.

Reducing costs may also mean reducing services and, at times, customer experiences. There’s no such thing as a free lunch; the less a customer pays, the less they may get. Many community banks offer more products and services, as well as helpful staff and peace of mind for small financial cost.

5. Environmental consciousness
Working to become more environmentally friendly is becoming an important step for all institutions. Digital banks are succeeding in reducing their carbon footprint and overall waste.

Many traditional banks are making great headway in becoming more environmentally friendly, and have the added benefit of making these changes optional. Many of the customer-facing changes can be approved or rejected by the customer, such as electing paperless statements, giving them more control over their banking experience. Digital banks are challenging traditional community banks in many ways. But community banks can leverage the substantial competitive advantages they already possess to continue providing a greater and more comprehensive experience than digital banks.

Three Ways Directors Can Solve the 3,000-Year-Old Credit Problem


credit-7-9-19.pngHistory has shown that knowledge is power. One place that could use the benefit of that knowledge is commercial credit.

Banks have been lending to businesses for 3,000 years and has yet to figure out the commercial credit process. But executives and directors have an opportunity to fix this problem using data and digital capabilities to make the process more efficient and faster, and become the lending legends of their institutions.

In 1300 B.C. Egypt, the credit process looked something like this: A seafaring trader would trade bronze bowls with a local bronze merchant for cloth and garments. But to make this transaction, the bronze merchant would need to borrow from multiple merchant lenders. This process required lenders to understand the business plans of the borrower, go “door to door,” have community knowledge and know the value of all those goods. There were a lot of moving pieces—and a great deal of time—involved for that one transaction.

Fast-forward to today. A lot has changed in 3,000 years, but the commercial credit process has actually gone backwards. It can take a lender 60 to 90 days and more than $10,000 per lead to identify potential leads—and that’s before they review the application. After a borrower applies, the lender must look up credit reports, collect and spread financial statements and decide on the terms and conditions. Finally, the application goes through the credit department, which can take another 30 to 45 days and cost $5,000 per application.

Lenders will have spent all that time and effort to process the loan—but may not end up with a new customer to show for it. Meanwhile, borrowers will have spent time and effort to apply and wait—and may not have a loan to show for it.

While this problem has persisted for 3,000 years, the good news is that executives and directors have an opportunity to fix the problem by turning their manual-lending process into a digital-lending one. This evolution entails three steps that transform the current process from weeks of work into days.

First, a bank would use a digital-lending portal to gather applicable demographics to identify prospective borrowers. In researching prospects, they see critical borrower information such as name, address, years in business, legal structure, taxpayer identification number, history, business description and management team. Rather than having to wait until later in the process to uncover this critical information, they can immediately identify whether to pursue this lead and quickly move on.

Second, a bank uses a credit-decision engine to gather and analyze the applicable borrower data. Not only can the engine pull in consumer and credit bureau information, but it can also include automated financial collection, credit score and industry data for comparison. The bank can use data from this tool to determine terms and conditions, credit structure, purpose of credit facility, pricing, relationship models and cross-sell strategies.

Third and finally, the bank’s credit policy and process integrate with its credit-decision engine to enable an automated review of a loan application. This would include compliance checks, terms and conditions and credit structure. Since the data gathering and analysis has already taken place and automatically factored into the decision, there is no need to review all those pieces, as would be required with a manual process.

These three steps of this digital lending process have distilled a weeks-long process into about five days. Executives and directors can not only grow their institution in a shortened time period; they can do so without adding any risk. A bank I worked with that had $250 million in assets was able to add $20 million in loan volume without taking on any additional risk.

By using knowledge to their advantage and implementing a digital lending solution, bankers can save not just time and costs, but their institutions as well as their communities. They can now spend their limited time and resources where they matter most: growing relationships along with their banks. Having fixed the 3,000-year-old credit problem, they can place those challenges firmly in the past and focus on their future.

Are You Losing Business to Alternative Lenders?


lending-10-2-17.pngEvery relationship manager assumes that their clients would never go to another lender for a loan. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, and the data proves it. Banks are starting to notice a trend in their existing client base. Their customers are receiving more and more outside financing from alternative lenders with each passing year. In some cases, this has grown by 55 percent a year since 2014. Small business owners are doing this for two main reasons: Applying for a loan online is fast and convenient, and it’s the path of least resistance to acquiring the money they need to help their business succeed.

Here are a few questions to determine whether your clients are moving to alt lenders:

  1. Does your bank avoid small business loans because they can’t do them profitably?
  2. Has your institution pin-pointed the number of online defectors in its own client base? Has your team dug deep into transaction records to see what percent of small-business customers are making regular payments to online lenders?

Be prepared to see some shocking numbers, which leads to the next question: How will you stop the exodus? Better customer service and product awareness? Sure, letting your existing customers know you provide small business lending services is a great start but one thing alternative lenders have that most financial institutions don’t is a well-designed, quick and easy, self-service online application.

When financial institutions dig deeper into their own customer data, they begin to see that even the most credit worthy clients with highly successful businesses and great credit scores are using alternative lenders. They might need money quickly and know traditional banks take several weeks to process a paper loan application. Or they simply might not have the time to go to a bank during regular business hours and instead prefer (and are willing to pay more for) the convenience and flexibility provided by alternative lenders that offer a 24/7 omni-channel-accessible application.

Providing a better experience for your clients is becoming a must. This includes having an application available to clients at any time on any device. And the technology has to accommodate every client’s and prospect’s preference, providing the option to complete the application on their own, or sit down with their banker to complete the application together. The improvement in the customer experience “lift” from technology also needs to go beyond the application, to include streamlining and speeding up all aspects of the end-to-end lending process, from decisioning to closing.

Building technology into the lending process will stop your customers from looking elsewhere. However, the benefits of such a partnership don’t just stop with the customer experience enhancements. Banks using a technology-based, end-to-end lending platform will see a significant reduction in the cost-per-loan-booked, enabling the institution to make even the smallest loans more profitable. Banker productivity and engagement also are positively impacted by technology. With the right partner, front office bankers are freed up from the responsibilities of shepherding loans through the process and instead can focus on acquiring new relationships, or expanding current ones. Back office bankers spend minutes analyzing each deal instead of hours, enabling them to focus on deeper inspection into larger deals, or diving into a “second look” process to try to turn “declines” into “approvals”.

Technology, when leveraged appropriately, enhances the relationship between banker and client, enabling the banker to provide more value and deliver a much better customer experience. When that happens, clients will no longer need to explore alternative/online lenders because their financial institution will be delivering the convenience, speed and path of least resistance to the cash they need to grow their business. The institution benefits from reduced costs, increased customer and employee retention, as well as portfolio and overall growth in revenue-per-customer.