How Digital Channels Can Complement Physical Branches

With the rise of digital services and changing customer habits during Covid-19, the future of brick-and-mortar banking may seem in doubt.

Looking ahead, physical bank branches remain crucial for any community bank’s outreach and distribution strategy, but their use and purpose will continue to evolve. Digital acceleration is an opportunity for community banks to reshape the in-person banking environment. Incorporating the digital channel allows banks to offer more comprehensive, customer-focused experiences that complement their brick-and-mortar branches.

Physical Banks Remain a Valuable Asset
Digital banking is a critical way for community banks to provide excellent service. Integrating best-in-class online services allows financial institutions of all sizes to compete against larger banks that may be slower to innovate. Digital branch tools can bring greater accessibility and convenience for customers, a larger customer base and enhanced automation opportunities.

While many customers are excited by digital tools, not every demographic will adapt right away. Customers of all ages may lack confidence in their own abilities and prefer to talk to someone in person. These visits can be a prime opportunity for staff to educate customers on how to engage with their digital platforms.

In-person banking is an opportunity for banks to offer above-and-beyond customer service, especially for more complex services that are difficult to replicate digitally. An in-person conversation can make all the difference when it comes to major financial decisions, such as taking out a mortgage or other loans. Customers may start out with remote tools, then visit a branch for more in-depth planning.

How One Community Bank Is Evolving
Flushing Bank in Uniondale, New York, is using digital account opening software to accelerate growth. The $8 billion bank’s mobile and online banking capabilities went live in March 2020 — the timing of which allowed the bank to more easily serve customers remotely. Digital deposit account openings comprised 19% of Flushing’s customer growth between April and June.

Implementing digital account opening expanded Flushing Bank’s geographic footprint. The online account opening software allowed the existing branches to become more efficient and have a wider reach within the surrounding community, servicing more customers without building new branches.

At the same time, in-person branches and staff remain irreplaceable for Flushing Bank. The bank is leveraging digital tools as more than just an online solution: New technology includes appointment booking, improved phone services and enhance ATM video capabilities, creating a digital experience that is safe, convenient and delightful.

Transforming Brick-and-Mortar Banking for the Future
Digital tools allow more transactions to occur remotely, which may lessen in-person branch traffic while expanding the institution’s geographic reach. Banks can focus on the transactions that do occur in person, and ensure that digital tools improve customer service in branches.

A report from Celent and Reflexis surveying banks on their current strategies noted how more institutions could use digital tools for maximum effect. Just as digital channels offer comprehensive data analysis capabilities, banks can more effectively track each customer’s in-person journey as well. One starting point is to determine why customers visit physical locations — in one case, a bank learned many customers come in looking for a notary and will quickly leave if one is not available.

The report suggests that digital tools can automate their staff’s workflow, ultimately contributing to an improved customer experience. For instance, only a third of surveyed banks offer digital appointment booking, a service that can create a more efficient experience for both customers and staff. Or, banks could onboard customers with account opening software on tablets at physical branches. These tablets are often easier for customers to understand, lower the burden on staff, and help prevent fraud with thorough identity validation.

Community banks have an opportunity during this transitional time to develop a digital strategy that complements their physical branches. A comprehensive plan includes best-in-class digital tools for remote transactions while bringing new digital capabilities to brick-and-mortar locations to ensure the highest-quality customer service.

Why Banks Should Scrap Their Digital Strategy

The last thing banks need when they pursue a digital transformation is a digital strategy.

Not too many banks get this right. Rather than create a digital strategy, companies instead need one cohesive enterprise strategy for how to be the best in serving their clients’ needs.

Setting up distinct channel strategies, or a digital strategy that runs outside of your bank strategy, only generates a bunch of disparate go-to-market ideas. That siloed approach puts your bank on a road to failure by generating and instigating conflicts, as teams vie for differentiated levels of support and resources to strengthen now-competing channels.

Instead of standing on its own, digital should shape and drive your single banking strategy. You are striving for integrated omnichannel delivery, which will translate into the best experience no matter how customers engage with you. Even if you want customers to handle the overwhelming percentage of their banking online, many will continue to walk into branches, particularly for complex transactions like mortgage applications, and call you with questions.

Granted, safer-at-home guidance in response to the coronavirus pushed digital adoption forward, more by necessity than desire. In July, nearly five months after the pandemic started, 91% of consumers conducted banking online, mostly to deposit checks or review account balances. Even more striking: 40% of consumers reported using their bank’s mobile app more often. But bankers shouldn’t take these adjustments for granted or consider them permanent.

Customers don’t care that different teams manage your digital, branch and telephone channels. They want to trust you to meet them wherever they are, and not have to explain who they are and what they want every time they interact with your bank. Digital allows you to walk that fine line with insights to follow their electronic footprints to specific products that match their financial needs.

Digital Is a Tool, Not a Product
This is so important that I need to repeat it: Digital is a tool, not a product.

I already know some folks are saying, “But, yes, it is. We produced a mobile app.” That’s not the same. You created that app for its own purpose. It also needs to be connected to something else — your banking systems — and deliver a real solution.

Granted, your bank needs digital visionaries who can envision powerful, engaging capabilities and stay ahead of customers. But these leaders must start with your banking strategy and weave their innovative ideas into that bedrock. Your team should be constantly stepping up its capabilities and services, and positioning them in a near-linear fashion alongside the customer journey so that customers can get what they want, when they need it.

And while you should never have a distinct digital strategy, you do need a dedicated team to monitor and track performance in this channel and identify new customer needs and opportunities. This is the essence of digital transformation, as you continue iterating your offerings and migrating more customers and transactions into your digital channel.

Changing the Internal Mindset
Digital transformation is about changing who you are as a bank and bringing that to your customers. The starting point is always your enterprise strategy, which anchors your value propositions on how you serve customers and your role in the community.

Every bank associate will have a role in achieving the future vision defined in that strategy. Be clear on how digital connects to your bank strategy and communicate expectations so that everyone from the call center team to the C-suite understands where they fit in. Even as your bank inches forward, it remains on a treadmill: continuing to advance to stronger performance that outpaces the competition but never crossing the finish line.

As you develop your bank’s enterprise strategy, establish and monitor metrics upfront to gauge success and maturity, including in the digital channel. Some metrics to consider include improved efficiency, the amount of customers adopting digital behaviors and successfully escalating the right transactions in your digital channel.

Be sure to measure progress in three dimensions: Are you getting more efficient as customers migrate to higher digital usage? Are you freeing up funds to invest in other initiatives? And are you maintaining the customer experience that defines your bank?

Because if you lose that in the long run, you’re going to lose your customers.

Exploring Banking’s What Ifs

What if the ball didn’t sneak through Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986?

What if you answered the call to deliver two pizzas for 10,000 bitcoins in 2010?

What if Hillary Clinton lost the popular vote but won the electoral college in 2016?

Thought exercises like these can take you down the rabbit holes that many opt to avoid. But how about asking “what if” type questions as a way to embrace change or welcome a challenge?

Mentally strong leaders do this every day.

In past years, such forward-facing deliberations took place throughout Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference. This year, hosting an incredibly influential audience in Phoenix simply wasn’t in the cards.

So, we posed our own “what ifs” in order to keep sharing timely and relevant ideas.

To start, we acknowledged our collective virtual conference fatigue. We debated how to communicate key concepts, to key decision makers, at a key moment in time. Ultimately, we borrowed from the best, following Steve Jobs’ design principle by working backward from our user’s experience.

This mindset resulted in the development of a new BankDirector.com platform, which we designed to best respect our community’s time and interests.

Now, as we prepare to roll out this novel, board-level business intelligence package called Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired, here’s an early look at what to expect.

This new offering consists of short-form videos, original content and peer-inspired research — all to provide insight from exceptionally experienced investment bankers, attorneys, consultants, accountants, fintech executives and bank CEOs. Within this new intelligence package, we spotlight leadership issues that are strategic in nature, involve real risk and bring a potential expense that attracts the board’s attention. For instance, we asked:

WHAT IF… WE MODERNIZE OUR ENTERPRISE

The largest U.S. banks continue to pour billions of dollars into technology. In addition, newer, digital-only banks boast low fees, sleek and easy-to-use digital interfaces and attractive loan and deposit rates. So I talked with Greg Carmichael, the chairman and CEO of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp, about staying relevant and competitive in a rapidly evolving business environment. With our industry undergoing significant technological transformation, I found his views on legacy system modernization particularly compelling.

 

WHAT IF… WE TRANSFORM OUR DELIVERY EXPECTATIONS

Bank M&A was understandably slow in 2020. Many, however, anticipate merger activity to return in a meaningful way this year. For those considering acquisitions to advance their digital strategies, listen to Rodger Levenson, the chairman and CEO of Wilmington, Delaware-based WSFS Financial Corp. We talked about prioritizing digital and technology investments, the role of fintech partnerships and how branches buoy their delivery strategy. What WSFS does is in the name of delivering products and services to customers in creative ways.

 

WHAT IF… WE DELIGHT IN OTHER’S SUCCESSES

The former chairman and CEO of U.S. Bancorp now leads the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America. From our home offices, I spent time with Richard Davis to explore leading with purpose. As we talked about culture and values, Richard provided valuable insight into sharing your intelligence to build others up. He also explained how to position your successor for immediate and sustained success.

These are just three examples — and digital excerpts — from a number of the conversations filmed over the past few weeks. The full length, fifteen to twenty minute, video conversations anchor the Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired.

Starting February 4, insight like this lives exclusively on BankDirector.com through February 19.  Accordingly, I invite you to learn more about Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired by clicking here or downloading the online content package.

The Digitalization of Commercial Lending

Commercial lending is a balance of risk and reward.

When properly managed, this business line can be a bank’s profit leader. Part of that competitive edge is employing a digital strategy specifically tailored to match your bank’s commercial lending vision. No doubt your institution has shifted resources to more fully support digital banking in 2020 — not only to benefit your customers, but to address the challenges of staff operating remotely. Automation that was thought to be nice-to-have became critical infrastructure both to expedite loan origination and to efficiently manage the volume of loan servicing. The commercial loan life cycle is evolving, creating opportunities for digital improvement at all stages.

Simplifying applications. While the banking industry lacks a standard commercial lending application, it is possible to dramatically reduce the burdensome data collection exercise that banks have traditionally required of their business borrowers. Technology can create significant lift during this phase. Integrating credit policy data into the digital application and automating the retrieval of public data to reduce the number of fields an applicant must complete can reduce the time required to complete an application to minutes.

The democracy of automated underwriting. Automated underwriting used to be premier software intelligence harnessed by only the most enterprising of institutions. However, as the technology has become more commonplace and pricing models have moderated, institutions of all sizes can take advantage of efficiencies that can shave weeks off the process.

Dynamic documenting. One of the many risks associated with commercial lending is the accuracy, validity and enforceability of the loan documentation. Compliance solutions that are integrated with loan origination systems minimize duplicate data entry and render a complete and compliant commercial loan document package based on an institution’s criteria. This technology can significantly reduce human touchpoints, improving the speed and efficiency with which loan documentation is assembled.

E-signing and paperless transactions. If any single innovation has already transformed the lending experience, it is e-signing. Electronic signatures and electronic contracts were granted validity and legal effect through the passage of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. It’s been 20 years since the act became law, but e-signing commercial loan documents and conducting commercial loan transactions electronically have only recently gained wider traction with institutions. It’s evolved into an expectation of some customers, expedited in no small part by the continuing coronavirus pandemic and related social distancing guidelines.

Generally, commercial loans that are unsecured or secured by personal property can be paperless and conducted electronically. Those secured by real estate, on the other hand, have traditionally required some wet ink signatures because of notarization and recording requirements. However, electronic and remote notarization in conjunction with electronic recording has increased the likelihood of completely electronic and paperless transactions.

Twenty-five states have passed laws authorizing remote notarizations, with another 23 states implementing emergency remote notarization procedures in response to the pandemic. While state requirements of remote notarization vary, this potentially allows commercial loan documentation signed electronically to be notarized online instead of requiring parties to be physically present in the same room.

Electronic recording is rapidly becoming the standard for real property documents, with more than 68% of U.S. counties now supporting e-recording. Documents with the recording stamp can be returned immediately after recording, speeding up delivery of the recorded documents to the title insurance company. Electronic recording also allows for the e-signing of real property documents instead of requiring wet ink signatures.

The increasing availability of e-signing and electronic and remote notary technology and resources means more institutions will be able to move entirely to or provide support for electronic and paperless commercial loan transactions.

Automation in servicing. Many traditionally manual processes associated with the review, servicing, tracking and maintenance of commercial loan transactions can be automated. For example, transactions often require parties to provide financial documents to the institution. Instead of manually entering those requirements into a spreadsheet and creating calendar reminders, institutions can leverage technology to automate reports and reminders for the financial document delivery requirements. Similar automated reminders and tracking can be used for collateral, compliance, document and policy issues and exceptions.

The effect of these digitalization opportunities — available at every step in the process, aggregated over your portfolio — can significantly accelerate your institution’s transition to a more touchless loan process.

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.

Coronavirus Ushers Banks Into New Digital Banking Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bank Director Reveals 2020 FinXTech Connect Award Winners

In 1993, Bill Oesterle was looking for contractors that could work on an old house he purchased in Indianapolis’ Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. He had been burned by contractors before and didn’t want to rely on the phone book to find a new one.

A co-worker pointed him to Unified Alliance, a group of neighbors that shared resources and recommendations through a newsletter and call-in service. He joined the group and grew to depend on it.

When Oesterle moved to Columbus, Ohio, a few years later, he was dismayed to find that a similar group didn’t exist there and enlisted a former intern, Angie Hicks, to build a new version. After researching service providers and customers, the company launched a website that came to be known as Angie’s List. It had 5 million members by 2016.

FinXTech Connect takes a page from the same playbook.

No one knows banking technology better than the people who use it. Given this, FinXTech gathers insights from bankers, aggregates those insights, and then distills them into actionable information to help banks find reliable technology partners.

The intelligence we gather from banks powers our FinXTech Connect platform, a curated directory of bank-friendly fintechs. It also informs our annual FinXTech Connect awards.

This week marked Bank Director’s second annual Experience FinXTech conference. The event brings together bank and technology leaders for demonstrations and conversations about what’s now and next in banking. Demos are open to technology companies that have been vetted for the Connect platform, so attendees can be sure they’re hearing from proven partners.

The event and awards have never been more important, given the role technology plays in making it possible for banks to provide service in a socially distanced world.

Great examples can be found among this year’s Best of FinXTech award winners, which were announced on the final day of the event.

The Best Solution for Customer Experience went to SmartLaunch, a digital bank-in-a-box that helps institutions provide services and grow deposits remotely. Created by NYMBUS, SmartLaunch enables banks to launch standalone digital brands that operate on the NYMBUS SmartCore. In this way, a bank’s digital brand can run parallel to its legacy systems — providing a low risk way to experiment with new digital offerings.

Another example is performance-marketing solution, Fintel Connect. With travel significantly curtailed, billboards and signage don’t provide the marketing punch they used to. Bank marketers are looking to retool their strategies, with performance-based, digital marketing offering an alternative avenue for acquiring customers online.

Fintel Connect won the Best Solution for Revenue Growth category, as well as the overall Best of FinXTech Connect award this year. Their technology enables banks to approach digital marketing from a new angle — instead of paying for impressions or clicks, banks only pay when viewers convert into customers.

Here’s the full list of winners:

  • Best Solution for Customer Experience: NYMBUS SmartLaunch
  • Best Solution for Loan Growth: SavvyMoney
  • Best Solution for Improving Operations: Cinchy
  • Best Business Solution: Brex
  • Best Solution for Protecting the Bank: ARGO OASIS
  • Best Solution for Revenue Growth: Fintel Connect
  • Best of FinXTech Connect: Fintel Connect

More information on these solutions can be found here.

During Experience FinXTech, Bank Director also launched a new research product, leveraging lessons we’ve learned from curating the Connect platform. Our inaugural data intelligence report is titled “APIs: Creating New Opportunities for Revenue and Efficiency.” You can access it for free by clicking here. Angie’s List capitalized on the dawning of the internet to replicate neighborly advice. In a similar way, FinXTech relies on the collective wisdom of bankers to cut through the noise in the technology landscape and help banks find ideal partners.

Turning Compliance From an Exercise Into a Partnership

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once observed that no one can ever step into the same river twice. If these philosophers tried to define how the financial industry works today, they might say that no bank can ever step into the same technology stream twice.

Twenty-first century innovations, evolving standards and new business requirements keep the landscape fluid — and that’s without factoring in the perpetual challenge of regulatory changes. As you evaluate your institution’s digital strategic plan, consider opportunities to address both technology and compliance transformations with the same solution.

The investments your bank makes in compliance technology will set the stage for how you operate today and in the future. Are you working with a compliance partner who offers the same solution that they did two, five or even 10 years ago? Consider the turnover in consumer electronics in that same period.

Your compliance partner’s reaction time is your bank’s reaction time. If your compliance partner is not integrated with cloud-based systems, does not offer solutions tailored for online banking and does not support an integrated data workflow, then it isn’t likely they can position you for the next technology development, either. If your institution is looking to change core providers, platform providers or extend solutions through application programming interfaces, or APIs, the limitations of a dated compliance solution will pose a multiplying effect on the time and costs associated with these projects.

A compliance partner must also safeguard a bank’s data integrity. Digital data is the backbone of digital banking. You need a compliance partner who doesn’t store personally identifiable information or otherwise expose your institution to risks associated with data breaches. Your compliance data management solution needs to offer secured access tiers while supporting a single system of record.

The best partners know that service is a two-sided coin: providing the support you need while minimizing the support required for their solution. Your compliance partner must understand your business challenges and offering a service model that connects bank staff with legal and technology expertise to address implementation questions. Leading compliance partners also understand that service isn’t just about having seasoned professionals ready to answer questions. It’s also about offering a solution that’s designed to deliver an efficient user experience, is easy to set up and provides training resources that reach across teams and business footprints — minimizing the need to make a support call. Intuitive technology interfaces and asynchronous education delivery can serve as silent accelerators for strategic goals related to digitize lending and deposit operations.

Compliance partners should value and respect a bank’s content control and incorporate configurability into their culture. Your products and terms belong to you. It’s the responsibility of a compliance partner to make sure that your transactions support the configurability needed to service customers. Banks can’t afford a compliance technology approach that restricts their ability to innovate products or permanently chains them to standard products, language or workarounds to achieve the output necessary to serve the customer. Executives can be confident that their banks can competitively adapt today and in the future when configurability is an essential component of their compliance solution.

A compliance partner’s ability to meet a bank’s needs depends on an active feedback loop. Partners never approach their relationship with firms as a once-and-done conversation because they understand that their solution will need to adjust as business demands evolve. Look for partners that cultivate opportunities to learn how they can grow their solution to meet your bank’s challenges.

Compliance solutions shouldn’t be thought of as siloed add-ons to a bank’s digital operations. The right compliance partner aligns their solution with a bank’s overall objectives and helps extend its business reach. Make sure that your compliance technology investment positions your bank for long-term return on investment.

On the Docket of the Biggest Week in Banking

Think back to your days as a student. Who was the teacher that most inspired you? Was it because they challenged your assumptions while also building your confidence?

In a sense, the 1,312 men and women joining me at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix for this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference are in for a similar experience, albeit one grounded in practical business strategies as opposed to esoteric academic ideas.

Some of the biggest names in the business, from the most prestigious institutions, will join us over three days to share their thoughts and strategies on a diverse variety of topics — from lending trends to deposit gathering to the competitive environment. They will talk about regulation, technology and building franchise value. And our panelists will explore not just what’s going on now, but what’s likely to come next in the banking industry.

Mergers and acquisitions will take center stage as well. The banking industry has been consolidating for four decades. The number of commercial banks peaked in 1984, at 14,507. It has fallen every year since then, even as the trend toward consolidation continues. To this end, the volume of bank M&A in 2019 increased 5% compared to 2018. 

The merger of equals between BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks, to form Truist Financial Corp., was the biggest and most-discussed deal in a decade. But other deals are worth noting too, including marquee combinations within the financial technology space.

In July, Fidelity National Information Services, or FIS, completed its $35 billion acquisition of Worldpay, a massive payment processor. “Scale matters in our rapidly changing industry,” said FIS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Norcross at the time. Fittingly, Norcross will share the stage with Fifth Third Bancorp Chairman and CEO Greg Carmichael on Day 1 of Acquire or Be Acquired. More recently, Visa announced that it will pay $5 billion to acquire Plaid, which develops application programming interfaces that make it easier for customers and institutions to connect and share data.

Looking back on 2019, the operating environment proved challenging for banks. They’re still basking in the glow of the recent tax breaks, yet they’re fighting against the headwinds of stubbornly low interest rates, elevated compliance costs and stiff competition in the lending markets. Accordingly, I anticipate an increase in M&A activity given these factors, along with stock prices remaining strong and the biggest banks continuing to use their scale to increase efficiency and bolster their product sets.

Beyond these topics, here are three additional issues that I intend to discuss on the first day of the conference:

1. How Saturated Are Banking Services?
This past year, Apple, Google and Facebook announced their entry into financial services. Concomitantly, fintechs like Acorns, Betterment and Dave plan to or have already launched checking accounts, while gig-economy stalwarts Uber Technologies and Lyft added banking features to their service offerings. Given this growing saturation in banking services, we will talk about how regional and local banks are working to boost deposits, build brands and better utilize data.

2. Who Are the Gatekeepers of Customer Relationships?
Looking beyond the news of Alphabet’s Google’s checking account or Apple’s now-ubiquitous credit card, we see a reframing of banking by mainstream technology titans. This is a key trend that should concern bank executives —namely, technology companies becoming the gatekeepers for access to basic banking services over time.

3. Why a Clear Digital Strategy Is an Absolute Must
Customer acquisition and retention through digital channels in a world full of mobile apps is the future of financial services. In the U.S., there are over 10,000 banks and credit unions competing against each other, along with hundreds of well-funded start-ups, for customer loyalty. Clearly, having a defined digital strategy is a must.

For those joining us at the Arizona Biltmore, you’re in for an invaluable experience. It’s a chance to network with your peers and hear from the leaders of  innovative and elite institutions.

Can’t make it? We intend to share updates from the conference via BankDirector.com and over social media platforms, including Twitter and LinkedIn, where we’ll be using the hashtag #AOBA20.