A Roadblock That Ruins Futures


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Culture is one of the best things a bank has going for it. It’s also one of the worst.

While I am bullish on the future of banking as a concept, I am admittedly concerned about what’s to come for many banks who struggle with cultural mindsets resistant to change. Specifically, the same mindsets that helped weather the last few years’ regulatory challenges and anemic economic growth may now prevent adoption of strategically important, but operationally risky, relationships with financial technology companies.

Most banks don’t have business models designed to adapt and respond to rapid change. So how should they think about innovation? I will raise that question and others at our upcomingFinTech Weekin New York City startingtoday, a look at how technology continues to change the nature of banking. Those in attendance include banks both large and small, as well as numerous financial technology companies.

More so than any regulatory cost or compliance burden, I sense that the organizational design and cultural expectations at many banks present a major obstacle to future growth through technology.While I am buoyed by the idea that smaller, nimble banks can compete with the largest institutions, that concept of agility is inherently foreign to most legacy players. It doesn’t have to be. Indeed, Richard Davis, the chairman and CEO of the fifth largest bank in the country, U.S. Bancorp, shared at our Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Phoenix last January that banks can and should partner with fintech companies on opportunities outside of traditional banking while working together to create better products, better customer service and better recognition of customer needs.

The urgency to adapt and evolve should be evident by now.The very nature of financial services has undergone a major change in recent years, driven in part by digital transformation taking place outside banking.Most banks—big and small—boast legacy investments.They have people doing things on multi-year plans, where the DNA of the bank and culture does not empower change in truly meaningful ways.For some, it may prove far better to avoid major change and build a career on the status quo then to explore the what-if scenarios.Here, I suggest paying attention to stories like those shared by our Editor-in-Chief Jack Milligan, who just wrote about PNC Financial Services Group in our current issue of Bank Director magazine. As his profile of Bill Demchak reveals, it is possible to be a conservative banker who wants to revolutionize how a company does business.But morphing from a low-risk bank during a time of profound change requires more than just executive courage. It takes enormous smarts to figure out how to move a large, complex organization that has always done everything one way, to one that evolves quickly.

Of course, it’s not just technological innovation where culture can be a roadblock.Indeed, culture is a long-standing impediment to a successful bank M&A deal, as any experienced banker knows. So, just as in M&A deals, I’d suggest setting a tone at the top for digital transformation.

Here are three seemingly simple questions I suggest asking in an executive team meeting:

  • Do you know what problems you’re trying to solve?
  • What areas are most important to profit and near-term growth?
  • Which customer segments are critical for your bank?

From here, it might be easy to create a strategic direction to improve efficiency and bolster growth in the years ahead.But be prepared for false starts, fruitless detours and yes, stretches of inactivity.As Fifth Third Bank CEO Greg Carmichael recently shared in an issue of Bank Director magazine, “Not every problem needs to be solved with technology… But when technology is a solution, what technology do you select? Is it cost efficient? How do you get it in as quickly as possible?You have to maintain it going forward, and hold management accountable for the business outcomes that result if the technology is deployed correctly.”

Be aware that technology companies move at a different speed, and it’s imperative that you are nimble enough to change, and change again, as marketplace demands may be different in the future. Let your team know that you are comfortable taking on certain kinds of risk and will handle them correctly. Some aspects of your business may be harmed by new technology, and you will have to make difficult trade-offs. Just as in M&A, I see this is an opportunity to engage with regulators.Seek out your primary regulator and share what you’re looking for and help regulators craft an appropriate standard for dealing with fintech companies.

Culture should not be mistaken for a destination.If you know that change is here, digital is the expectation and you’re not where you want to be, don’t ignore the cultural roadblocks. Address them.

Innovation Spotlight: BankMobile


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Dan Armstrong, Managing Director and Chief Digital Officer, BankMobile

In his role as chief digital officer, Dan Armstrong is responsible for co-leading BankMobile Labs, which houses BankMobile’s technology development team focused on user experience and innovation. In this interview, he discusses how BankMobile has taken ownership of its technology to provide a curated consumer experience. In early March, BankMobile announced its acquisition by Flagship Community Bank in Clearwater, Florida, for $175 million. Previously, it had been a division of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania-based Customers Bancorp.

Who helps execute the innovation strategy at BankMobile?
We have BankMobile Labs—a whole division of programmers, business systems analysts, graphic designers, onboarding and fraud specialists and more, all in-house. We also have a student labs division in New Haven, Connecticut, managing the BankMobile Disbursements business and the BankMobile Vibe app for students. We have so many people charged with innovation, and it’s pretty much the core of our consumer proposition.

How does BankMobile keep a pulse on changing consumer expectations?
I suppose the same way other banks do: media, conferences, trends, recommendations, reading and participating on panels. We have a very strong strategy of testing other fintech products in the market, too, to see what we can learn about making a better customer experience.

When it comes to implementing a fintech solution, would you rather buy, build or partner?
In May 2015, BankMobile set up a fintech software and services development division, so we build 90 percent of our technology in-house. We do have vendors for elements of our solutions, like cards, remote check deposit, photo billpay and P2P payments, as well as risk, fraud and credit-scoring—but they are all integrated into our in-house technology, platforms and apps. We don’t put vendor/partner technology directly in the hands of customers, as we strongly like to create and curate the customer experience, and differentiate where possible.

How Community Banks Can Create a Culture of Innovation


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Historically, customer convenience has always been the driving factor in choosing a bank. However, the way we define convenience is changing. Previously, it meant the proximity of bank branches to the customer’s daily route. Factors like customer service, product differentiation and knowledge were also important, but usually the more branches a bank had in convenient locations, the more customers it had. Even today, in most major cities the banks with the highest deposit share are those with the largest retail branch networks.

Times are changing and technology is a great equalizer for community banks. As consumers continue to decrease their use of cash and checks, so has the value of large branch networks for cashless customer segments like professional services. Today, customers seek technologies such as mobile banking, mobile deposit, remote deposit scanners and ACH platforms to manage their banking needs. In their mission to serve their communities, community banks should strive to meet the product needs of their customers as well. Whether your community is defined as blueberry farmers in Maine or multifamily landlords in Boston, banks can integrate technology into the daily lives of their customers to enhance their banking experience while redefining the meaning of convenience.

Founded in 2002 with $6 Million capital, Leader Bank has grown to $1.2 Billion in assets with 265 employees and seven full-service branches in the greater Boston area. Some of our more recent new product initiatives include ZRent, an electronic rent payment technology for landlords that was launched in 2015 and which automates the rent collection process. ZRent currently has 3,000 users and processes over $24 million in rent payments annually. Partner banks join the ZRent network in order to expand these rent payment capabilities to their clients and attract property owner clients. And in 2016 we introduced an automated loan notification system which updates borrowers on their loan statuses as they move through the underwriting approval process.

Over the last four years we have learned some key lessons in introducing new products within the community bank environment. These insights might be helpful to other bankers. The traditional product development cycle has an emphasis on the “great idea” and launching it in a “big way.” This approach may work well for building real estate or other things in the physical realm, but not necessarily for a financial or technology product:

We have adopted a different approach to the product innovation cycle that is more appropriate for financial products within community banks.

Identify Customer Problems by Listening
Instead of putting significant resources towards focus groups and brainstorming sessions to come up with solutions to serve our communities, we propose just listening to your customers with an open mind. “Listening” to customer problems means paying careful attention to the questions and comments that our customers mention in their day-to-day interactions with us. The key is creating a tight feedback loop between customer service, who receives the customer suggestions and the decision makers that create the solutions.

Learning and Research
Next we research each problem to determine whether it applies to our general corporate strategy and if we can offer a valuable solution. Then, instead of hiring a team to tackle the problem, we engage employees with downtime to actively contribute to research. We find that our employees are a great demographic representation of the communities we serve and can teach us a lot about the customer experience we are trying to improve.

Go Small and Go Live
If the research is positive and we have a solution, we will quickly launch a basic prototype of the solution. We call this “go small and go live.” Going small allows us to launch a basic solution without requiring a large budget. This provides great flexibility to factor in customer feedback and continuously improve the concept until it hits the mark.

We employ a concept of “stretch” to move projects forward without the need to formally request a budget for these initiatives. We do so by providing highly-motivated employees with the opportunity to take on additional projects. This type of “stretching” has multiple benefits including higher employee engagement and development of employee skills with no additional costs for the organization.

Tweak, Tweak, Tweak
At this point, feedback on your product is critical to its development to ensure that it will fully meet customer needs. Your team must place an emphasis on receiving customer feedback through any available channel, including surveys, customer phone calls and in-person meetings. From there, a tight feedback loop from the customer service people to the product managers is critical.

Scale and Automate
Once your product has received enough iterations of feedback and tweaks to validate that it meets a proven customer need, it is time to scale and automate. At this point a project manager should seek a budget for marketing, sales and the automation of time-consuming manual back-office tasks. Since the product has been thoroughly tested and used by a beta group of customers and employees, there is enough history to create a realistic return on investment pro forma that can prove to the finance team that investment dollars will not be wasted.

Finding a good idea is easy if you keep your eyes and ears open and listen carefully. Be cost efficient by using existing resources to get a minimum viable product to the market. Once you have established the value of the product and have results to support your claims on a smaller scale, you can seek additional funding to expand and scale the product’s capabilities.

Digital is in Our DNA


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Once your most basic needs in the first two levels of Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs have been covered—including food, shelter, security and the like—what do you need then?

According to Maslow, the next three levels of need are Belongingness and Love, Esteem and Self-Actualization. All of these needs are fulfilled in one way or another by various forms of digital media: blogs, emails, twitter and LinkedIn.Combined, the digital mobile world we live in today plays to our basic psychological and self-fulfillment needs, which is why it is so addictive.

According to the Bank of America Corp.’sannual researchinto mobility, millennials spend more time interacting on their phone than with their partner, family, friends and colleagues.

Perhaps this is why many of us are so addicted to selfies and using the camera to stream our daily routines non-stop.It is also why some joker added WiFi and a battery to Maslow’s well known pyramid. (And if Maslow was alive today, he would no doubt agree.)

When we don’t have our phone, we often feel anxious and bored with a fear of missing out on what’s going on. We even walk and talk differently when we are using a mobile phone. The University of Bathfound that people who text had developed a protective shuffle that prevents them bumping into obstacles, or tripping over hazards. This means that it takes those texting 26 percent longer to complete a walking task compared to those who were not distracted by their phones, and it is really annoying. You know, you’re walking along the pavement and someone is shuffling slowly in front of you with that hunched over look that signals they are playing with their mobile phone. You kind of want to hit them in the back of the head and tell them to get out of the way, but don’t because you know you do it yourself. This is the world today, and the reason whysome citiesare introducing texting and non-texting sidewalks.

Before we look at banks, a little test. Turn off your mobile phone and seehow many minutes or hours you can wait before turning it back on again. Do this when you’re not in a meeting or sleeping and have ready access to your phone. I bet none of you last more than an hour.

The reason for giving this insight into the mobile digital age being part of our DNA is that, if our relationships are with and through our digital devices, how does a bank become part of that world? That’s a difficult question. Most bankers think that mobile and digital generally are projects to invest in, not the representation of a cultural transformation.But this dependency on our devices is a cultural transformation. The very fact that we have gone from a phone being a mere communication device to being at the very center of our lives in just one decade is incredible, but true.

Meanwhile, what banks are offering the best mobile experience? In the U.S., it’s JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s Chase retail banking unit, according toMagnify Money. Chase was voted the best mobile banking app in the country for a large bank, and applauded by users for a combination of design and functionality. The app has a lot of the features deemed most important by consumers, which includes fingerprint sign-on, mobile check deposit and the ability to see images of deposited checks. Consumers want to be able to do everything on the app, and Chase has been adding functionality throughout the year to keep people satisfied.

Forrester ranked the world’s best retail mobile banking services and benchmarked the retail mobile banking services of 46 large retail banks across four continents on 40 criteria, and found the average bank scored 65 out of 100.

Australia’s Westpac outstripped the average bank by being strong in every category. The bank earned the highest score in the transactional features category and did particularly well in its range of touch points, account and money management, and marketing and sales. It is one of the few banks to offer contactless mobile payments capability using near-field communication technology. The bank has also rolled out innovative features such as letting customers take pictures of their credit cards to activate them.

Of theother banks reviewed, nine stood out from their peers for their impressive mobile banking capabilities: CaixaBank in Spain, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Scotiabank in Canada, Garanti in Turkey, Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co. in the U.S., Bank Zachodni WBK in Poland and Lloyds Bank in the U.K.