Winners Announced for the 2019 Best of FinXTech Awards


Awards-9-10-19.pngBanks face a fundamental paradox: They need to adopt increasingly sophisticated technology to stay competitive, but most have neither the budget nor the risk appetite to develop the technology themselves.

To help banks address this challenge, a legion of fintech companies have sprung up in the past decade. The best of these are solving common problems faced by financial institutions today, from improving the customer experience, growing loans, serving small business customers and protecting against cybersecurity threats.

To this end, we at Bank Director and FinXTech have spent the past few months analyzing the most innovative solutions deployed by banks today. We evaluated the performance results and feedback from banks about their work with fintech companies, as well as the opinions of a panel of industry experts. These fintechs had already been vetted further for inclusion in our FinXTech Connect platform. We sought to identify technology companies that are tried and true — those that have successfully cultivated relationships with banks and delivered value to their clients.

Then, we highlighted those companies at this year’s Experience FinXTech event, co-hosted by Bank Director and FinXTech this week at the JW Marriott in Chicago.

At our awards luncheon on Tuesday, we announced the winning technology solutions in six categories that cover a spectrum of important challenges faced by banks today: customer experience, revenue growth, loan growth, operations, small business solutions and security.

We also announced the Best of FinXTech Connect award, a technology-agnostic category that recognizes technology firms that work closely with bank clients to co-create or customize a solution, or demonstrated consistent collaboration with financial institutions.

The winners in each category are below:

Best Solution for Customer Experience: Apiture

Apiture uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to upgrade a bank’s digital banking experience. Its platform includes digital account opening, personal financial management, cash flow management for businesses and payments services. Each feature can be unbundled from the platform.

Best Solution for Revenue Growth: Mantl

MANTL developed an account-opening tool that works with a bank’s existing core infrastructure. Its Core Wrapper API reads and writes directly to the core, allowing banks to set up, configure and maintain the account-opening product

Best Solution for Loan Growth: ProPair

ProPair helps banks pair the right loan officer with the right lead. It integrates with a bank’s systems to analyze the bank’s data for insights into behaviors, patterns and lender performance to predict which officer should be connected with a particular client.

Best Small Business Solution: P2BInvestor

P2Binvestor provides an asset-based lending solution for banks that helps them monitor risk, track collateral and administer loans. It partners with banks to give them a pipeline of qualified borrowers.

Best Solution for Improving Operations: Sandbox Banking

Sandbox Banking builds custom APIs that communicate between a bank’s legacy core systems like core processors, loan origination, customer relationship management software and data warehouses. It also builds APIs that integrate new products and automate data flow.

Best Solution for Protecting the Bank: Illusive Networks

Illusive Networks uses an approach called “endpoint-focused deception” to detect breaches into a bank’s IT system. It plants false information across a bank’s network endpoints, detects when an attacker acts on the information and captures forensics from the compromised machine. It also detects unnecessary files that could serve as tools for hackers.

Best of FinXTech Connect: Sandbox Banking

The middleware platform, which also won the “Best Solution for Improving Operations” category, was also noted for working hand-in-hand with bank staff to create custom API connections to solve specific bank issues. In addition, banks can access three-hour blocks of developer time each month to work on special projects outside of regular technical support.

How to Deliver a Full Customer Experience Over Mobile Banking


mobile-8-21-19.pngWith most banking activity taking place on mobile, banks must innovate in order to deliver the full customer experience straight to customers’ fingertips.

With more people using their phones to access banking services, banks cannot afford to miss out on the massive opportunity to go beyond transactions and offer the sales and service customers seek. A Citigroup study found that mobile banking is among the top three most-used applications on a consumers’ phone, increasing 50% from 2017 to 2018.

Many banks still have a siloed mindset, considering in-branch, mobile and online experiences as separate and distinct entities. But their customers don’t differentiate between channels; they view banking as an omni-channel experience.

Their expectations are the same, whether they go to a branch, visit their bank’s webpage at home or open an app on their phone. If they have questions, they expect the ability to ask their bank within the mobile app just as easily as they would in branch. And if they are interested in learning about savings accounts or loan rates, they expect to easily find that information within the mobile banking space.

Banks have long thrived by delivering seamless transactions, competitive and unique products and outstanding service. They have responded to the growing popularity of mobile banking by investing in technology to build out robust transactional experiences for their customers. From mobile deposit to transferring funds to bill pay, the ability to conduct fundamental banking transactions is available to and frequently used by customers.

Where bank mobile apps are lacking, however, is in providing the sales and service that they excel at delivering in their branches to the mobile devices of their customers. This is a huge opportunity many banks are missing. Based on our data, there are about 2,000 opportunities per every 25,000 accounts where a customer expresses an intent to inquire about how to do something or how to adopt a new product that is entirely uncaptured in mobile banking.

With the advent of digital transformation and more activity moving to mobile channels, the sales and service aspects of banking have gradually become more diluted. Banking has become less sales and service oriented and increasingly more transactional.

There is only one direction for banks to go: give consumers what they want and demand. Banks need to offer customers the ability to connect with them on their phone anytime, anywhere, and to receive the same level of sales and service they do at a branch. Mobile banking provides a plethora of opportunities to do just that.

Banks need to do more to provide the same support and service in their mobile channels as they do within their branches. There are three easy ways they can begin to leverage mobile banking to go beyond transactions to deliver sales and service to their customers.

1. Embed a robust help center within mobile banking.
Make finding and accessing digital support a breeze. Embed support content from your website within your mobile banking application to allow customers easy access to help content like resetting passwords and fund transfers. Make sure the most frequently asked questions are answered in a manner that answers the questions, provides additional information and creates a call to action.

2. Utilize chatbot to further engage customers.
Add live chat or an automated chatbot for an additional avenue to engage with your mobile customers. Banks can use chat to suggest relevant content or products and services, help point customers in the right direction and to learn more about their financial goals and needs.

It’s not uncommon for chat usage to double once it is added to mobile banking, which can put a sizeable strain on contact centers. Use support content in the form of a chatbot to allow customers the ability to self-answer common support questions, and offer live chat for more complex questions and issues.

3. Provide clear, concise product information.
Customers no longer consider mobile banking to be purely transactional. They think of it as an extension of a branch, where they’ve come to expect support and sales information. Providing links to your key products within mobile banking can encourage customers to explore your offerings.

When banks fail to go beyond transactions in mobile banking, they miss out on a vast opportunity to provide sales and service through the channel customers are the most present. The consequences of not doing so can result in greater contact center volume, and missed opportunities to increase wallet share.

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.

Mining for Gold in Bank Data


data-5-9-19.pngCommunity banks are drowning in customer data.

Every debit card swipe, every ACH and every online bill pay produces data that provides insight into their customers’ relationship with the institution, as well as their lifestyle and potential needs. Banks should prioritize using their proliferation of customer data to open up new service and revenue opportunities. The potential to identify untapped opportunities is enormous.

The amount of data generated by the digitization of services and customer interactions has grown exponentially in recent years. By 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every person on the planet, according to a 2017 McKinsey & Co. report. This figure is only expected to increase: By 2021, half of adults worldwide will use a smartphone, tablet, PC or smartwatch to access financial services. The mindboggling amount of data comes at a time when companies must “fundamentally rethink how the analysis of data can create value for themselves and their customers,” according to a Harvard Business Review article by Thomas Davenport, a professor at Babson College and a fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Amazon is often cited as the model for capitalizing on data to increase sales and improve consumers’ experience. The company tracks each customer interaction—from site searches and purchases, from Alexa commands to song or movie downloads—to develop a holistic view of that consumer’s preferences and buying habits. For instance, if a consumer purchases prenatal vitamins from Amazon, she will soon see pop-up ads for other pregnancy and baby-related items. Amazon will also send her offers and reminders to repurchase the vitamins at the exact time they run out.

Banks should try to emulate Amazon’s ability to highly personalize a consumer’s experience. Organizations that leverage customer behavioral insights outperform peers by 85 percent in sales growth and more than 25 percent in gross margin, according to Gallup. And personalization based on customer data can deliver 5 to 8 times the return on investment on marketing expenses and increase sales by 10 percent or more, according to McKinsey.

But in order for banks to use the data produced by their internal systems, they need to create a structure and plan around it. Institutions need to direct information to one location, figure out how to analyze it and—most importantly—develop an actionable plan. This is a challenge because many banks partner with a myriad of vendors to provide the different consumer services such as debit and credit card processing, online banking and bill pay vendors. To consumers, these disparate systems may appear to work together reasonably well; behind the scenes, they may not communicate with each other.

This is an overwhelming imperative for many community banks. Fifty-seven percent of financial institutions say their biggest impediment to capitalizing on their data is that it is siloed and not pooled for the benefit of the entire organization, according to a July 2016 report from The Financial Brand. Other impediments include the time it takes to analyze large data sets and a lack of skilled data analysts.

But banks can remove these impediments with an “intelligent” data management technology platform that aggregates information from unlimited sources and makes it available enterprise-wide, from frontline staff to marketing to management. Platforms analyze data from sources like the core processor, online banking and lending systems, as well as peer and demographic data, and develop automated revenue- and service-enhancing strategies that capitalize on the findings.

The results are better, automated and even instantaneous decisions that generate greater sales opportunities and improve customer experience.

Banks can use the data to generate personalized, targeted marketing and communications campaigns that are triggered by an increase or decrease in customer transactional activity. Reduced activity can indicate an account might leave the institution; proactive communication can reengage the customer and retain the account.

This data can improve cross-selling objectives, generate sales opportunities and track onboarding activities to facilitate the customer’s experience. The data could identify customers who use payday or other non-bank lenders, and generate omni-channel offers for in-house products. It could also flag follow-up communications on products or services that consumers expressed interest in, but did not open.

Centralizing institutional data into one platform also creates efficiencies by automating manual processes like new account onboarding, loan origination and underwriting—even customer complaint resolution. It can also introduce additional customer services provided by third-party vendors by requiring them to integrate with only one data source, instead of many.

Banks need to leverage their customer data in order to create highly personalized and meaningful offers that improve engagement and overall performance. With the assistance of a comprehensive data management platform, community banks can overcome the hurdles of unlocking the value of their data and achieve Amazon-like success.

Three Tech Strategies for Banks, Based on Size


strategy-5-3-19.pngHow should you position your bank for the future—or, for that matter, the present?

This is one of the most perplexing questions challenging leadership teams right now. It is not a new consideration; indeed, the industry has been in a constant state of evolution for as long as anyone on our team can remember. Yet lately, it has taken on a new, possibly more existential sense of urgency.

Fortunately, there are examples of banks, of different sizes and a variety of business models, keeping pace with changing consumer expectations and commercial clients’ needs. The industry seems to be responding to the ongoing digital revolution in banking in three ways.

The biggest banks—those like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—have the resources to forge their own paths on the digital frontier.

These banks spend as much as $11 billion a year each on technology. They hire thousands of programmers to conceptualize digital solutions for customers.

The results are impressive.

As many as three-quarters of deposit transactions are completed digitally at these banks. A growing share of sales, account openings and money transfers take place over these banks’ digital channels as well. This allows these banks to winnow down their branch networks meaningfully while still gaining retail deposit market share.

The next step in their evolution is to combine digital delivery channels with insights gleaned from data. It’s by marrying the two, we believe, that banks can gain a competitive advantage by improving the financial lives of their customers.

Just below the biggest banks are super-regional and regional banks.

They too are fully embracing technology, although they tend to look outside their organizations for tailored solutions that will help them compete in this new era rather than develop the solutions themselves.

These banks talk about integration as a competitive advantage. They argue that they can quickly and nimbly integrate digital solutions developed elsewhere—growing without a burdensome branch network while also benefiting from the latest technologies without bearing the risk and cost of developing many of those solutions themselves. It is a way, in other words, for them to have their cake and eat it too.

U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group fall into this category. Both are reconfiguring their delivery channels, reallocating funds that would be spent on expanding and updating their branch networks to digital investments.

In theory, this makes it possible for these banks to expand into new geographic markets with far fewer branches.

U.S. Bancorp announced recently that it will use a combination of digital channels and new branches to establish a physical retail beachhead in Charlotte, North Carolina. PNC Financial is doing the same in Dallas, Texas, among other markets.

Finally, smaller community banks are adopting off-the-shelf solutions offered by their core providers—Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), Fiserv and Jack Henry & Associates.

This approach can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because these solutions have enabled upwards of 90 percent of community banks to offer mobile banking applications—table stakes nowadays in the industry. It is a curse because it further concentrates the reliance of community banks on a triumvirate of service providers.

In the final analysis, however, it is important to appreciate that smaller banks based outside of major metropolitan areas still have a leg up when it comes to tried-and-true relationship banking. Their share of loans and deposits in their local markets could even grow if the major money-center banks continue fleeing smaller markets in favor of big cities.

Smaller regional and community banks dominate small business loans in their markets—a fact that was recently underscored by LendingClub Corp.’s decision to close its small business lending unit. These loans still require local expertise—the type of expertise that resides in their hometown banks. The same is true of agriculture loans.

Banks are still banks, after all. Trust is still the top factor cited by customers in the selection process. And loans must still be underwritten in a responsible way if a bank wants to survive the irregular, but not infrequent, cycles that define our economy. The net result is that some community banks are not only surviving in this new digital era, they are thriving.

But this isn’t a call to complacency—far from it.

To compete in this new era of heightened digital competition, it is more important than ever for banks of all sizes to stay committed to the quest of constant improvement. That is why our team at Bank Director is thrilled to host bank executives and board members at the JW Marriott Nashville on May 9 and 10 for our annual Bank Board Training Forum, where we will talk about how to tackle these challenges and remain relevant in the years ahead.

Why Checking Products Matter More Than Ever


checking-4-17-19.pngThe battle is on among all banks to acquire new customers and their low-cost deposits. The key to winning the battle for low-cost deposits is owning the primary banking relationship and, in particular, the consumer checking account relationship.

The checking account is the central way consumers identify “their bank.” It is the only banking product that consumers use daily to navigate the intersection of their life and their money.

If this navigation is smooth, your bank is in the best position to collect even more deposits, loans and fee income.

Banks that understand this best have been successful at capturing primary banking relationships, which in recent years have been the four biggest U.S. banks. They are the ones investing the most to continue this trend and defend their success.

If you’re a community bank or even a regional one, a recent AT Kearney survey detailed the ways you are being attacked.

  • The four biggest banks (Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co.) have 40 percent of the U.S. consumers’ primary banking relationships. Superregional banks have 19 percent. The remaining 41 percent is split between other institution types, with credit unions at 14 percent, community banks at 12 percent, regional banks at 8 percent and relatively new direct banks like Marcus and Ally already at 5 percent.
  • The four biggest banks are collectively budgeting more than $30 billion in technology investments, about one-third of which is on digital banking around the checking account.
  • Digital channels drive 35 percent of primary banking relationship moves, while branches only drive 26 percent. The Big Four banks are capturing 41 percent of consumers that do switch their primary relationship. Superregional banks are capturing 28 percent. This leaves 31 percent for everyone else, and the new digital-only banks have 11 percent of that remainder.

Big Banks Rule
The reality is the biggest banks have the upper hand. The resources they are investing in digital platforms to maintain and increase market share can’t be replicated by community or regional banks.

But let’s not confuse the upper hand with the winning hand. Community and regional banks can fight back, because there is a chink in the armor of big banks.

While the digital experience provided by the four biggest banks may be superior, a review of the actual product benefits their consumer checking accounts provide isn’t that impressive. They are as ordinary as the checking accounts at most other banks.

Their checking lineups, terms and conditions are complicated with significant product overlap. They mask this weakness with an allure in the marketing and digital delivery of these ordinary benefits.

When smaller banks discuss growing consumer retail accounts, they talk more about acquisition pricing and marketing strategy, and not enough about first improving and simplifying products and lineups. Many banks start by spending on the promotion of unappealing, undifferentiated checking products at the lowest price in a confusing lineup. This isn’t a winning battle plan.

Smaller banks should first make their lineup simple for consumers to understand. The best practice here is a good, better, best methodology, which we have previously discussed in my article, Use Good/Better/Best for Checking Success.

While doing this, why not offer checking products as good, modern and different as you can afford?

Nontraditional Benefits Work
Recent research by Cornerstone Advisors, titled “Reinventing Checking Accounts,” shows how positively consumers respond to switching to checking accounts that include nontraditional benefits like cell phone insurance, roadside assistance and pharmacy/vision discounts alongside traditional benefits.

These nontraditional benefits are central to consumers’ lives away from the bank but can be captured in their checking account.

There’s no debating the importance of acquiring new checking relationships in gathering low-cost deposits. While the biggest banks dominate currently, are investing heavily in technology and paying handsome incentives to attract even more new customers, smaller banks can attack where these big banks are vulnerable.

Don’t fight them toe-to-toe with a complex lineup of look-a-like checking products. That’s a losing battle. Instead, focus on the appeal of a simple lineup and products that competing banks don’t offer. That’s a battle worth fighting, and one that can be won.

How Spreadsheets Add Risk to Construction Lending


lending-4-11-19.pngMillennials are entering the housing market with a force, yet low inventory across the country is stalling their dreams of homeownership. Now is the time for lenders to either begin or ramp up their construction loan programs. These niche loan products are a great addition to any book of business, but to be successful you have to be able to manage and service the loan after it closes.

Post close actions have traditionally been done with spreadsheets. This method, while fairly understood, is actually limiting and prone to formula errors. Additionally, spreadsheets naturally reach a tipping point in a team’s ability to scale and share reportable data with management and others in the organization. This puts loan completion in jeopardy and creates more risk to the lender.

The Limits of Spreadsheets to Manage Construction Lending
Spreadsheets can only do what they are designed to do—no more and no less. As your program grows, you are bound to reach the point where a spreadsheet is no longer functionally efficient and becomes a risky way to manage your pipeline.

  • Limited Visibility Into the Life of the Loan: Each loan has many different data points and touches over time, and housing them in a spreadsheet is basically burying important and vital information every time the loan is touched. It’s nearly impossible to see history, anticipate the future—and most importantly, clearly see problems before they arise. Spreadsheets force a reactive instead of a proactive method, which means a lender who is using spreadsheets is always playing catch-up.
  • No Reporting: Can you open up the spreadsheet right now and easily and accurately report on the pipeline, draw reports or consultant reports? The answer is probably no. And what do you do when you need to produce 1098 or 1099 reports? How do spreadsheets support these requirements? Getting your 1098s or 1099s from spreadsheets is a tedious, manual process prone to error. If you have a good quantity of construction loans, this is a large undertaking, and is difficult to scale. As you consider spreadsheets, consider the additional work that those spreadsheets will cost you over time.
  • A Finite Number Of Loans One Person Can Manage: Spreadsheets require a lot of time to properly manage one loan, and we have found that dedicated and experienced construction loan administrators can typically manage 35 to 50 loans using spreadsheets at one time. Any more than this usually adds to poor customer service.
  • Drains In-house Resources: If your program is doing well and your origination volume is growing, team members are limited in scale before a new hire must be acquired to take on more loans. Throwing bodies at the problem is not the best solution.
  • Location, Location, Location: Spreadsheets, no matter if they are stored on the cloud or on desktops, are still accessed by individual devices. You are now limited to these single failure points. What are the implications of losing this data, or the individual that knows how it works?
  • No Tracking: A spreadsheet does not offer tracking, task automation, complaint management, event monitoring, risk analysis and draw validations to ensure that the loan is meeting all of its milestones and risk requirements. As a workaround, lenders turn to the sticky note to help them keep track of important dates and actions. We all know the ineffective nature of this system, especially as key factors such as deadlines for draws, inspections, liens or permit expirations often get lost in the sticky note shuffle.
  • No Compliance Monitoring: Spreadsheets cannot keep you in compliance with government regulations, state statutes, loan program requirements, internal compliance, in-house policies/procedures or industry best practices. In order to maintain strict compliance, spreadsheets require constant vigilance. This may be their biggest limitation.

If Not Spreadsheets, Then What?
Spreadsheets just don’t cut it for construction loan management. Lenders who want to increase revenue while adding fewer additional resources need a digital construction loan management solution. Digital solutions reduce risk, improve efficiencies, allow scale and provide a better customer experience. Not to mention it keeps track of every small, yet critical, part of the construction loan. Never again will you be questioning if you are over-dispersing funds. Digital solutions, especially those that are cloud-based, can alleviate all the limitations of spreadsheets and the tipping point will be a thing of the past. Once you are running on this new level, you can bring more revenue and smart growth to your organization.

The Big Banks Are Back


banks-1-28-19.pngIs it now a big bank world that the rest of the industry is just living in?

One could justifiably come to that conclusion based on comments by Tom Michaud, president and chief executive officer at the investment bank Keefe Bruyette & Woods during a presentation on the opening day of Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference Sunday in Phoenix.

Approximately 1,300 people are attending the 25th anniversary of Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired event at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge resort, which will run through Tuesday.

It’s no secret the four largest U.S. banks—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup—hold dominant positions in the country’s banking market. These four megabanks control approximately 45 percent of the U.S. deposits. But historically, large institutions have been less profitable than much smaller ones in part because their size and complexity have made them more difficult to manage.

That is now changing, according to Michaud.

Bank of America, for example, posted a return on tangible common equity (ROTCE) in 2017 of 10.8 percent. The bank’s ROTCE rose to 15.4 percent in 2018 and is projected to hit 15.9 and 16.5 percent in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Similar ROTCE increases are forecasted for JPMorgan, Wells and Citi through 2020.

The reason these banks are now operating at a much higher level of profitability is in part because their management teams have figured out how to turn their enormous size into an advantage. Although analysts, consultants and the banks themselves have often touted the advantage of size, it has had an averaging effect on their financial performance as they have grown increasingly larger in recent years.

“It seems now that the scale argument has a lot more traction,” said Michaud.

Just three years ago, the most profitable U.S. banks based on their performance metrics were in the $5 billion to $10 billion asset category—just large enough to gain some benefits from scale but still small enough to escape the averaging effect. This so-called “sweet spot” shifted in 2017 to banks with assets greater than $40 billion, and Michaud expects these large institutions to again claim the sweet spot in 2018 by an even wider margin once the industry’s profitability data are finalized.

One important place large banks have been able to use scale to their advantage is in technology. The U.S. economy is in the midst of a digital revolution, and the banking industry is being forced to embrace digital distribution of consumer products like checking accounts and mortgages. “Consumers really like the digital delivery of retail banking services,” Michaud said.

And it’s the national and super-regional banks that are capturing the greatest share of “switchers”—consumers who are leaving their current bank for another institution that offers a better digital experience. Michaud cited data from the consulting firm AT Kearney showing that national banks are capturing about 41 percent of the digital switchers, with super-regionals taking 28 percent. Even direct banks at 11 percent have been gaining a larger share of switchers than regional banks, local banks and credit unions.

The advantage of scale becomes most apparent when you look at the amount of money large banks are able to invest to upgrade their digital capabilities. Each of the big four banks are expected to invest a minimum of $3 billion a year over the next few years in technology—and some of them will invest significantly more. For instance, JPMorgan’s annual technology spend is expected to average around $10.8 billion.

While not all of that will be invested in digital distribution, the country’s largest bank is investing heavily to build a digital banking capability capable of penetrating any consumer market anywhere in the country.

The New Philosophy That’s Catching on With Banks


customer-12-21-18.pngBankers are right to be concerned that Amazon will one day emerge as a competitor in the financial services industry, but that shouldn’t stop banks from stealing a page from the ecommerce company’s playbook.

Banking is a relationships business. For ages, banks have tried to leverage that relationship to grow and maximize shareholder return.

Some of the ways they’ve done so seem antiquated now, like giving away toasters to anyone that opens a checking account. But the underlying logic remains sound.

That’s why many top banks are now starting to think more like Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chairman and CEO.

In 1997, the year Bezos wrote his first shareholder letter, he cycled through the usual subjects, boasting about growth and maximizing the return for shareholders. But he also talked about the long game Amazon would play by eschewing even faster growth and profitability by instead focusing “relentlessly” on customers.

We have invested and will continue to invest aggressively to expand and leverage our customer base, brand, and infrastructure as we move to establish an enduring franchise,” he wrote in his inaugural letter.

Why? Because Bezos wanted Amazon to be engrained in people’s lives, far more than just the books they were getting 20-some years ago.

“Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh tradeoffs differently than some companies,” Bezos wrote, noting that Amazon’s first and foremost priority would be serving customers, not buckling under pressure from Wall Street.

Two decades later, everything Amazon does is driven by what the “divinely discontent” customer wants, which they learn through data collection and analysis. And as a result, Amazon has become an integral part of many consumers’ lives.

“I sense that the same customer empowerment phenomenon is happening broadly across everything we do at Amazon and most other industries as well. You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it,” Bezos wrote two decades later in his 2018 shareholder letter.

It’s this relentless, single-minded drive to satisfy customers that banks are beginning to adopt, especially when it comes to serving customers over digital distribution channels.

Many banks have modernized their digital offerings to attract digitally savvy customers. An ancillary benefit is that the interactions conducted over these channels generate immense amounts of valuable data. It’s be effectively using this data that banks can build out an Amazon-like experience.

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, recently explained to Bank Director the value of that data, and also how the $2 trillion bank can leverage it to improve customers’ experience: “We know that customer better than everybody else, because we’re seeing everything they do.”

Another bank doing this is Citizens Bank, a New England-based bank with $155 billion in assets. Citizens CEO Bruce Van Saun talked his focus on customers at the Wharton Leadership Conference this summer.

This focus is behind the bank’s decision to launch its digital offshoot, Citizens Access. It has also informed how they think and obsess over—what else—data. Van Saun said it allows them to leverage it in “moments of truth” for customers that the bank knows better than anyone.

“Citizens is doing this through an intense focus on ‘customer journeys’ – transforming the way we engage with customers at critical moments so that they are compelling, differentiated, personalized and highly user-friendly. This process starts with putting the customer – not the organization – at the center.”

Sounds an awful lot like Bezos and Moynihan. It also sounds a lot like “The Law of The Customer,” a theory discussed in Stephen Denning’s book, “The Age of Agile.”

Denning discusses a “Copernican revolution” of management that puts the customer at the center, rather than the firm. Nicolas Copernicus, of course, was first with the theory the Earth revolved around the Sun, not vice versa, a blasphemous idea in the 16th century.

What that means is delivering things like delight, enthusiasm and passion instead of products or services.

This requires a cultural transformation at organizations, Denning argues, and especially at banks that have long been driven by traditional metrics.

That is where not just the CEO, but the entire C-suite, comes in.

“If the drive to delight customers comes from the CEO alone, or from the bottom alone, the firm is lost,” Denning writes.

Most banks don’t have the manpower or capital to invest in tech capabilities like the biggest banks, but many are now realizing they do have the most prized collection of data about their customers.

That data can be leveraged, and it’s data that would make Bezos even more obsessed than he already is about customers.

What Your Bank Can Learn From McDonald’s


lending-11-29-18.pngIt’s noon. You’re halfway through your road trip, miles of highway behind you and your stomach tells you its lunchtime. Your passenger asks Siri for directions to the nearest McDonald’s. From the restaurant’s mobile app, he orders two No. 3 meals, selects a pick-up time, and pays—all in less than three minutes. You exit the highway, pull up to McDonald’s and in no time are back on the road, eating lunch.

This type of digital experience—what you want when you want it—is quickly becoming the standard for consumer expectations. As a recent digital lending study reported, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook rolled out the company’s app “to embrace change to offer a better McDonald’s experience” and has also said that “it’s pretty inevitable that our customers will increasingly engage with us as a brand and as a business through their phones.”

The McDonald’s experience is relevant because that type of experience is what consumers expect from financial institutions as well. In fact, by 2021, half of adults worldwide will use a smartphone, tablet, PC or smartwatch to access financial services—up 53 percent from 2017—according to Juniper Research.

Further, the 2016 MX Consumer Survey finds that 81 percent of consumers prefer to interact with their financial institutions by desktop, laptop and/or mobile device. The same study shows that 38 percent of consumers have reduced how often they bank somewhere due to a poor digital experience.

One of the greatest growth opportunities for community banks is end-to-end digital automation of the lending process, especially for small- and medium-size business loans. Not only do these loans lend themselves to process automation, but the competition—and market potential—is growing rapidly. By 2020, some media reports suggest the market for online business loans could exceed $200 billion.

Why it Works
Today, small business lending is a labor-intensive process for which most community banks see little financial reward. The majority of community banks use the same process to underwrite loans as small as $50,000 as they do for larger multi-million dollar loans, which include paper applications and documentation and multi-level approvals.

This mostly manual process can cost as much as $3,000 per $100,000 loan, according to industry research firms, far outweighing any income to be made. While some banks have continued to make these loans even at a loss to preserve existing customer relationships, many have stopped making them altogether.

The latter is unfortunate. Historically, community financial institutions have dominated this lending space, strengthening their customer relationships through personal attention, decision speed, and loan term flexibility.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, many community banks pulled back on small business loan approvals, which gave rise to a plethora of online lenders like OnDeck and LendingTree, that embraced digital advancements. As a result of this convergence of technology, small business lending from community banks has fallen more than 20 percent since 2008.

Digital Changes the Business Case, Customer Experience
Fortunately, the opportunity to win back this business is encouraging. Digital lending technology automates the entire lending process, enabling banks to deliver loans more efficiently, maintain their traditional underwriting, pricing and compliance practices and provide a seamless, 24/7 digital experience.

Here are some benefits to using digital lending technology:

  • Your customer’s loan journey is entirely online, from application to closing. 
  • Borrowers can sign all documentation within the app.
  • Decisions can be made within 48 hours. 
  • Additional documentation (if needed) can be uploaded within the app.
  • Loans are automatically booked and funded to your bank’s core.

Adding this capability does not require expensive development resources either. The technology is often readily available through white-label products. Industry advocacy organizations including the ABA have reported these white-label, cloud-based solutions represent “a very strong option,” that can be implemented quickly, use a pay-per-volume model and have the ability to customize. They also allow the bank to maintain its underwriting criteria and standards, and hold the loans on your own books.

As with other retail experiences, your small-business customers expect ease and convenience in the lending process. If you do not provide it, others will.