E-signatures Move from Nice to New Normal

The coronavirus pandemic has been a pivotal catalyst within the financial services industry, as banks of all sizes adopt and launch digital tools and services at an unprecedented pace. While not a new initiative, e-signatures suddenly became a top priority for banks, as customer sought ways to complete their financial transactions and certify documents remotely. According to BAI’s August Banking Outlook research on digital banking trends during Covid-19, half of consumers use digital products more since the pandemic, and 87% indicate they plan to continue after the pandemic. Banks now realize they must implement a digital transformation strategy in order to navigate these challenging times and new consumer expectations.

However, some financial institutions still view e-signatures as a luxury — a solution that holds benefit and value but is not at the top of their list of digital priorities. To defend their market share and ensure future success, banks must embrace digital transformation and provide customers with a more personalized, engaging experience. The crucial link is e-signatures.

The coronavirus means banking customers need to be able to conduct banking business, open new accounts, obtain new loans or modify or extend existing loans while avoiding traditional in-person contact and interaction with bank staff. It has never been more important to transmute traditional, paper-based processes to the digital realm. Declines in branch visits and ATM transactions, an increased focus on touchless interactions and payments and the rapid operational migration to remote operations moved e-signatures from a nice-to-have, convenient solution to a critical tool every bank must offer to empower their customers to process daily transactions.

Adoption rates for e-signatures were on the rise prior to the pandemic, but have now taken on an even larger and more significant role, enabling banks to move transactions forward in an era of social distancing. E-signatures allow the continuation of normal banking activities in a secure environment while protecting the safety of both the customer as well as the bank employee. It’s apparent that other unexpected conditions could arise in the future that would force the same technological need. They’ve moved from a convenience offering to a banking infrastructure necessity.

Basic banking services like opening an account, arranging a line of credit and applying for a mortgage all require an exchange of documents. In the age of Covid-19, the ability to do that electronically has become mandatory. The most frequent use for of e-signatures has been with new account opening and new loan origination and closing processes. The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program also drove a dramatic rise in e-signature requirements. Banks are leveraging e-signatures to enable daily account service and maintenance transactions such as address changes, name changes, stop payment requests, wire transfer requests and credit card disputes. E-signatures provide service convenience to customers as they move through the stages of the lending process or digital account opening.

Financial institutions are experiencing a boom in digital-first relationships with new and existing customers. Customers are requesting new account openings and loan applications online, and perhaps modifying or extending existing loans. It all must be done electronically. Additionally, the day-to-day demand of account service and maintenance transactions have only increased, and require a new solution to those daily operational activities. E-signatures are one way to place electronically fillable forms on an bank’s website or online banking center so allow customers can complete and sign the appropriate documents and submit directly to the bank. Now more than ever, e-signatures and digital transaction management are critical technologies for financial institutions.

How Credit Unions Pursue Growth

The nationwide pandemic and persistent economic uncertainty hasn’t slowed the growth of Idaho Central Credit Union.

The credit union is located in Chubbuck, Idaho, a town of 15,600 near the southeast corner, and is one of the fastest growing in the nation. It has nearly tripled in size over the last five years, mostly from organic growth, according to an analysis by CEO Advisory Group of the 50 fastest growing credit unions. It also has some of the highest earnings among credit unions — with a return on average assets of 1.6% last year — an enviable figure, even among banks.

“This is an example of a credit union that is large enough, [say] $6 billion in assets, that they can be dominant in their state and in a lot of small- and medium-sized markets,” says Glenn Christensen, president of CEO Advisory Group, which advises credit unions.

Unsurprisingly, growth and earnings often go hand in hand. Many of the nation’s fastest growing credit unions are also high earners. Size and strength matter in the world of credit unions, as larger credit unions are able to afford the technology that attract and keep members, just like banks need technology to keep customers. These institutions also are able to offer competitive rates and convenience over smaller or less-efficient institutions.

“Economies of scale are real in our industry, and required for credit unions to continue to compete,” says Christensen.

The largest credit unions, indeed, have been taking an ever-larger share of the industry. Deposits at the top 20 credit unions increased 9.5% over the last five years; institutions with below $1 billion in assets grew deposits at 2.4% on average,” says Peter Duffy, managing director at Piper Sandler & Co. who focuses on credit unions.

As of the end of 2019, only 6% of credit unions had more than $1 billion in assets, or 332 out of about 5,200. That 6% represented 70% of the industry’s total deposit shares, Duffy says. Members gravitate to these institutions because they offer what members want: digital banking, convenience and better rates on deposits and loans.

The only ones that can consistently deliver the best rates, as well as the best technology suites, are the ones with scale,” Duffy says.

Duffy doesn’t think there’s a fixed optimal size for all credit unions. It depends on the market: A credit union in Los Angeles might need $5 billion in assets to compete effectively, while one in Nashville, Tennessee, might need $2 billion.

There are a lot of obstacles to building size and scale in the credit union industry, however. Large mergers in the space are relatively rare compared to banks — and they became even rarer during the coronavirus pandemic. Part of it is a lack of urgency around growth.

“For credit unions, since they don’t have shareholders, they aren’t looking to provide liquidity for shareholders or to get a good price,” says Christensen.

Prospective merger partners face a host of sensitive, difficult questions: Who will be in charge? Which board members will remain? What happens to the staff? What are the goals of the combined organization? What kind of change-in-control agreements are there for executives who lose their jobs?

These social issues can make deals fall apart. Perhaps the sheer difficulty of navigating credit union mergers is one contributor to the nascent trend of credit unions buying banks. A full $6.2 billion of the $27.7 billion in merged credit union assets in the last five years came from banks, Christensen says.

Institutions such as Lakeland, Florida-based MIDFLORIDA Credit Union are buying banks. In 2019, MIDFLORIDA purchased Ocala, Florida-based Community Bank & Trust of Florida, with $743 million in assets, and the Florida assets of $675 million First American Bank. The Fort Dodge, Iowa-based bank was later acquired by GreenState Credit Union in early 2020.

The $5 billion asset MIDFLORIDA was interested in an acquisition to gain more branches, as well as Community Bank & Trust’s treasury management department, which provides financial services to commercial customers.

MIDFLORIDA President Steve Moseley says it’s probably easier to buy a healthy bank than a healthy credit union. “The old saying is, ‘Everything is for sale [for the right price],’” he says. “Credit unions are not for sale.”

Still, despite the difficulties of completing mergers, the most-significant trend shaping the credit union landscape is that the nation’s numerous small institutions are going away. About 3% of credit unions disappear every year, mostly as a result of a merger, says Christensen. He projects that the current level of 5,271 credit unions with an average asset size of $335.6 million will drop to 3,903 credit unions by 2030 — with an average asset size of $1.1 billion.

CEO Advisory Credit Union Industry Consolidation Forecast

The pandemic’s economic uncertainty dropped deal-making activity down to 65 in the first half of 2020, compared to 72 during the same period in 2019 and 90 in the first half of 2018, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Still, Christensen and Duffy expect that figure to pick up as credit unions become more comfortable figuring out potential partners’ credit risks.

In the last five years, the fastest growing credit unions that have more than $500 million in assets have been acquirers. Based on deposits, Vibe Credit Union in Novi, Michigan, ranked the fastest growing acquirer above $500 million in assets between 2015 and 2020, according to the analysis by CEO Advisory Group. The $1 billion institution merged with Oakland County Credit Union in 2019.

Gurnee, Illinois-based Consumers Cooperative Credit Union ranked second. The $2.6 billion Consumers has done four mergers in that time, including the 2019 marriage to Andigo Credit Union in Schaumberg, Illinois. Still, much of its growth has been organic.

Canyon State Credit Union in Phoenix, which subsequently changed its name to Copper State Credit Union, and Community First Credit Union in Santa Rosa, California, were the third and fourth fastest growing acquirers in the last five years. Copper State, which has $520 million in assets, recorded a deposit growth rate of 225%. Community First , with $622 million in assets, notched 206%. The average deposit growth rate for all credit unions above $500 million in assets was 57.9%.

CEO Advisory Group Top 50 Fastest Growing Credit Unions

“A number of organizations look to build membership to build scale, so they can continue to invest,” says Rick Childs, a partner in the public accounting and consulting firm Crowe LLP.

Idaho Central is trying to do that mostly organically, becoming the sixth-fastest growing credit union above $500 million in assets. Instead of losing business during a pandemic, loans are growing — particularly mortgages and refinances — as well as auto loans.

“It’s almost counterintuitive,” says Mark Willden, the chief information officer. “Are we apprehensive? Of course we are.”

He points out that unemployment remained relatively low in Idaho, at 6.1% in September, compared to 7.9% nationally. The credit union also participated in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, lending out about $200 million, which helped grow loans.

Idaho Central is also investing in technology to improve customer service. It launched a new digital account opening platform in January 2020, which allows for automated approvals and offers a way for new members to fund their accounts right away. The credit union also purchased the platform from Temenos and customized the software using an in-house team of developers, software architects and user experience designers. It purchased Salesforce.com customer relationship management software, which gives employees a full view of each member they are serving, reducing wait times and providing better service.

But like Idaho Central, many of the fastest growing institutions aren’t growing through mergers, but organically. And boy, are they growing.

Latino Community Credit Union in Durham, North Carolina, grew assets 178% over the last five years by catering to Spanish-language and immigrant communities. It funds much of that growth with grants and subordinated debt, says Christensen.

Currently, only designated low-income credit unions such as the $536.5 million asset Latino Community can raise secondary capital, such as subordinated debt. But the National Credit Union Administration finalized a rule that goes into effect January 1, 2022, permiting non-low income credit unions to issue subordinated debt to comply with another set of rules. NCUA’s impending risk-based capital requirement would require credit unions to hold total capital equal to 10% of their risk-weighted assets, according to Richard Garabedian, an attorney at Hunton Andrews Kurth. He expects that the proposed rule likely will go into effect in 2021.

Unlike banks, credit unions can’t issue stock to investors. Many institutions use earnings to fuel their growth, and the two measures are closely linked. Easing the restrictions will give them a way to raise secondary capital.

A separate analysis by Piper Sandler’s Duffy of the top 263 credit unions based on share growth, membership growth and return on average assets found that the average top performer grew members by 54% in the last six years, while all other credit unions had an average growth rate of less than 1%.

Many of the fastest growing credit unions also happen to be among the top 25 highest earners, according to a list compiled by Piper Sandler. Among them: Burton, Michigan-based ELGA Credit Union, MIDFLORIDA Credit Union, Vibe and Idaho Central. All of them had a return on average assets of more than 1.5%. That’s no accident.

Top 25 High Performing Credit Unions

Credit unions above $1 billion in assets have a median return on average assets of 0.94%, compared to 0.49% for those below $1 billion in assets. Of the top 25 credit unions with the highest return on average assets in 2019, only a handful were below $1 billion in assets, according to Duffy.

Duffy frequently talks about the divide between credit unions that have forward momentum on growth and earnings and those who do not. Those who do not are “not going to be able, and have not been able, to keep up.”

Why Banks Should Focus on Financial Strength in 2021

Winston Churchill is credited with having famously stated, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” After a year of profound challenges on many fronts, there very much remains a crisis, causing especially deep financial turmoil for millions of unemployed Americans as a result Covid-19.

Many are undoubtedly feeling financial uncertainty, stress and fear. This crisis represents a singular opportunity for banks to earn and establish deep foundations of trust with customers navigating the murky waters of their financial stress. These efforts will garner a loyalty and connection that will bear incredible fruit in the future, as those customers come out of their own individual crises. Banks should earn this deep trust by making their customers’ financial strength an urgent, key focus in 2021.

Many financial institutions are tuned into this urgency, according to our ongoing original research into financial services. Our recent survey of 220 bankers at institutions spanning the financial industry showed that two of the most significant shifts in business objectives for 2021 are toward recognizing the urgency of digital experience and financial wellness tools.

These two initiatives go hand in hand, especially following a year of branch closures. People are increasingly looking for ways to get financial guidance directly on their phones. We’ve found that 84% of consumers use their mobile banking app at least weekly and 26% use it daily. By contrast, 83% of consumers say they go into a branch once a month or less — and a third say that they plan to visit bank branches less frequently than they did before the pandemic once it is over.

Put simply, your customers need and expect real-time financial guidance on their devices. Here are three ways to offer that:

1. Show People Where They Are Today
First, people need to know where they are currently — financially speaking. Offering a money experience that provides users with a 360-degree view of their accounts in one place is like  seeing the words “You Are Here” on a map. That alone can provide tremendous relief, especially if an individual sees that they are not too far from help.

The same is true for finances. People need clarity about their broad financial picture. They need to be able to quickly see how they’ve been doing, with transactions that are cleansed, categorized, and augmented — and then visualized simply. The days of manually documenting every single check from a checkbook are long gone; very few people have the time or patience to do that kind of work. To be competitive, people need you to do the work for them. It’s not about money management. It’s about a money experience.

2. Help Them Look Ahead
Second, people need to know where to go next. This experience should be a GPS for finances, detailing what true financial strength looks like and laying out general principles to get to that destination. This means that people should be able to quickly see their savings goals, receive recommendations on what route to take and quickly choose or simply confirm automatic funneling of money toward those specific goals, without having to pause their busy life.

3. Get Personal
Third, the money experience should also guide and protect users by offering personalized advice and warnings moment to moment — leading user toward what they need to do. This requires a foundational corpus of clean, enriched data coupled with powerful algorithms behind the scenes to even have a shot at offering an elegant, personalized experience. It is exactly the kind of money experience that will establish trust and build loyalty, especially from customers in dire need of it. This will also become more and more critical as customers desire going into a branch less and less.

Creating a money experience that follows these principles will help create a world where individuals are empowered to be financially strong, where fewer and fewer face personal financial crises.

For me, this mission is personal. I’ve taken an entrepreneurial approach to my career, bounding between exhilarating highs and anxiety-inducing lows. I’ve experienced four separate times where my income dropped to zero, and felt the overwhelming weight of trying to navigate my finances as a young husband and father. I empathize with anyone who feels that stress. Similarly, I can also empathize with the deep trust and lifetime loyalty that can be established when someone helped navigate out of those tough situations. This understanding motivates me to help banks and fintech companies offer a money experience that empowers true financial strength in 2021.

Designing an Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed

With more businesses choosing fintechs and neo-banks to address their financial needs, banks must innovate quickly and stay up-to-date with the latest business banking trends to get ahead of the competition.

In fact, 62% of businesses say that their business banking accounts offer no more features or benefits than their personal accounts. Fintechs have seized on this opportunity. Banks are struggling to keep up with the more than 140 firms competing to help business customers like yours manage their finances.

Narmi interviewed businesses to identify what their current business banking experience is like, and what additional features they would like to have. To help banks better understand what makes a great business banking experience, we’ve put together Designing a Banking Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed, a free online resource free for bank executives.

A banking platform built with business owners in mind will help them focus on what matters most — running a successful company. In turn, banks will be able to grow accounts, drive business deposits and get ahead of fintech competitors encroaching on their market share.

Understanding How Businesses Bank
No business is the same. Each has different financial needs and a way of operating. Narmi chose to talk with a range of business owners via video chat, including an early-stage startup, a dog-walking service, a bakery, a design agency and a CPA firm.

Each business used a variety of banks, including Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., SVB Financial Group, Bank of America Corp. and more.

A few of the questions we asked:

  1. How is your current business banking experience?
  2. Which tools do you most frequently use to help your business run smoothly?
  3. How often do you log in?
  4. What are the permissions like on your business banking platform?
  5. What features do you wish your business banking platform could provide?

We conducted more than 20 hour-long interviews with the goal of better understanding how business owners use their bank: what they liked and disliked about their banking experience, how they would want to assign access to other employees, and explore possible new features.

We learned that businesses tended to choose a financial institution on three factors: familiarity and ease, an understanding of what they do and competitive loan offers. Business owners shared with us how their experience with the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program factored into their decision about where they currently bank.

They tended to log into their accounts between once a day and once a week and oscillated between their phone and computers; the more transactions they had, the more frequently they checked their accounts. They appreciated when their institution offered a clean and intuitive user experience.

We also uncovered:

  • How do businesses handle their payments.
  • What do businesses think of their current banking features.
  • How do business owners want to manage permissions.

Want to read more? Download a free copy of Designing a Banking Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed.

The Role Analytics Play in Today’s Digital Environment

Banks have an increasing opportunity to employ and leverage analytics as customers continue to seek increased digital engagement. Combining data, analytics, and decision management tools together enriches executive insights, quantifies risk and opportunity, and makes decision‑making repeatable and consistently executed.

Analytics, and the broad, umbrella phrase automated intelligence can be confusing; there are many different subfields of the phrases. AI is the ability of a computer to do tasks that are regularly performed by humans. This includes expert models that take domain knowledge and automate decisions to replicate the decisions the expert would have made, but without human intervention. Machine learning models extract hidden patterns and rules from large datasets, making decisions based purely on the information reflected in the data.

Financial institutions can use this technology to better understand their data, get more value out of the information they already have and make predictions about consumer behaviors based on the data.

For example, having identified the needs of two consumers, digital marketing analytics can identify the consumer with the greater propensity-to-purchase or which consumer has the more-complex needs to determine resources allocation. These consumers may present equal opportunity, or they may vary by a factor or two. It’s also important to employ analytic tools that extend beyond determining probability to recommending actions based on results. For example, a customer could submit necessary credit information that is sufficient for a lender to receive an instant decision recommendation, increasing customer satisfaction by reducing wait time.

While there are countless ways banks can benefit from implementing analytics, there are eight specific areas where analytics has the most impact:

  • Measuring the degree of risk by evaluating credit, customer fraud and attrition;
  • Measuring the likelihood or probability of consumer behaviors and desires;
  • Improving customer engagement by increasing the relevance of engagement content as well as reaching out to customers earlier in the process;
  • Providing insight into the success or failure in the form of marketing, customer and operational key performance indicator;
  • Detecting and measuring opportunity in terms of customer acquisition, revenue expansion and resource/priority allocation;
  • Optimizing pricing;
  • Improving decisions based on credit, campaign, alerts or routing escalation; and
  • Determining intervention or corrective next action to reduce abandonment.

Each of these capabilities has numerous applications. In a digital economy, the entire customer journey and sales cycle becomes digitally concentrated. This includes using personal financial goal planning, market segmentation, customer relationship management data and website digital sensory to detect opportunities based on consumer intent, fulfillment, obtaining customer self‑reported feedback, attrition monitoring and numerous engagement methods like education or offers. Using analytics adds considerable value to each of these processes — it drives some of them completely. Actionable analytics are key. They drive outcomes based on expert models and data analysis, to scale, to a large set of consumers without increasing the need for additional employees.

Looking at actual business cases will underline the benefits of analytics in relation to propensity‑to‑purchase (PTP), email campaigns and website issue detection. When two different customers visit a bank’s website, the bank can use analytics to detect and measure each user’s navigation for probable interest and intent for new products based on time on page, depth of navigation and frequency signals within a given timeframe. If one person visits a general product page and only stays for 15 seconds, that person has a lower PTP than the other visitor who navigates to specific product and pricing information and remains there for 40 seconds.

The bank can route probable leads to either human‑based or automated engagement plans, based on aggregated data, segmentation, product intent, and in the case of an existing customer, current products owned.

A recent college graduate may be interested in debt management solutions, whereas a more-established empty nester may be in the market for wealth management and retirement planning. Based on user preferences and opportunity cost, these customers can be properly engaged with offers, education and helpful tools through email campaigns, texts, third‑party marketing or branch or contact center personnel.

In today’s banking environment, financial institutions must find new ways to increase efficiency, improve business processes and scale to consumer volume. Analytics support financial institutions in forecasting, risk management and sales by providing data points that help them increase performance, predict outcomes and better solve business issues.

Enhancing Risk & Compliance

Financial institutions increasingly seek to use technology to efficiently and effectively mitigate risk and comply with regulations. Bank leaders will need the right solutions to meet these objectives, given the amount of data to make sense of as organizations include risk as part of their decision-making process. Microsoft’s Sandeep Mangaraj explains how banks should explore these issues with Emily McCormick, Bank Director’s vice president of research. They discuss:

  • How Risk Management is Evolving
  • Adopting AI Solutions
  • Planning for the Future

Scaling Quality Customer Service in the Pandemic Era

Since February 2020, the pandemic has reshaped everyone’s daily reality, creating a perfect storm of financial challenges.

In early March 2020, the economy was thriving. Six weeks later, over 30 million U.S. workers had filed for unemployment. The pandemic has exacerbated alreadycrushing consumer debt loads. At the end of the first quarter, nearly 11% of the $1.54 trillion student loan debt was over 90 days past due. Emergency lending programs like the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program have not been renewed.  

Guiding consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, to financial wellness is critical to the future of financial institutions. These demographics bring long-term value to banks, given their combined spending power of over $3 trillion.

But the banking support system is straining under incredible demand from millions of consumers, and it feels broken for many. Consumers are scrambling for help from their banks; their banks are failing them. With hold times ranging from 20 minutes to three hours, compared with an average of 41 seconds in normal times, customers are having an increasingly aggravating experience. And website content isn’t helping either. Often too generic or laced with confusing jargon like “forbearance,” customers can’t get advice that is relevant to their unique situation and  make good financial choices.

All this comes at a time of restricted branch access. Gone are the days when customers could easily walk into their local branch for product advice. Afraid of coronavirus exposure, most consumers have gone digital. Moreover, many branches are closed, reduced hours or use appointments due to the pandemic. No wonder digital has become an urgent imperative.

How can community banks scale high-quality service and advice cost-effectively in the pandemic era and beyond? The answer lies in a new breed of technology, pioneered by digital engagement automation, powered by artificial intelligence and knowledge. Here is what you can do with it.

Deliver smarter digital services. AI-automated digital self-service enables banks to deliver service to more customers, while lowering costs. For example, next-gen chatbots are often just as effective as human assistance for solving a broad range of basic banking queries, such as bill payments, money transfers and disputed charges. The average cost per agent call could be as high as $35; an AI-powered chatbot session costs only a few pennies, according to industry analysts.

Provide instant access to help. The next generation of chatbots go beyond “meet and greet” and can solve customer issues through AI and knowledge-guided conversations. This capability takes more load off the contact center. Chatbots can walk customers through a dialog to best understand their situation and deliver the most relevant guidance and financial health tips. Where needed, they transition the conversation to human agents with all the context, captured from the self-service conversation for a seamless experience.

Satisfy digital natives. Enhancing digital services is also critical to attracting and keeping younger, digital-native customers. Millennials and Gen Z prefer to use digital touchpoints for service. But in the pandemic era, older consumers have also jumped on the bandwagon due to contact risk.

Many of blue-chip companies have scaled customer service and engagement effectively with digital engagement automation. A leading financial services company implemented our virtual assistant chatbot, which answers customer questions while looking for opportunities to sell premium advice, offered by human advisors. These advisors use our chat and co-browse solution to answer customer questions and help them fill forms collaboratively. The chatbot successfully resolved over 50% of incoming service queries.

The client then deployed the capability for their IT helpdesk, where it resolved 81% of the inquiries. Since then the client has rolled out additional domain-specific virtual assistants for other functional groups. Together, these virtual assistants processed over 2 million interactions in the last 12 months.

The economic road ahead will be rocky, and financial institutions cannot afford to lose customers. Digital engagement automation with AI and knowledge can help scale up customer service without sacrificing quality. So why not get going?

When All The Examiners Left

What would happen if all the bank examiners left?

In 1983, the ninth district of the Federal Home Loan Bank lost almost all of its examiners when the office hastily relocated from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Dallas. The move was the culmination of a campaign from congressional and business efforts beginning in the 1950s, the efforts of which had previously been staved off by Arkansas’ representatives.

In response, 37 of 48 employees in the department of supervision chose not to relocate and left, according to Washington Post archival articles; the remaining 11 were mostly low-level administrators. The two remaining field agents split monitoring almost 500 savings and loans across a 550,000 square-mile area.

The move was capricious, political, expensive and, ultimately, disastrous.

The result was a rare natural experiment that explores the importance that bank supervision plays in regulation and enforcement, according to a recent fascinating paper published by Federal Reserve Bank economists John Kandrac and Bernd Schlusche.

The situation became so bad that the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in Washington implemented a supervision blitz in 1986, sending 250 supervisory and examination staffers from across the country to conduct intensive exams in the region. The number of exams conducted during the six weeks was more than three times the number performed in 1985; for many institutions, it was their first comprehensive exam in two or three years.

Here are several takeaways from the paper.

Major Setback to Supervision
The dramatic loss of expertise within the supervision division plagued the FHLB’s ninth district for at least two years. Even though Dallas is the region’s financial capital, it would take years to tutor supervision trainees to the level of the departed senior examiners. The other option the bank had was trying to poach examiners from another region or agency, which creates deficiencies of its own.

When the Cat’s Away, the Mice Will Play
The paper finds that less intensive supervision and less frequent supervision comes with some risk to the stability of institutions.

Unsupervised thrifts increased their risk-taking behaviors and appetites compared to both thrifts outside the region receiving regular examinations and commercial banks in the region. They grew “much more rapidly” by entering newly deregulated and riskier lending spaces, funded the growth with funds like brokered deposits and “readily engaged in accounting gimmicks to inflate their reported capital ratios.”

“[A]ffected institutions increased their risky real estate investments as a share of assets by about 7 percentage points. The size of the treatment effect is economically large,” the paper finds, adding later: “Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that risk taking is a function of supervisory attention.”

Some of this risk-taking led to insolvency. The paper found that the lack of supervision activity led to about 24 additional failures, which cost the insurance fund about $5.4 billion — over $10 billion in 2018 dollars.

Someone Needs to Enforce the Rules
Rules alone were insufficient for these institutions to manage their risk. The paper stresses the role that examiners play in effective enforcement of regulation — an issue that has taken on renewed relevancy given both a lengthening of the examination cycle to 18 months for some community banks and the changes in in-person visits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bank supervisors have many tools — formal and informal — by which they can influence a bank’s behavior. The paper notes how regular interactions and conversations, coupled with power of bank regulation itself, seem to be more effective at curbing or correcting risky behavior at banks than self-regulation alone. The six-week supervision blitz in 1986 led to a 76% increase in enforcement actions compared to the year prior, as well as management replacement actions, liquidation requests and 500 criminal referrals to the Department of Justice.

“[S]upervision and examination matter even for what many considered to be the most ineffectual supervisor in the United States. Therefore, even if the importance of supervision has diminished over time on average, we should still expect modern supervisors to meaningfully limit bank risk taking,” the paper reads.

Four Digital Lessons from the Pandemic

2020, so far, is the year of digital interactions.

Without the ability to interact in the physical world, digital channels became the focal point of contact for everyone. Industries like retail and restaurants experienced a surge in the use of digital services like Instacart, DoorDash and others.

This trend is the same for banks and their customers. In a survey conducted by Aite Group, 63% of U.S. consumers log into financial accounts on a desktop or laptop computer to check accounts at least once a week, while 61% use a smartphone.

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly accelerated the move to the digital channel, as well. In a Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) survey, 45% of respondents report changing the way they interacted with their financial institution because of the pandemic. The increased adoption of the digital channel is here to stay: 30% of respondents from the same survey noting they plan to continue using online and mobile banking channels moving forward.

The same is true for payments. FIS finds that consumers are flocking to mobile wallets and contactless payment to minimize virus risks, with 45% reporting using a mobile wallet and 31% planning to continue using the payment method post-pandemic.

This pandemic-induced shift in consumer preferences provides a few important lessons:

1. Experience Matters
Customers’ experiences in other industries will inform what they come to expect from their bank. Marketing guru Warren Tomlin once said, “a person’s last experience is their new expectation.” No matter where it came from, a great digital experience sets the standard for all others.

Banks should look to other industries to see what solutions can offer a great customer experience in your online and mobile banking channels. Customers’ service experiences with companies like Amazon.com’s set the bar for how they expect to interact with you. Their experience making payments with tools from PayPal Holdings, like Venmo, may inform their impression of how to make payments through the bank.

2. Personalization is Key
Providing a personalized experience for customers is key to the success of your bank, both now and in the future. Your bank’s online and mobile tools must generate a personalized experience for each customer. This makes them feel valued and well served — regardless of whether they are inside a branch or transacting through a mobile app.

Technologies like artificial intelligence can learn each customer’s unique habits and anticipate specific needs they might have. In payments, this might look like learning bill pay habits and helping customers manage those funds wisely. AI can even make recommendations on how users can ensure they have enough funds to cover the month’s bills or save anything they have left over.

AI is also able to look at customer data and anticipate any services they might need next, like mortgages, car loans or saving accounts. It brings the personal banker experience to customers in the digital world.

3. Weave the Branch Into the Digital
The ability to interweave the personalized, in-branch experience into the digital world is crucial. There are positives and negatives in both the branch and digital channels. The challenge for banks is to take the best of both worlds and provide customers with an experience that shines.

Customers want to know that someone is looking out for them, whether they can see that person or not. A digital assistant keeps customers engaged with the bank and provides the peace of mind that, whether they are in the branch or 100 miles away, there is always someone looking out for their financial well-being.

4. Embrace the “Now” Normal
To state that the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world would be a big understatement. It has disrupted what we thought was “business as usual,” and irrevocably changed the future.

The “new normal” changes day by day, so much that we choose to more accurately refer to it as the “now normal.” The increased dependency on digital has made it critical to have the right infrastructure in place . You truly never know what is coming down the line.

Customers enjoy the ease of digital and, more than likely, will not go “back to normal” when it comes to banking and payments. Now, more than ever, is the time to examine the digital experiences that your bank offers to further ensure its prepared for this endless paradigm shift that is the “now normal.”

A Costly Problem Facing Banks

Bill pay is a central tool in digital banking suites — but most customers aren’t actively using it.

It’s counterintuitive: Banks play a central role in our financial lives, yet most consumers opt to pay billers directly, according to “How Americans Pay Their Bills: Sizing Bill Pay Channels and Methods,” a survey conducted by Aite Group. The online survey of more than 3,000 U.S. consumers was commissioned by the bill-pay platform BillGO.

Almost 60% of bills are paid online, according to the survey, which finds that the percentage of online bill payments paid directly via a biller’s website — already accounting for the vast majority — increased by 14 points since 2010. In that same time period, banks’ share declined by 16 points as third-party entrants entered the space.

The result is chaos for consumers seeking to pay their bills on time and a missed opportunity for their banks.

[For] many financial institutions, bill pay has been a fairly strategic component of the consumer relationship,” says David Albertazzi, Aite’s research director in the retail banking and payments practice. Along with automated loan payments and direct deposits, bill pay is viewed as a core element of the primary financial relationship.

There’s also the real cost associated with this problem: One bank recently shared with Bank Director that it built a bot just to deregister inactive bill-pay users sitting on its core system.

Bank Director’s 2020 Technology Survey finds that improving the customer experience is a top technology objective. Albertazzi says that bill pay should be part of that strategic consideration — and the experience needs to improve. Dramatically.

“The actual model and the experience have not changed for many years,” he says. “Today, it’s pretty prone to friction.” Payees must be added manually by the customer, and there’s a risk of mis-keying that information. Customers can’t choose how to pay, beyond their primary checking account. They aren’t notified by the bank when the bill is due. The payments lack information and context, and they don’t occur in real time.

These barriers limit the experience, driving more than three-quarters of the Americans who pay bills online to just go directly to their biller’s website.

Financial institutions need to shift from a transactional to a customer-centric mindset, says Albertazzi. “Once financial institutions do that, then there’s a great opportunity to recapture market share,” he says.

Banks should also consider how they can change customer behavior. Just a third of bills are scheduled to be paid on a recurring basis, according to survey respondents, which points to another gap where banks lose a bill-pay user, according to Albertazzi. Encouraging customers to enroll in automatic payments means they’re more likely to keep using their bank’s bill-pay capabilities.

Most customers trust their bank, but poor experiences have driven consumers to a decentralized model that benefits no one. With the massive adoption of digital channels that accompanied Covid-19, banks have a chance to change consumer behaviors.

“Providing that convenience to the consumer, the transparency in the process and addressing efficiencies to the entire consumer bill-pay experience will help drive change in consumer bill payment behavior over time,” says Albertazzi.