Three Steps to Mastering Digital Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Umpqua Bank Is Navigating the Digital Transformation

Writers look for interesting paradoxes to explore. That’s what creates tension in a story, which engages readers.

These qualities can be hard to find in banking, a homogenous industry where individuality is often viewed skeptically by regulators.

But there are exceptions. One of them is Umpqua Holdings Co., the biggest bank based in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s unique about Umpqua is the ubiquity of its reputation. Ask just about anyone who has been around banking for a while and they’re likely to have heard of the $29 billion bank based in Portland, Oregon.

This isn’t because of Umpqua’s size or historic performance. It’s a product, instead, of its branch and marketing strategies under former CEO Ray Davis, who grew it over 23 years from a small community bank into a leading regional institution.

Umpqua’s branches were particularly unique. The company viewed them not exclusively as places to conduct banking business, but instead as places for people to congregate more generally.

That strategy may seem naïve nowadays, given the popularity of digital banking. But it’s worth observing that other banks continue to follow its lead.

Here’s how Capital One Financial Corp. describes its cafes: “Our Cafés are inviting places where you can bank, plan your financial journey, engage with your community, and enjoy Peet’s Coffee. You don’t have to be a customer.”

Nevertheless, as digital banking replaces branch visits, Umpqua has had to shift its strategy — you could even say its identity — under Davis’ successor, Cort O’Haver.

The biggest asset at O’Haver’s disposal is Umpqua’s culture, which it has long prioritized. And the key to its culture is the way it balances stakeholders.

For decades, corporations adhered to the doctrine of shareholder primacy — the idea that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. The doctrine was even formally endorsed in 1997 as a principle of corporate governance by the Business Roundtable, an organization made up of CEOs of major U.S. companies.

Umpqua, on the other hand, has focused over the years on optimizing rewards to all its stakeholders — employees, customers, community and shareholders — as opposed to maximizing the rewards to just one group of them.

“We’re not the most profitable or highest total shareholder return bank in the country,” O’Haver says. “We have to give some of that up because of the things we do. If we’re going to innovate, if we’re going to have programs that give back to our employees and our communities, it costs money to do that. But we think that’s the right thing to do. It attracts customers and great quality associates who bring passion to what they do.”

The downside to this approach, as O’Haver points out, are lower shareholder returns. But the upside, particularly now, is that this philosophy seeded a collaborative culture that can be leveraged to help navigate the digital transformation.

Offering digital distribution channels isn’t hard. Any bank can pay third-party partners to build a mobile application. What’s hard is seamlessly blending these channels into a legacy ecosystem once dominated by branches and in-person service.

“How are you going to get your people to actually embrace new technology and use it? How are they going to sell it if they don’t feel like it’s valuable for them?” O’Haver says. “Yeah, it’s valuable for your shareholders because it’s cheaper. But if you’re not counterbalancing that, how are you going to get your associates to embrace it and sell it to customers? That’s more important than the product itself, even in financial terms. If they don’t embrace it, you will fail.”

This, again, may seem like a trite way to approach business. Yet, Umpqua’s more balanced philosophy towards stakeholders has proven to be prescient.

Last year, the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of a corporation. No longer is it merely to maximize shareholder value; its purpose now is to fulfill a fundamental commitment to all its stakeholders.

Leading institutional investors are following suit. The CEOs of BlackRock and State Street Global Capital Advisors, the two biggest institutional investors in the country, are mandating that companies jettison shareholder primacy in favor of so-called stakeholder capitalism.

In short, while Umpqua’s decades-long emphasis on branches may seem like a liability in the modern age of banking, the culture underlying that emphasis may prove to be its greatest asset if leveraged, as opposed to lost, in the process of bridging the digital divide.

What Does Digital Transformation Mean Today?


transformation-4-17-19.pngFaced with macro-economic pressures, technology adoption decisions and quickly shifting customer expectations, banks are challenged in how to respond. Or if a response is even necessary.

But why?

For hundreds of years banks have existed to facilitate commerce, serving as a gateway to exchange and store value. Customers historically have chosen their bank for a combination of two factors: trust and convenience.

Financial institutions thrived by putting themselves at the heart of communities and centers of commerce. Branch networks expanded to be close to their customers, serving communities with products tailored to their customer footprint.

Then came the internet in the 1990s, and banks began launching online banking. By 2006, 80 percent of banks offered internet banking. Many banks believed they could begin to close bank branches, transitioning from fixed-cost distribution centers to low-cost digital channels.

But when it came to financial advice and large transactions, consumers still prefer branch locations. Instead of replacing costly branches with low-cost digital channels, banks are now faced with the upkeep of ever-changing customer expectations across multiple channels.

Pressure From Fintechs
The problem right now is traditional revenue from interest rate spreads are being strained by specialist digital providers. Instead of offering a breadth of services to customers, fintechs develop one product and continuously refine the single product to the user’s needs.

But how can a bank compete and offer the services customers want with the specialization fintechs can deliver across multiple channels?

The answer is open banking—a collaborative model in which banking data is shared with third-party services across an ecosystem of trusted providers.

As commentator and consultant Chris Skinner states in his book, “Digital Human,” “A bank that is truly into their digital journey would never build anything, but would curate everything.”

A digital transformation begins with extending bank capabilities through APIs (application programming interfaces), which open up an opportunity for banks and their customers to partner with fintechs.

But customers don’t want to vet hundreds of fintech startups. Instead, they’re looking for trust and convenience in their bank, which is the bank’s biggest advantage. While not immediately visible to customers, an important aspect of trust is the bank’s continuing role in ensuring third-party solutions handle their data securely and are in compliance with regulations.

Financial data is the currency of the next generation of banks, and the value of that currency is unlocked when segments are broken down and replaced with a platform. Only at a platform level can you extract the intelligence to deliver actionable, contextualized experiences for your customer.

In many ways, banks are already platforms, with multiple product lines around deposits, lending and insurance. APIs allow these platforms to interconnect, combining data to provide a complete financial picture of their customer. Even with the rise of technology, consumer surveys have shown they trust their banks more than Google and Amazon combined.

Customers want their bank to be at the center of their financial decisions.

The late Walter Wriston, former chairman and CEO of Citicorp said in the 1970s, “Information about money is as valuable as the money itself.”

Measuring Long-Term Success
Long-term success will be measured by the ability to refocus away from transactions in favor of becoming a trusted advisor. Banks that invest in gaining a deeper understanding of their customers’ financial lifestyle through rich data analytics can begin providing personalized, contextual advice to their customers—a valuable service customers will pay for.

Banks don’t have to embark on this journey alone. Institutions should look to technology partners equipped to allow them to think bigger by offering a customizable solution.

The bank of the future looks very similar to the bank of today—focused on core values of trust and convenience.

The Biggest Changes in Banking Since 1993


acquire-1-25-19.pngWhen Bank Director hosted its first Acquire or Be Acquired Conference 25 years ago, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” held the top spot on Billboard’s Top 40 chart.

Boston Celtics legend, Larry Bird, was about to retire.

Readers flocked to bookstores for the latest New York Times best seller: “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as president of the United States.

And the internet wasn’t yet on the public radar, nor was Sarbanes Oxley, the financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act, Occupy Wall Street or the #MeToo movement.

It was 1993, and buzzwords like “digital transformation” were more intriguing to science-fiction fans than to officers and directors at financial institutions.

My, how times have changed.

AL-CurtainRaiser-Image[1].png

When we introduced Acquire or Be Acquired to bank CEOs and leadership teams a quarter century ago, there were nearly 11,000 banks in the country. Federal laws prohibited interstate banking at the time, leaving it up to the states to decide if a bank holding company in one state would be allowed to acquire a bank in another state. And commercial and investment banks were still largely kept separate.

Today, there are fewer than half as many commercial banks—of the 10 banks with the largest markets caps in 1993, only five still exist as independent entities.

It’s not only the number of banks that has changed, either; the competitive dynamics of our industry have changed, too.

Three banks are so big that they’re prohibited from buying other banks. These behemoths—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp.—each control more than 10 percent of total domestic deposits.

Some people see this as an evolutionary process, where the biggest and strongest players consume the weakest, painting a pessimistic, Darwinian picture of the industry.

Yet, this past year was the most profitable for banks in history.

Net income in the industry reached a record level in 2018, thanks to rising interest rates and the corporate tax cut.

Profitability benchmarks in place since the 1950s had to be raised. Return on assets jumped from 1 percent to 1.2 percent, return on equity climbed from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Nonetheless, ominous threats remain on the horizon, some drawing ever nearer.

  • Interest rates are rising, which could spark a recession and influence the allocation of deposits between big and little banks.
  • Digital banking is here. Three quarters of Bank of America’s deposits are completed digitally, with roughly the same percentage of mortgage applications at U.S. Bancorp completed on mobile devices.
  • Innovation will only accelerate, as banks continue investing in technology initiatives.
  • Credit quality is pristine now, but the cycle will turn. We are, after all, 40 quarters into what is now the second-longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
  • Consolidation will continue, though no one knows at what rate.

But it shouldn’t be lost that certain things haven’t changed. Chief among these is the fact that bankers and the institutions they run remain at the center of our communities, fueling this great country’s growth.

That’s why it’s been such an honor for us to host this prestigious event each year for the past quarter century.

For those joining us at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge outside Phoenix, Arizona, you’re in for a three-day treat. Can’t make it? Don’t despair: 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 #AOBA19.

Your Digital Transformation Is Not Just About Technology


technology-9-3-18.pngFor an increasing number of consumers, the primary means of interacting with their financial institution is the mobile banking app on their smartphone. This number will continue to grow, as will the number of ways they want to use digital devices to interact with their financial institutions. Though oft-criticized for their risk-averse natures, especially when it comes to new technology, banks understand and are responding.

The success of their initiatives will depend on how well each can navigate the complexity associated with effectively closing the digital gap. Establishing competitive parity in the digital race requires more than simply selecting a new digital banking platform to replace the legacy, disparate system. Banks must navigate the digital challenge holistically. To achieve the goals desired, digital transformation must encompass many aspects of an institution’s operations.

Shift the Org Chart From Vertical to Horizontal
Technology is an important part of any digital transformation, but too often banks rush to make a choice in this area before considering basic elements in their own operations that play a profound role in in its success or failure. For example, the organizational charts of most banks is built on a vertical, “line of business” model. Technology, however, especially that which inspires a digital transformation, is horizontal in its role and impact.

This difference between how a bank is structured organizationally and how digital technology should be used within an institution means bank’s leadership must have a horizontal mindset about technology. The manner in which a midsized regional bank addressed this challenge is a good example. The bank converted a digital banking team of four, working in the retail side of the business, into a department of more than 30 that included each person who has or will directly contribute to the digital strategy of the bank. To ensure communication and ideas flowed as freely as possible, the bank housed all the people on this digital team in the same area of their headquarters using an open-office concept.

Adjust Budgeting From Project-Based to Forward-Based
Another area to consider during the early stages of any digital transformation is an institution’s budgeting process. Many banks use a project-based budgeting process where the senior executive responsible for a project works with others to build a business case, project plan, and budget that goes through several approvals before reaching the board of directors. Given the material levels of investment of many projects within a bank’s operation, this vetting process seems justified.

However, because the project-based model is optimized to minimize risk, progress can be painfully slow and take a very long time. It is therefore ill-suited for any organization that wants to maintain parity in the digital marketplace where the only things that change faster than technology are the expectations of the customer. To respond to this rate of change, banks must be able to move quickly. In the case of one bank, this was achieved by implementing a “forward-based” budgeting model that designated a specific investment level for digital at the start of the year. The digital leadership of the bank was given the authority to use this money marked for digital in whatever way deemed necessary for the institution to respond to evolving customer demands and technological innovation.

This Isn’t Your Grandparents’ Technology
When an institution does turn its focus to determining what third-party solutions and services will best support its digital aspirations, there are non-negotiable qualities from vendors that should be part of the evaluation process. These qualities are not typically on the list of “must-haves,” and can typically decrease both cost and complexity.

In the case of three regional banks going through a digital transformation, the non-negotiable item was control. Each felt it was essential that the vendors with which they would build their digital future delivered a product that gave the banks control over their own digital future at the solution level. In other words, does the solution allow a bank to make changes at a branch level, only be exposed to customers in that branch’s area, without needing the assistance of the vendor? This is important as many banks have had limited ability because the solutions required vendor intervention for even the smallest change.

Digital transformation is about more than choosing the right replacement for legacy, disparate, online and mobile banking systems. It should touch every aspect of an institution. This is an undertaking not for the faint of heart. Many institutions will insist they are different and can win without changing the way they operate. Unfortunately, such evaluations are why the billions of dollars of investments made collectively by financial institutions will not delay how quickly they become irrelevant to the customers.

A Digital Mindset Must Be Driven From the Top


strategy-12-7-17.pngRecently, I read a study from the research and advisory firm Gartner, in which chief information officers in the financial services industry predict that 45 percent of gross enterprise revenue will come from digital business products and services by 2020. That’s only two years from now and frankly, I think the industry is farther off than that. To meet that prediction, financial institutions will need to embrace a digital-first mentality, and I’m not seeing enough of that shift in thinking. Don’t get me wrong, a shift is occurring—but not quickly enough. Competition from and partnerships with fintech firms are adding pressure to traditional banks, but digital transformation has a long way to go.

CIOs will need to help their organizations change the basis of competition, create new markets and cross-industry boundaries by creating an industry vision for digital business in banking,” according to Gartner. Is the CIO in your organization driving digital transformation, and creating new markets and opportunities?

Before that can even start, a digital-first strategy must be embraced by the institution. Banking remains channel-centric, meaning that bankers tend to think in terms of channels, mediums and devices, so I’m afraid the industry has yet to adopt a digital-first methodology. The term ‘mobile first’ is used frequently, but the term is overused and shortsighted. Digital first, on the other hand, recognizes that the digital landscape will constantly evolve to meet the market’s needs, and to keep in pace with emerging technology and market expectations.

Then there is the issue of culture. Digital transformation is not something that can be steered and driven within an organizational silo. It’s holistic in strategy and execution. Digital transformation must begin with an organizational philosophy that is embraced from the board down, and there should be an enterprise-wide agreement that such a transformation won’t happen overnight, but rather will evolve through a deliberate strategy. The good news is that most of us in the industry understand the underlying rationale to digitalization, and the benefits it brings to customer experience and the ability to drive bottom line revenue. Executive teams now fully comprehend the need to reduce friction in the overall banking experience, regardless of the pursued market segment.

In the ‘80s we all heard the call to emerge as “high tech, high touch” providers of financial services. Finally, this evolution has begun. We acquire, service, engage and retain customers through digitalization now, more than ever before. However, this progress toward a digital-first strategy is due to broad, inescapable cultural shifts and strong leadership, not a lone CIO with a vision.

A financial enterprise runs in a very dynamic environment. A digital-first approach can yield a framework for how financial institutions should evaluate strategy, and change the operational approach and culture of the bank. This framework includes organizing teams, creating customer-centric internal processes and building an experience with flexible, innovative technology. Simply understanding the value of digital transformation is not enough. We all need to see and feel the rubber hit the road. This can start with a very conscious shift in allocation of dollars to digital, and understanding that digital will make “traditional banking” better.

Digital should evolve as a philosophy, and its principles and insights should weave through all aspects of a financial institution. It should be the cord that ties together every retail or business banking experience, be it marketing or delivery. It is the DNA of the new banking experience. Digital is no longer just a channel or a series of tactics, and can have a profound impact on all stakeholders at a financial institution, beginning with its customers.

How a Board Can Become a Strategic Asset



Issues like cybersecurity, digital transformation and future business models now require the attention of not just management teams, but also bank boards. As directors engage more deeply in these issues, Bill Fisher of Diligent explains how they can enhance the effectiveness of the board to be a true strategic asset to the bank.

  • The Board’s Role as a Strategic Asset
  • Enhancing Board Effectiveness
  • Addressing Board Skills

Digital Directors: A Powerful Boardroom Addition


3-21-13_Russell_Reynolds.pngDigital transformation—the confluence of social, mobile, cloud computing and data analytics—is dramatically changing the banking business. As electronic transactions become the norm and customer expectations shift accordingly, banks are fundamentally rethinking both their products and services and their marketing strategies.

Because digital transformation affects the evolution of the entire institution, there is an increasingly recognized need within the banking industry for the board to provide oversight and counsel to the CEO regarding digital strategy and the development of digital talent across the C suite. But this addition to board responsibilities means that the board itself must have a certain critical mass of digital capability and experience.

Nominating committees have begun to respond by adding “digital directors”—executives who have either management or board experience at a company where digital contributes a large portion of revenue, where digital channels are crucial enablers of business or where the company is regarded as a digital transformation leader in its industry.

But as powerful an asset as adding a digital director can be, doing so successfully requires forethought and planning. The following can serve as a checklist of questions and issues the nominating committee should consider.

Know Where the Bank is on its Digital Trajectory

Some banks are building out their basic mobile strategy, while others have infrastructure already in place and are now leveraging analytics to incentivize usage and engage and retain customers. Still others may be looking to extend their network of partnerships. The specific digital issues the institution is facing now and over the next several years will help determine the type of digital experience most needed on the board.

Understand the Varieties

While one can speak broadly of “digital directors,” the term actually encompasses three distinct types: The first type of digital leaders comes from “disruptor” companies—the social, mobile, cloud computing, data analytics and other firms that are actually driving the changes at a root level.  The second type of digital director comes from “transformer” companies outside the realm of technology that are examples in their industry of successful digital transformation. (The retail, transportation and consumer packaged goods industries are good sources.) The third type of executive comes from either disruptor or transformer companies, but approaches digital less from a strategic than a technological perspective, typically as chief technical officer or chief technology officer. Each type of digital director will have his or her own perspective on the process of digital transformation.

Show Commitment

Expect that any potential digital director will regard an offer of a board seat with a level of healthy skepticism. He or she will have to be persuaded that the CEO has truly embraced digital change, rather than merely responding to pressure from the shareholders or the board.

While a commitment to digital transformation will mean different things at different banks, it will generally include having already begun to build a digital management team to lead efforts in mobile, digital payments and digital marketing. After all, the role of the digital director is to advise on digital strategy—and this presupposes that there is a basic digital capability already in place. No digital director will sign on if he or she is expected to drive the digital transformation process.

One Isn’t Enough

Just as no digital director wants the responsibility of building digital capability from the ground up, he or she will not want to be the one to whom all faces turn when a digital issue comes up. Think of digital expertise like financial expertise: Even outside of the financial services industry, the well-composed board will include several financial experts, representing various perspectives and experiences, to ensure the best possible collective thinking about a critical function. Similarly, bank boards should aim to have at least two or three digital directors around the table.

Don’t Just Transform the Bank

The bank cannot undergo a digital transformation without the board doing so as well. Use tablets to access board documents, as well as online collaboration tools. Spend more time out of the boardroom seeing and trying new technologies first-hand.

But if adding digital technologies will nudge boardroom culture, the addition of digital directors will have a far greater impact, given their likely expectations for high levels of directness and transparency. The challenge here is to add directors who bring disruptive experience without being disruptive themselves. This can particularly be an issue for digital directors who have not served on a public company board before, or on a board outside of the digital realm. Mentoring from a senior board member can be helpful here. But it would be a mistake to expect to smooth the edges completely. Nor should one want to: As more digital directors take their place in the boardroom, it is likely that they will make a positive impact on board culture in ways that cannot now be foreseen.