Managing Risk When Buying Technology for Engagement

No bank leader wants to buy an engagement platform, but they do want to grow customer relationships. 

Many, though, risk buying engagement platforms that won’t grow relationships for a sustained period of time. Most platforms are not ready-made for quality, digital experience that serve depositors and borrowers well, which means they threaten much more than a bank’s growth. They are a risk to the entire relationship with each customer.  

Consumers are increasingly expressing a need for help from their financial providers. Less than half of Americans can afford a surprise $1,000 expense, according to a survey from Bankrate; about 60% say they do not have $1,000 in savings. One in 5 adults would put a surprise expenditure on a credit card, one of the most expensive forms of debt. More than half of consumers polled want more help than they’re getting from their financial provider. However, the 66% of those  who say they have received communication from their provider were unhappy about the generic advice they received. 

This engagement gap offers banks a competitive opportunity. Consumers want more and better engagement, and they are willing to give their business those providers who deliver. About 83% of households polled said they would consider their institution for their next product or service when they are both “satisfied and fully engaged,” according to Gallup. The number drops to 45% if the household is only satisfied. 

Banks seeking to use engagement for growth should be wary of not losing customer satisfaction as they pursue full engagement. As noted earlier, about 66% of those engaged aren’t satisfied with the financial provider’s generic approach. What does that mean for financial institutions? The challenge is quality of engagement, not just quantity or the lack thereof. If they deliver quantity instead of quality, they risk both unsatisfied customers as well as customers who ignore their engagement. 

According to Gallup, only 19% of households said they would grow their relationship when they are neither satisfied nor fully engaged. This is a major risk banks miss when buying engagement platforms: That the institution is buying a technology not made for quality, digital experiences and won’t be able to serve depositors and borrowers well any time soon. 

But aren’t all engagement platforms made for engagement? Yes — but not all are made for banking engagement, and even fewer are made with return on investment in mind. Banking is unique; the tech that powers it should be as well. Buyers need to vet platforms for what’s included in terms of know-how. What expertise does the platform contain and provide for growing a bank? Is that built into the software itself?

A purpose-built platform can show bankers which contact fields are of value to banking engagement, for example, and which integrations can be used to populate those fields. It can also show how that data can become insights for banks when it overlaps with customers’ desired outcomes. And it offers the engagement workflows across staff actions, emails, print marketing and text messaging that result in loan applications, originations, opened accounts or activated cards.   

Previously, the only options available were generic engagement platforms made for any business; banks had to take on the work of customizing platforms. Executives just bought a platform and placed a bet that they could develop it into a banking growth tool. They’d find out if they were right only after paying consultants, writers, designers, and marketing technologists for years.  

Financial services providers no longer need to take these risks. A much better experience awaits them and their current and prospective customers clamoring for a relationship upgrade.

The Easiest Way to Launch a Digital Bank

New fintechs are forcing traditional financial institutions to acclimatize to a modern banking environment. Some banks are gearing up to allow these fintechs to hitchhike on their existing bank charters by providing application programming interfaces (APIs) for payments, deposits, compliance and more. Others are launching their own digital brands using their existing licenses.

Either way, the determining factor of the ultimate digital experience for users and consumers is the underlying technology infrastructure. While banks can spawn digital editions from their legacy cores through limited APIs and cobbled-up middleware, the key questions for their future relevance and resilience remain unanswered:

  1. Can traditional banks offer the programmability needed to launch bespoke products and services?
  2. Can they compose products on the fly and offer the speed to market?
  3. Can they remove friction and offer a sleek end-to-end experience?
  4. Can they meet the modern API requirements that developers and fintechs demand from banks?

If the core providers and middleware can’t help, what can banks use to launch a digital bank? The perfect springboard for launching a digital bank may lie in the operating system.

Removing friction at every touchpoint is the overarching theme around most innovation. So when it comes to innovation, why do banks start with the core, which is often the point in their system with the least amount of flexibility and the most friction?

When it comes to launching a digital bank, the perfect place for an institution to start is an operating system that is exclusively designed for composability — that they can build configurable components to create products and services — and the rapid launch of banking products. Built-in engines, or engines that can take care of workflows based on business rules, in the operating system can expedite the launch of financial services products, while APIs and software development kits open up the possibility for custom development and embedded banking.

That means banks can create products designed for the next generation of consumers or for niche communities through the “composability” or “programmability” offered by these operating systems. This can include teen accounts, instant payments for small and medium-sized business customers that can improve their cash flow, foreign exchange for corporate customers with international presence, domestic and international payments to business customers, tailored digital banking experiences; whatever the product, banks can easily compose and create on the fly. What’s more, they also have granular control to customize and control the underlying processes using powerful workflow engines. The operating system also provides access to centralized services like compliance, audit, notifications and reporting that different departments across the bank can access, improving operational efficiency.

Menu-based innovation through operating systems
The rich assortment of microservices apps offered in operating systems can help banks to launch different applications and features like FedNow, RTP and banking as a service(BaaS) on the fly. The process is simple.

The bank fills up a form with basic information and exercises its choice from a menu of microapps compiled for bankers and customers. The menu includes the payment rails and networks the bank needs — ACH, Fedwire, RTP, Swift — along with additional options like foreign exchange, compliance, onboarding and customer experiences like bulk and international payments, to name a few.

The bank submits the form and receives notification that its digital bank has been set up on a modern, scalable and robust cloud infrastructure. The institution also benefits from an array of in-built features like audit, workflows, customer relationship management, administration, dashboards, fees and much more.

Setting up the payment infrastructure for a digital bank can be as easy as ordering a pizza:

  1. Pick from the menu of apps.
  2. Get your new digital brand setup in 10 minutes.
  3. Train employees to use the apps.
  4. Launch banking products to customers.
  5. Onboard fintech partners through For-Benefit-Of Accounts (FBO)/virtual accounts.
  6. Offer APIs to provide banking as a service without the need for middleware.

The pandemic has given new shape and form to financial services; banks need the programmability to play with modular elements offered on powerful operating systems that serve as the bedrock of innovation.

FinXTech’s Need to Know: Charitable Giving Platforms

In the wake of disaster, people give back.

Less than twenty-four hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in neighboring Ukraine, Ukrainian-based charity Come Back Alive received over $673,000 in donations — $400,000 of which was in bitcoin. At the time of this newsletter, over $50 million has been donated to Ukraine in cryptocurrency.

Whether it’s a global catastrophe or an organization closer to home, U.S. consumers want easy ways to give to the causes that are important to them. Banks are in a perfect position not only to highlight local charities for their customers, but also to facilitate donations to them in a safe, efficient and trackable manner.

And financial technology companies can provide the software to make it possible.

Fintechs that specialize in charitable giving help embed donation capabilities directly into a bank’s digital banking platform via application programming interfaces (APIs), avoiding lengthy core integration timelines. Once live, bank customers can choose which charities to give to, how often they donate and, of course, how much.

Charleston-based in/PACT offers a white-labeled giving solution for banks called GoodCoin. GoodCoin allows customers to give in multiple ways: one-off donations, recurring gifts (monthly, bi-weekly, etc.) or “round up,” which rounds up a user’s card payments to the nearest dollar and donates the change.

These fintechs also keep track of each customer’s donations for the year. Users can access exportable receipts during tax season, or whenever a donation is made. And using a giving-based fintech allows users to access how much they’ve given starting at the start of the year or since they started giving so they can track their impact.

Pinkaloo, another charitable giving platform, operates accounts for charitable donations that are similar to a health savings account. Customers can fund the account, donate to a selected charity and immediately receive a tax receipt for the transactions — all under the bank’s brand. Customers can even convert their credit card rewards points into charitable dollars.

On a larger scale, CyberGrants, which was acquired by Apax Partners in June 2021, helps banks to manage, track and report on all of their corporate philanthropic efforts. It also has a front-end interface that allows employees to sign up for payroll donations or track volunteer hours and nonprofits to apply for bank grants.

Here are four customer- and bank-facing benefits of implementing a giving-based fintech:

  • It provides audit-ready, real-time and exportable tax receipts. All of a customer’s giving lives in one place. Banks can even use certain platforms to track enterprise-level giving. 
  • It promotes giving, locally and globally. There are over 1.5 million 503(c)3 nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS. in/PACT has over 1.2 million of them on its platform for users to search and donate to. Banks can also use the platforms to match customer donations to specific charities.
  • It can realign or reinforce corporate philanthropy. Collecting donation data can show banks what charities or causes are important to their community. They can later choose to incorporate or emphasize those organizations into their corporate giving strategy.
  • It drives digital engagement and brand loyalty. Consumers like aligning themselves with brands that provide opportunities to give back (and give back themselves). Having a donation platform as an integral part of a mobile banking experience can keep customers engaged and coming back.

Banks that implement a giving platform can help customers increase their charitable donations on their time and dime.

Pinkaloo, in/PACT and CyberGrants are 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.

Digital Deniers Need Not Apply

There are few bankers who understand the process of digital transformation better than Mike Butler.

Beginning in 2014, Butler oversaw the evolution of Boston-based Radius Bancorp from a federally chartered, brick-and-mortar thrift to one of the most tech-forward banks in the country. Radius closed all its branches except for one (federal thrifts are required to have at least one branch) and adopted a digital-only consumer banking platform.

The digital reinvention was so successful that in February 2020, LendingClub Corp. announced a deal to buy Radius to augment that marketplace lender’s push into digital banking. Now Butler is off on another digital adventure, this time as president and CEO of New York-based Grasshopper Bancorp, a five-year-old de novo bank focused on the small business market. Like Radius, Grasshopper operates a digital-only platform.

Butler will moderate a panel discussion at Bank Director’s upcoming Acquire or Be Acquired Conference focusing on the importance of integrating bank strategy with technology investments. The conference runs Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2022, at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix.

Butler says that successful transformation begins with the bank’s executive management team and board of directors, where discussions about technology need to be an integral part of strategic planning. And most importantly, management and the board need to see digital transformation as crucial to the bank’s future success. Butler says there are still plenty of “digital deniers” among bankers who believe they can be successful without strengthening their institution’s digital capabilities.

“Have you embraced the kinds of changes that are taking place inside the industry?” Butler says. “And do you have a very strong cultural commitment to be a part of that change? When you do that, you start to look to technology as the enabling driver to get you to that place.”

Management teams that are just starting out on a path to digital transformation can easily find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential projects. “The most important thing to do is to prioritize and recognize that you cannot do this all at once,” Butler says. “It would be a mess if you tried. Pick two to three things that you think are critically important.”

A third element of a successful transformation process is finding the right person to lead the project. “You’ve got to have the right talent to do it,” Butler says. “That leader better be somebody who has been pushing it rather than you push it on them as CEO. You can’t say, ‘Joe, you’ve been running branches for 30 years, do you believe in digital? Eh, kind of. Okay, I want you to put in a digital platform.’ That’s not going to work.”

Butler goes so far as to say that only true believers should run those fintech projects. “You cannot do this without people that have the passion and the belief to get to the other side, because you will hit a lot of roadblocks and you’ve got to be able to bust through those roadblocks,” he says. “And if you don’t believe, if you don’t have the passion, there’s a lot of reasons to stop and go a different way.”

Butler might not seem the most likely person to be a digital change agent. He spent 13 years at Radius and pursued a branch banking strategy in the early years. Prior to joining Radius, Butler was president of KeyCorp’s national consumer finance business. He did not come from the fintech sector. He has a traditional banking background. And yet as Butler is quick to point out, Radius didn’t reinvent banking, it reinvented the customer experience.

The fact that Butler lacked a technology background didn’t deter him from pursuing a transformational strategy at Radius. He was smart enough to see the changes taking place throughout the industry, so he understood the business case, and he was also smart enough to surround himself with highly committed people who did understand the technology.

In building out its digital consumer banking platform, Radius worked with a number of third-party fintech vendors. “I wasn’t making technology decisions about whose technology was better, but I surely was making decisions about the companies that we were partnering with and what type of people we were willing to work with,” Butler says. “I met every single CEO of every company that we did business with, and that was a big part of our decision as to why we would partner with them.”

At Grasshopper, Butler says he prefers the challenge of building a new digital bank from scratch rather than converting a traditional bank like Radius to a digital environment. Sure, there are all the pain points of a startup, including raising capital. But the advantages go beyond starting with a clean piece of paper from a design perspective. “It’s really hard to transform a culture into something new inside of an organization,” Butler says. “So, I’d say the upside is that you get to start from scratch and hire the right people who have the right mindset.”

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.

Scaling Customer Acquisition Through Digital Account Openings

A strong digital account opening strategy, when done correctly, can generate returns on investment that are both obvious and large.

Critical to this strategy, however, is to have a granular and holistic understanding of customer acquisition cost, or CAC. Customer acquisition cost is a broad topic and is usually composed of multiple channels. Digital account opening is a tool used to acquire customers, and therefore should be included in your financial institution’s CAC. ‍It may even be able to reduce your current CAC.

Financial institutions define CAC differently, and there is no limit to its granularity. We advise financial institutions to separate user acquisition cost into two buckets: digital CAC and physical CAC. This piece will focus on digital CAC.

With respect to digital CAC, there are a number of inputs that can include:

  • The digital account opening platform;
  • social media advertising spend;
  • print ad spend (mailers, billboards);
  • general ad spend (commercials, radio);
  • retargeting ad spend (i.e. Adroll); and
  • creative costs.

Optionally, a financial institution can also include the salaries and bonuses of employees directly responsible for growth, any overhead related to employees directly responsible for growth and even physical CAC, if this is less than 20% of overall CAC spend.

How Does Digital Account Opening Reduce CAC?
Digital account opening platforms are actually intended to lower your customer acquisition costs. Initially, this might sound counterintuitive: how would installing a digital account platform, which is an additional cost, reduce CAC over the long run?

The answer is scale.

For example, let’s say your financial institution spends $1 million on marketing and gains 10,000 new customers. This results in a CAC of $100 per customer. Compare that to spending $1.2 million on marketing that includes digital account opening. Providing the ability for customers to easily open accounts through online, mobile and tablet channels results in 15,000 customers, dropping your CAC to $80. In this example, implementing a fast and easy way for customers to open accounts reduced CAC by 20% and increased the return on existing marketing spend.‍

Once you have a successful marketing machine that includes strong digital account opening, you will want to scale quickly. Marketing spend decisions should be driven by quantitative metrics. You should be able to confidently expect that if it increases marketing spend by $X, you will see a Y increase in new accounts and a Z increase in new deposits.

The only additional costs your financial institution incurs for account opening are per application costs — which tend to be nominal inputs to the overall CAC calculation. ‍

What is a Good CAC for a Financial Institution?‍
CAC has so many variables and broad-definitions that it is nearly impossible to tell financial institutions what is “good” and what is “bad.” Across CAC industry benchmarks, financial services has one of the highest costs to acquire new customers:

Technology (Software): $395

Telecom: $315‍

Banking/Insurance: $303

‍Real Estate: $213

Technology (Hardware): $182

Financial: $175

Marketing Agency: $141

Transportation: $98

Manufacturing: $83

Consumer Goods: $22

Retail: $10

Travel: $7‍ ‍‍

Customer acquisition cost and digital account opening go hand-in-hand. Financial institutions should focus on the output of any marketing spend, as opposed to the input cost. Different marketing strategies will have varied levels of scalability. It’s important to invest in strategies that can scale exponentially and cost-effectively. By focusing on these principles, your financial institution will quickly realize a path towards industry-leading growth and profit metrics, putting your financial institution ahead of the competition.

Three Steps to Mastering Digital Connection

Before the coronavirus crisis, I heard bank leaders talk about “becoming digital,” but less than 15% considered themselves digital transformation leaders.

The pandemic has pushed banks to close the digital experience gap. Executives must take a hard look at what their customers expect and what digital tools (and products) they need to weather this crisis.

Digital transformation can’t happen without mastering the art of digital connection, which requires both technology and authentic human connection. To do this, banks must harness the power of data, technology, and their people to create customers for life. Here are three steps to help your bank master the art of digital connection.

Maximize Customers Data to Transform the Experience
If a customer walked into a branch for a typical transaction, the teller would have immediate visibility into their entire relationship and recent interactions — and would be empowered to recommend additional, relevant bank products or services. They would feel known and well-served by your teller.

Your digital infrastructure should provide the same humanized experience through email, customer service and other interactions with your bank. But unorganized, siloed data causes problems and impedes creating this experience. To maximize your customers’ data, you’ll need to:

  • Consolidate your view of each customer.
  • Ensure that teams have access to a high-level view of customer data and activity, from marketing to customer service.
  • Group them by segments in order to deliver relevant information about products and services. This step requires a solid understanding of your customer, their financial needs and their goals.

Invest in Technology That Reaches Customers Today
To inform, educate and engage your customers during this time of transition, you need sophisticated, best-in-class banking technology. Many banks have already come to this conclusion and are looking for help modernizing their banking experience.

A key component in meeting your customers where they are is quite literal. While some of your customers are well-versed in online banking, others have exclusively used their branch for their financial needs. The information these two audiences will need during this transition will look different, based on their previous interactions. Compared to customers who are already familiar with digital banking, those who have never done it before will need more specific, useful instructions to help them navigate their financial options and a clear pathway to 1-on-1 assistance. This kind of segmentation requires modern marketing technology that works in tandem with banking and lending tools.

Amplify Human Connections to Build Trust
Many banks have trouble letting go of the branch experience; customers have had the same reservations. In an Accenture survey of financial services, 59% of customers said it was important to have a real person available to give in-person advice about more complex products.

Now that going into a branch is not an option, your bank must find a way to use technology to amplify the human connections between your customers and staff. Especially now, sending meaningful, humanized communications will position your bank as a trusted financial partner. To transform your digital experience, and keep people at the center of every interaction, you must:

  • Personalize your messages — beyond just putting a customer’s name in the salutation. Data allows emails to be very specific to segments or even individuals. Don’t send out generic emails that contain irrelevant product offers.
  • Humanize your customer experience. Communicate that you know who you’re talking to each time a customer picks up the phone or contacts your help line.
  • Support a seamless omnichannel experience. Provide customers with clear avenues to get advice from your staff, whether that’s by email, phone or text.

Investment in innovation comes from the top down. Your bank must buy into this opportunity to transform your customer experience from leadership to all lines of your business. The opportunity is here now; this shift toward digital interactions is here to stay.

There’s no longer a question of whether a fully digital banking experience is necessary. Banks must leverage modern technology and the human connections their customers know them for to improve their overall customer experience. Excellent customer experience comes from delivering value at every touchpoint. This is the new bar all banks must meet.

Loan Growth: Curation, Credit Monitoring

SavvyMoney.pngOne community bank is using a fintech to deepen lending relationships with customers and help them monitor and improve their credit score.

Watford City, North Dakota-based First International Bank and Trust wanted to offer customers a way to proactively monitor their credit and receive monthly or incident-related alerts about any changes — without needing to use external vendors, granting external access to accounts or even paying for it. It chose to partner with SavvyMoney, which provides customers with their credit scores and reports alongside pre-qualified loan offers from within the bank’s online and mobile apps.

The fruits of the relationship were one reason the fintech was awarded the Best Solution for Loan Growth at Bank Director’s 2020 Best of FinXTech Award in May. CommonBond, a student loan refinancer, and Blend, which offers banks an online, white-label mortgage processing solution, were also finalists in the category.

In exploring how it could help customers improve their credit score and manage their finances, First International knew some customers were already using similar services through external websites. But the $3.6 billion bank wanted to convey that it had invested time and IT resources to ensure SavvyMoney’s validity, accuracy and status as a trusted partner, says Melissa Frohlich, digital banking manager. The SavvyMoney feature takes about 45 seconds to activate once a customer is logged in, and the customer experience is the same in the mobile app or website.

“From the fraud standpoint, we definitely recommend to our customers that … they use SavvyMoney because it’s free to them,” Frohlich says. “Especially with all the breaches that happen, it’s a good way for them to self-monitor their credit.”

The bank also uses the platform to share specialized credit offers along with a customers’ loan information and credit score, which it crafts using public records and extends based on internal criteria. It has launched two credit card balance transfer offers since rolling out the product two years ago. The fintech offers First International a way to “slice and dice” data to truly target customers with customized offers, as opposed to “throwing out a fishing line and hoping someone bites,” she says.

Launching the offers takes “very little” time to implement and consists of updating a term sheet, whipping up bank graphics and sending out a simple email blast. The first offer netted more than $190,000 in balance transfers — all from one email campaign.

“It was just very, very little work for us with pretty significant impact, without a ton of manpower or money that we had to put into it,” Frohlich says.

The balance transfer offer included messaging about how much customers would save with the new interest rate. If First International wanted to offer auto loan refinancing, it could input different rates based on the year of the vehicle and loan term.

First International was drawn to SavvyMoney in part because it had an existing relationship with a variety of core providers. That’s key, given that SavvyMoney connects to a bank’s core to pull in personal customer information from online and mobile banking sources. And because it would be sharing customer data, First International spent several months conducting due diligence, combing through SavvyMoney’s system and organization controlsreports and speaking with both its core and the fintech.

Frohlich says the actual implementation took about a month and was as straightforward as flipping a switch to activate the capability in customer accounts. She continues to work with her representative at SavvyMoney to add or change loan offers.

“They have probably the best integration that I’ve seen with Fiserv from a third party or a fintech, out of any other product that Fiserv doesn’t own,” she says. “The actual implementation was the best that I’ve ever taken part in.”

SavvyMoney can also integrate with the bank’s new loan platform that was slated for a March launch, a fact that Frohlich didn’t know when the bank selected either. Loan applications submitted through SavvyMoney will feed into the software’ auto decision-making.

“That will be a game changer for us, then we will heavily start doing more promotions,” she says.

Even after the bank switched cores, it has been able to keep SavvyMoney given its vendor relationships with other cores. “There have been other solutions, that now that we’re moving to a different platform, that I could consider,” Frohlich says. “But to be honest, our experience has been so great with SavvyMoney that I have no reason to look elsewhere.”

Viewing the COVID-19 Crisis From a New Vantage Point

Fintech companies have a unique vantage point from which to view the COVID-19 crisis.

Technology leaders are working long hours to help banks go remote, fill in customer service gaps and meet unprecedented loan demand. They’re providing millions of dollars in free services, and rapidly releasing new products. They’re talking to bankers all day, every day, and many of them are former bankers themselves.

Bank Director crowdsourced insights about banks’ pandemic-fueled tech initiatives from 30 fintech companies and distilled their viewpoints into five observations that can help banks sort through the digital demands they face today.

“Nice to Have” Technology Is Now “Must Have”
Online account opening, digital banking, financial wellness and customer service are garnering fresh attention as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Before the pandemic, these areas were thought of as “nice to have,” but they weren’t at the top of any bank’s tech expenditure list. COVID changed that.

Account opening and digital banking are essential when branch lobbies are closed, and customers are looking to their banks for advice in ways they never have before in times of widespread uncertainty.

These new demands have created a unique opportunity to push technology initiatives forward. Ben Morales, who had a 24-year tenure in banking before founding personal loan fintech QCash, observed that bank leaders shouldn’t “waste an emergency. Now is the time to push bank boards to invest.”

Bank boards are already talking about COVID as a potential inflection point for tech adoption, says Jon Rigsby, a former banker who co-founded and now is the CEO of Hawthorn River Lending. He notes that this moment is different from past crises. “In my 27-year banking career, I’ve never seen bankers change so fast. It was quite phenomenal.”

Customer Service, Financial Wellness Are Taking Center Stage
Consumers are increasingly seeking guidance from their banks, inundating call centers. As a result, communication and financial wellness tools are getting their moment in the sun.

Boston-based fintech Micronotes has witnessed exponential growth in demand for their product that helps banks initiate conversations with their customers digitally. Micronotes introduced a new program that’s purpose built for pandemic in mid-March. The Goodwill Program helps banks proactively communicate with their customers around issues like relief assistance and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Inbound interest in the firm from banks was nearly eight-times higher two weeks after the program launched, compared to the two weeks prior to launch, Micronotes reports.

Banks already equipped with digital communication tools are seeing an uptick in usage. Kasisto, a New York-based fintech, reported that several clients have seen a 20% to 30% increase in the use of KAI, a virtual assistant that can converse with customers and lessen the burden on call centers.

Financial wellness initiatives are also seeing liftoff. Happy Money, a personal loan fintech that uses financial and psychometric data to predict a borrower’s willingness to repay a loan, launched a free financial stress relief product for its bank partners’ customers. And SavvyMoney, a fintech that provides credit information to borrowers alongside pre-qualified loan offers, is seeing an influx of inquiries from banks that “understand the need to provide their customers with tools so they can better manage their money during uncertain financial times,” says CEO JB Orecchia.

Due Diligence Can Move Faster, When It Has To
Several fintechs have noted that banks are speeding up their vendor due diligence processes immensely — but not by relaxing standards.

Vendor onboarding programs can sometimes stretch to fill an entire year, according to Rishi Khosla, CEO of London-based digital bank OakNorth, but they don’t have to. OakNorth developed its own credit underwriting and monitoring solution, and recently spun out a technology company by the same name to provide the tools to banks outside of the U.K.

Khosla has a unique perspective given his dual roles as both a banker and technologist. He says some banks have created “unbelievable processes” that, when cut down, actually only amount to 10 to 20 hours of work. In this environment, he says, a commercial bank partner can get 20 hours of work done within days. They’re in “war mode,” so they can take a dramatically different approach, but with no less rigor.

“It’s not like they’re taking shortcuts. They’re going through all the right processes,” he says. “It’s just they’re doing it in a very efficient, streamlined manner without the bureaucracy.”

Approach Existing Partners First
Banks now wanting to adopt new technology may find themselves at the end of a long waitlist as fintechs are inundated with new demand. Fintech providers are prioritizing implementations for existing customers first — just as most banks prioritize existing borrowers for PPP loans.

To get the technology they need fast, some banks are getting creative in rejiggering the tech they do have to meet immediate needs.

Matt Johnner, a bank board member and the president of construction lending fintech BankLabs, got a call from a bank client a few days after the rollout of PPP loans. The bank wanted to customize the BankLabs construction loan automation tool to process PPP loans. Johnner says the bank “called because they know our software is customizable … and that we go live in 1 hour.”

Because of the exponential rise in digital demand, a bank’s success with technology during the pandemic has been based largely on what they had in place before the outbreak, according to many fintechs.

“Some banks are innovating through this and are thinking near and long term, especially those that have made good investments in digital banking and have a solid foundation to build out from,” explains Derik Sutton, VP of product and experience for small business solution Autobooks. “The most common response we get [from banks] is ‘We wish we had done this sooner.’”

Resist the Urge to Slash-and-Burn
There are typically three ways that banks respond in crisis, according to Joe Zeibert, who started his banking career as an intern at Bank of America Corp. in summer 2008. He recently joined pricing and analytics platform Nomis as managing director of global lending solutions after an 11-year career in banking, and believes history can be a useful indicator here.

Similar to the financial crisis, we see some banks rushing to innovate who will be ahead of the curve when they get out of the downturn. Others are playing wait and see, and then others are slashing tech and innovation budgets to cut costs wherever they can,” says Zeibert. According to him, the more innovative banks came out of the last crisis better off than their peers that cut tech spending. “They came out of the downturn with a 5-year innovation lead over their competitors — a gap that is almost impossible to close,” he says. Banks now should resist the urge to slash and burn and, instead, focus on investing in technology that will help them emerge from the crisis stronger.

Most technology companies are reporting an influx of inbound interest from banks, and strong momentum on current projects. Fintechs appear to be rising to the occasion, and one sentiment they all seem to share is that it’s their time to give back; to help banks and, as a result, the nation, weather this crisis together.

*All of the companies mentioned in this article are offering new products, expedited implementations or free services to banks during COVID-19. To learn more about them, you can access their profiles in Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect platform.

Three Retail Strategies for the Post-Coronavirus Branch

Technology is key to providing a near touch-free experience in the branch and digitally, but many banks are not ready. Less than 50% of organizations believe they are prepared for competitive threats, customer expectations or technological advancements, according to the 2019 “State of Digital Banking Transformation” report.

It’s a daunting task to take on digital transformation. Financial institution didn’t need a crisis to learn that banking from anywhere is a priority for customers, but it has highlighted the slow rate of mobile adoption. Only 17% of financial institutions believe they have deployed digital transformation at scale, with larger organizations being the most advanced, according to the Digital Banking Report. Even after the coronavirus pandemic has settled down, consumers will value banks that make the investment to provide services digitally.

Onboard Customers to Digital Resources
Transacting from anywhere is important, but that’s not the entire branch experience — banks need to provide highly personal financial education and advisory services from anywhere. Focus marketing and communications on educating customers with resources like blogs, social media posts, financial healthcheck tools or webinars on relevant topics like financial planning in an emergency. Content explaining the details and next steps on payment deferrals, personal loans, and programs like the Paycheck Protection Program are especially helpful during this time. Ensure your compliance officer looks over everything before it’s posted.

Offering tools and resources now will position you as an advising partner rather than a product-focused institution. And video banking gives your customers more access to experts. These platforms put face-to-face interactions in the palm of your customers’ hands by allowing them to connect with a banker right from their phone, securely sign and share documents such as photo IDs, documents for new accounts, loans, and other urgent needs.

Give Customers Access to Experts
Banks also need to invest in technology that allows their experts to work from anywhere — including the corporate campus or headquarters too. These investments allow them to work from anywhere makes transitioning to remote easy; they can also improve productivity when they are in the office.

Adding flex spaces in your headquarters allows you to reduce the number of desks provided to full-time employees while improving productivity, the flex space allows your employees to have a space to focus when they need to, collaborate, and it can be used by others when that employee is remote or off-campus.

Your experts will need to have a well-thought-out space where they can perform their remote expert duties. A clean backdrop, technology, and quiet location are all necessary to make sure your experts can handle any question and transaction. However, the space doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Take an Instagram-versus-reality approach to creating the perfect remote expert set-up. Meaning, focus design dollars on what is on camera instead of spending on the entire space. Offer your experts best practices for video conferencing so your exceptional customer service standards are not altered when your associates are working remotely.

Prepare Your Branch for the Post-Coronavirus Consumer
This is truly the time to prepare your branches for the future and provide an even-better experience than before. Consumers post-coronavirus will be more aware of being in confined spaces, such as private offices. A “service spot” offers a unique workspace for associates that is visibly less “confining” but still private, potentially increasing the appeal of getting advisory services in the branches. Ideally, the spots would be set at counter or bar height.

Teller towers are a retail-friendly twist on the old-school teller line. They remove queue lines and create more distance between customers, while providing a better interaction experience with staff.

Easy-to-clean surfaces for furniture, flooring and more will be the way of the future. Brian Silvester, Head of Design at DBSI, offers several examples of easy to clean and green finish options:

  • Stain-resistant surfaces and PFOA-free upholstery are easy to clean and reduce health concerns linked to PFOA.
  • Easy-to-clean laminate instead of wood veneer offers a realistic natural wood-look without having to worry about scratches and special cleaning procedures.
  • Groutless flooring like luxury vinyl tile reduces maintenance over time. There are even options that are carbon neutral.

The post-coronavirus consumer may be hyperaware of germs on everything they touch, and may not be interested in communal brochure racks to gather information. Digital and interactive signage with hand sanitizer nearby in an option that is easy to clean and update. Interactive digital signage allows customers to still obtain the information they want while collecting emails and data for customer insights. Touch-free screens are a great way to showcase your products and services with virtually no risk of community spread.

To create the perfectly prepared retail strategy that can attract and retain customers in any situation, banks need to fuse design, technology and process. Branch transformation, at any level, is both an art and a science.