Banking’s Single Pane of Glass

Imagine looking at all the elements and complexities of a given business through a clear and concise “single pane of glass: one easily manageable web interface that has the horizontal capability to do anything you might need, all in one platform.”

It may sound too good to be true, but “single pane of glass” systems could soon become a reality within the mortgage industry. Underwriters, processors, loan originators and others who work at a mortgage or banking institution in other capacities must manage and maintain a plethora of different third-party software solutions on a daily basis.

It’s complex to simultaneously balance dozens of vendor solutions to monitor services, using different management console reports and processes for each. This cumbersome reality is one of the most significant challenges bankers face.

There are proven solutions and approaches to rationalizing these operational processes and streamlining interactions with customers, clients and new accounts. In the parlance of a technologist, these are called “single panes of glass,” better understood as multiple single panes of glass.

That does exist if you’re talking about a single product. Herein lies the problem. Heterogenous network users are using single third-party platform solutions for each service they need, with a result that one would expect. Too many single panes of glass — so much so that each becomes its own unique glass of pain.

How can banks fix this problem? Simply put, people need a single view of their purposed reality. Every source of information and environment, although different, needs to feed into a single API (application program interface). This is more than possible if banks use artificial intelligence and machine learning programs and API frameworks that are updated to current, modern standards. They can unify everything.

Ideally, one single dashboard would need to be able to see everything; this dashboard wouldn’t be led by vendors but would be supported by a plethora of APIs. Banks could plug that into an open framework, which can be more vendor-neutral, and you now have the option to customize and send data as needed.

The next hurdle the industry will need to overcome is that the panes of glass aren’t getting any bigger. Looking at pie charts and multiple screens and applications can be a real pain; it can feel like there isn’t a big enough monitor in the world to sift through some data spreadsheets and dashboards effectively.

With a “single pane of glass” approach, banks don’t have to consolidate all data they need. Instead, they can line up opportunities and quickly access solutions for better, seamless collaboration.

Focusing on one technology provider, where open-source communication can make integration seamless, might be a good adoption route for bank executives to consider in the short term while the industry adapts to overcome these unique challenges.

How Technology Fosters Economic Opportunity and Success

Is your bank promoting financial literacy and wellness within the communities you serve?

The answer to that question may be the key to your bank’s future. For many community financial institutions, promoting financial wellness among historically underserved populations is directly linked to fostering resilience for individuals, institutions and communities.

Consider this: 7 million households in the United States didn’t have a bank account in 2019, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; and up to 20 million others are underserved by the current financial system. Inequities persist along racial, geographical and urban lines, indicating an opportunity for local institutions to make an impact.

Many have already stepped up. According to the Banking Impact Report, which was conducted by Wakefield Research and commissioned by MANTL, 55% of consumers said that community financial institutions are more adept at providing access to underrepresented communities than neobanks, regional banks or megabanks. In the same study, nearly all executives at community institutions reported providing a loan to a small business owner who had been denied by a larger bank. And 90% said that their institution either implemented or planned to implement a formal program for financial inclusion of underserved groups.

Technology like online account origination can play a critical role in bringing these initiatives to life. Many forward-thinking institutions are actively creating tools and programs to turn access into opportunity — helping even their most vulnerable customers participate more meaningfully in the local economy.

One institution, 115-year-old Midwest BankCentre based in St. Louis, is all-in when it comes to inclusion. The bank partnered with MANTL to launch online deposit origination and provide customers with convenient access to market-leading financial products at competitive rates.

Midwest BankCentre has also committed $200 million to fostering community and economic development through 2025, with a focus on nonprofits, faith-based institutions, community development projects and small businesses for the benefit ofr historically disinvested communities. The bank offers free online financial education to teach customers about money basics, loans and payments, buying a home and paying for college, among others.

Midwest BankCentre executives estimate that $95 out of every $100 deposited locally stays in the St. Louis region; these dollars circulate six times throughout the regional economy.

In a study conducted in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that Midwest Bank Centre’s financial education classes created an additional $7.1 million in accumulated wealth in local communities while providing critical knowledge for household financial stability.

“When you work with a community banker, you are working with a neighbor, friend, or the person sitting next to you at your place of worship,” says Danielle Bateman Girondo, executive vice president of marketing at Midwest BankCentre. “Our customers often become our friends, and there’s a genuine sense of trust and mutual respect. Put simply, it’s difficult to have that type of relationship, flexibility, or vested interest at a big national bank.”

What about first-time entrepreneurs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 33% of small businesses fail within 2 years. By year 10, 66.3% have failed.

Helping first-time entrepreneurs benefits everyone. Banks would gather more deposits and make more loans. Communities would flourish as more dollars circulate in the local economy. And individuals with more paths to economic independence would prosper.

For Midwest BankCentre, one part of the solution was to launch a Small Business Academy in March 2021, which provides practical education to help small businesses access capital to grow and scale.

The program was initially launched with 19 small businesses participating in the bank’s partnership with Ameren Corp., the region’s energy utility, with a particular focus on the utility’s diverse suppliers. And 14 small business owners and influencers participated in the bank’s partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro St. Louis. Midwest BankCentre teaches small businesses how to “think like a banker” to gain easier access to capital by understanding their financial statements and the key ratios.

Efforts like these might explain why, according to the Banking Impact Report, 69% of Hispanic small business owners and 77% of non-white small business owners believe it’s important that their bank supports underserved communities. Accordingly, non-white small businesses are significantly more likely to open a new account at a community bank or credit union: 70%, compared to 47% of white small businesses.

This can be a clear differentiator for a community bank: a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

For today’s community banks, economic empowerment isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s a force multiplier. With the right strategies in place, it can be a winning proposition for the communities and markets within your institution’s sphere of influence.

Ways to Fight Back Against BIN Attacks, Card Fraud

Credit card fraud has steadily increased over the past five years, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Reports of credit card fraud peaked at more than 118,000 reports in the second quarter of 2022. As e-commerce continues to gain traction with consumers and retailers alike, there is a growing number of fraudsters that target customers’ credit cards using their bank identification number (BIN).

BIN attacks occur when fraudsters run the first six digits of a credit card, which are specific to each card-issuing bank, through sophisticated software to methodically produce the remaining numbers, CCVs and expiration dates. They then test to determine which cards are active. These days, fraudsters are capable of developing programs that assess hundreds of card numbers a minute, making detection harder for both fraud systems and consumers.

BIN attacks are a major headache for banks that get stuck with both the financial and operating costs resulting from fraudulent charges. But it may take some time for compromised cards to get monetized, giving banks some leeway to avert more damage.

Compromised cards harvested from BIN attacks can cause significant fraud losses for banks, in the form of accumulating chargebacks, call centers and re-issuance expenses. Adding fuel to the fire, the ensuing cardholder disruption and friction can further damage a bank’s reputation and lead to losses in debit interchange revenues.

Banks are still at risk in the wake of a BIN attack, and should continue monitoring for suspicious activity by reviewing electronic transaction trails for important data like time stamps, geolocation and IP addresses. However, these corrective and protective measures can require costly resources that many banks cannot afford. When an institution comes under attack from fraudsters, manual and purely consultative solutions are a start but must do more.

Bolstering Against BIN Attacks
Luckily, there are efficient ways that banks can fight back against the fraudsters. Here are several tips on proactive monitoring strategies to stop or limit damage from BIN attacks and other card fraud.

  1. Randomize card account numbers and expiration dates.
  2. Set up card transaction limits and velocity rules.
  3. Think about placing risk controls and transaction limits in foreign countries. BIN attacks from tested transactions often originate outside the U.S. Banks should pay close attention to countries that appear in FinCEN advisories.
  4. Implement decision rules to bar transactions from fraudulent merchants to hinder card testing. Analyzing transaction data for suspicious patterns can reveal card testing. If for a legitimate merchant reaches a transaction threshold, the bank can include a rule to monitor transaction velocity per hour and restrict transactions when further investigation is necessary.
  5. Automate the monitoring of BINs and transactions with a system to mitigate and act against fraudulent credit card activity. This system should automatically identify whether your bank is a victim of a BIN attack, including repeated low-value transactions, high decline rates and a high volume of CCV errors.
  6. Take advantage of automated network surveillance to pinpoint both legitimate and fraudulent merchants involved in BIN attacks. This gives banks an opportunity to obstruct additional BIN attacks if other fraudulent merchants are caught during this process.
  7. Work with your vendor to deploy fraudster-level tools and strategies to detect and prevent BIN attacks. Vendors can offer a wide variety of solutions, including fraud score, compromise card detection, merchant type, merchant category code (MCC), geography, zip codes and device ID, among others.

Preventative measures that can immediately interrupt BIN attacks paired with automated monitoring and surveillance gives banks a way to stay ahead of suspicious activity and effectively identify compromised cards. Mitigation may not stop BIN attacks completely, but it can reduce the resulting financial and operating costs while reinforcing the bank’s fraud department resiliency against BIN attacks.

3 Considerations for Your Next Strategic Planning Session

Modernizing a bank’s technology has the potential to improve efficiency, reduce errors and free up resources for further investment. Still, with all those benefits, many banks are still woefully behind where they need to be to compete in today’s digital environment.

According to Cornerstone Advisors’ What’s Going On In Banking 2022 research, just 11% of banks will have launched a digital transformation strategy by the end of 2022. So what’s the holdup? For one thing, transformation is hamstrung by the industry structure that has evolved with banking vendors. Stories of missed deadlines, releases with dingbat issues, integrations that stop working and too few knowledgeable professionals to assist in system implementation and support are commonplace.

A large part of a bank’s future depends on how it hires and develops technical talent, manages fintech partnerships and scrutinizes and optimizes its technology contracts. Here are three key truths for bank officers and directors to consider in advance of their next strategic planning session:

1. There is no university diploma that can be obtained for many areas of the bank.
Our research finds that 63% of financial institution executives cited the ability to attract qualified talent as a top concern this year — up dramatically from just 19% in 2021. But even in the face of an industry shift to digital-first delivery and a need to better automate processes and leverage strong data intelligence, most banks have neither invested enough, nor sufficiently developed, their IT team for the next decade.

Every financial institution has a unique combination of line of business processes, regulatory challenges, and vendors and systems; the  expertise to manage these areas can only be developed internally. Identifying existing skill sets across the organization will be critical, as will providing education and training to employees to help the organization grow.

A good place for directors and executives to start is by developing a clear and comprehensive list of the jobs, skills and knowledge the bank needs to develop across four key areas of the bank: payments, commercial credit, digital marketing and data analytics.

2. Financial institutions and fintechs are on different sides of table.
Over the past decade, there have been profound changes in the relationship between financial technology and financial institutions. “Banking as usual” no longer exists; as much as banks and fintechs want to work at the same table together, they have very different needs, different areas of dissatisfaction with the relationship and are sitting on different sides of that table.

A fintech can create viable software or a platform for the bank to build upon, but the bank needs to have the internal talent to leverage it (see No. 1). A culture of disciplined execution and accountability that ensures the fintech solution will be deployed in a high performance, referenceable way will go a long away in strengthening the partnership.

3. Training and system utilization reviews need to find their way into vendor contracts.
When it comes to software solutions, banks are looking at multimillion-dollar contracts and allocating tens of thousands of dollars in training on top of that. This is not the time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Every organization needs to build a tightly integrated “change team” that can extend, integrate, lightly customize and monitor a growing stack of new, primarily cloud-based, platform solutions. For CFOs and the finance department, this means a punctuated investment in the raw talent to make the bank more self-sufficient from a tech perspective (see No. 1 and 2 above).

One way to launch this effort is with an inventory for executive management that details how many users have gone through which modules of training. This tool can be vitally important, involves only minor add-on costs and can and should be embedded in every vendor contract.

Many financial institutions subject themselves to unfavorable technology contract terms by entering negotiations with too little knowledge of market pricing, letting contracts auto-renew and failing to prioritize contracts that need the most attention. If managed properly, vendor contracts represent a huge opportunity for savings.

7 Indicators of a Successful Digital Account Opening Strategy

How good is your bank’s online account opening process?

Many banks don’t know where to begin looking for the answer to that question and struggle to make impactful investments to improve their digital growth. Assessing the robustness of the bank’s online account opening strategy and reporting capabilities is a crucial first step toward improving and strengthening the experience. To get a pulse on the institution’s ability to effectively open accounts digitally, we suggest starting with a simple checklist of questions.

These key indicators can provide better transparency into the health of the online account opening process, clarity around where the bank is excelling, and insight into the areas that need development.

Signs of healthy digital account opening:

1. Visitor-to-Applicant Conversion
The ratio of visits to applications started measures the bank’s ability to make a good first impression with customers. If your bank experiences a high volume of traffic but a low rate of applications, something is making your institution unappealing.

Your focus should shift to conversion. Look at the account opening site through the eyes of a potential new customer to identify areas that are confusing or distract from starting an application. Counting the number of clicks it takes to start an online application is a quick way to evaluate your marketing site’s ability to convert visitors.

2. Application Start-to-Completion
On average, 51% of all online applications for deposit accounts are abandoned before completion. It’s key to have a frictionless digital account opening process and ensure that the mobile option is as equally accessible and intuitive as its web counterpart.

If your institution is seeing high abandonment rates, something is happening to turn enthusiasm into discouragement. Identifying pain points will reveal necessary user flow improvements that can make the overall experience faster and more satisfying, which should translate into a greater percentage of completed applications.

3. Resume Rate on Abandoned Applications
The probability that a customer will restart an online application they’ve abandoned drastically decreases as more time passes. You can assess potential customers’ excitement about opening accounts by measuring how many resume where they left off, and the amount of time they take between sessions.

Providing a quick and intuitive experience that eliminates the friction that causes applicants to leave an application means less effort trying to get them to come back. Consider implementing automated reminders similar to the approach e-commerce brands take with abandoned shopping carts in cases where applications are left unfinished.

4. Total Time to Completion
The more time a person has to take to open an account, the more likely they’ll give up. This is something many banks still struggle with: 80% of banks say it takes longer than five minutes to open an account online, and nearly 30% take longer than 10 minutes. At these lengths, the potential for abandonment is very high.

A simple way to see how customers experience your digital application process is to measure the amount of time it takes, including multi-session openings, to open an account, and then working to reduce that time by streamlining the process.

5. Percent of Funded Accounts
A key predictive factor for how active a new customer will be when opening their new account is whether they choose to initially fund their account or not. It’s imperative that financial institutions offer initial funding options that are stress-free and take minimal steps.

For example, requiring that customers verify accounts through trial deposits to link external accounts is a time-consuming process involving multiple steps that are likely to deter people from funding their accounts. Offering fast and secure methods of funding, like instant account authentication, improves the funding experience and the likelihood that new users will stay active.

6. Percent of Auto-Opened Accounts
Manual intervention from a customer service rep to verify and open accounts is time-consuming and expensive. Even with some automation, an overzealous flagging process can create bottlenecks that forces applicants wait longer and bogs down back-office teams with manual review.

Financial institutions should look at the amount of manual review their accounts need, how much time is spent on flagged applications, and the number of bad actor accounts actually being filtered out. Ideally, new online accounts should be automatically opened on the core without any manual intervention—something that banks can accomplish using powerful non-document based verification methods.

7. Fraud Rate Over Time
A high percentage of opened accounts displaying alarming behavior means there may be a weakness in your account opening process that fraudsters are exploiting. To assess your bank’s ability to catch fraud, measure how many approved accounts turn out to be fraudulent and how long it takes for those accounts to start behaving badly.

The most important thing for financial institutions to do is to make sure they can detect fraudulent activity early. Using multiple verification processes is a great way to filter out fraudulent account applications at the outset and avoid headaches and losses later.

The Battle for the Small Business Customer

Increasingly, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are looking for digital banking and financial solutions to address specific needs and provide the experience they expect.

The preference for digital has allowed fintechs and big tech firms to compete with financial institutions for these relationships. While the broadened competitive landscape creates new challenges, this migration to digital channels creates new opportunities for banks of all sizes to compete and win in the SMB market. But first, banks need to think differently and redefine what’s possible.

Many banks have a one-size-fits-all approach to SMB banking. This approach is based on the shaky premise that what SMBs need are consumer banking products with slight variations. This leaves SMBs with two choices: Leverage the bank’s existing online retail banking products — an option that is easy to understand and use, but lacks the specific financial solutions they need — or use the bank’s more-complex digital commercial banking products. The impersonal experience most SMBs experience as a result of this approach can leave them feeling unsatisfied and underappreciated. But banks can capitalize on this underserved market by combining modern technology with a targeted segmentation strategy.

Businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up over 98% of American businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2021 Small Business Profile. About half of SMBs feel their primary financial institution doesn’t understand their needs, according to Aite’s 2021 study, “Delivering the Experience Small Businesses Expect.”

Banks need to deliver more tailored solutions and experiences to differentiate themselves from competitors. To start, they should ask and honestly answer some key questions:

  • In what target markets (size, industry and location) can we compete and win?
  • What are the needs of the businesses in these target markets, beyond traditional banking?
  • What partners will we need to meet the needs of these account holders?

The answers start with the bank’s business strategy — not its technology strategy. Banks need to think in terms of outcomes first before creating the technology strategy that will help them achieve those outcomes.

SMBs Want Experiences Built for Them
User experience matters to SMBs; winning their business depends on providing fast, user-friendly, tailored experiences. They increasingly expect a single view of both their business and personal relationships with the bank.

But using nonbank firms has increased complexity for these SMBs. Banks have an opportunity to aggregate these relationships and provide a comprehensive set of solutions through fintech partnerships. They can tailor digital experiences that address the needs of each of their SMB by integrating their banking solutions with their fintech partner solutions.

Taking a customer-centric approach that pairs account capabilities to business needs allows banks to make their SMB customers feel appreciated, increasing loyalty. For example, a dentist practice may need products and services focused on managing cash flow, accessing credit and wealth management options. Gig economy participants can be focused on payments and nontraditional services through the fintech marketplace, such as bookkeeping or time tracking and scheduling.

The current leading digital services providers enjoy strong customer loyalty because they’ve created positive experiences and value for each customer. SMBs are leaving banks — or are deeply considering switching banks — because of these institutions’ inability to provide what they want: banking experiences and solutions that help them run their businesses more effectively.

SMBs need a compelling business case when selecting a bank; the bank must convince these businesses that it’s prepared to do what’s needed to meet their growing and evolving financial requirements. Banks that fail to focus on broadening partnerships and delivering a wider range of financial solutions through an extensible digital platform may have difficulty retaining existing business customers or attracting future new ones. As a result, these institutions may also find themselves with a higher-than-average percentage of less-valuable customers.

Conversely, those banks that offer solutions SMBs need, in an experience they expect, will emerge as leaders in the space. Banks need to understand the targeted segments where they can compete and win — and then deliver with a fast, easy, relevant, end-to-end digital experience. We’ve written an e-book, “The Battle for the Small Business Customer,” that offers an in-depth look at the factors shaping SMB banking today and ways banks can deliver a compelling business case.

Banks that can do this will be able to grow market share in the SMB market; banks that don’t can expect shrinking revenue and profitability. The time is now to redefine what’s possible in the SMB market.

Breaking the Legacy Mindset

For banks, the status quo can often stymie innovation. Even if executives have the desire to try something new, their institution can be incumbered by entrenched legacy systems.

But taking a chance on something new can open up institutions to the possibility of achieving something bigger. The decision to choose a new path is usually very difficult; loyalty and security can feel hard coded in our DNA. But sometimes it comes to the point where you realize that the thing you are doing over and over is never going to produce a different, game-changing outcome.

The adage of “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” continues to ring true in many ways in the fintech space. It refers to the idea that making a safe bet never got anyone in trouble; choosing the industry’s standard company, product or service had little repercussions for the executives making the decisions — even if there were newer, cheaper or better options. It was safe, the company was reliable and little happened in the way of bucking the status quo.

The payments industry has a number of parallels from which we can draw. The electronic payment ecosystem is more than 40 years old; while there has been innovation, it has not been at the same pace as the rest of the technology industry. Some bankers may remember “knuckle busters” and the carbon paper of old. Although banking have since shed those physical devices, the core processing behind the electronic payments system largely remains the same.

These legacy systems mean the payments industry traditionally has had extremely high barriers to entry. This is due to a number of factors, including increasing risk and regulatory compliance needs, high capital investments, a technology environment that is difficult to penetrate and complex integration webs between multiple partners. This unique environment increases the stickiness of mature offerings and creates a complex set of products and long-standing relationships that make it difficult for new products or providers to break through.

The industry’s fragmentation is also a blessing and a curse. While fragmentation gives institutions and consumers choices in the market, it hinders new companies from emerging. This makes it challenging for companies to gain traction or disrupt existing solutions with new and creative ways to solve problems and address needs. Breaking into the market is still only step one. Convincing banks that you can simplify their processes and scale your solutions is an ongoing challenge that smaller fintechs must overcome to truly participate — and potentially disrupt — the industry. The combination of these factors fuels a deep resistance to change in the banking industry.

Fintechs aren’t legacy companies — and that is a good thing. Implementations don’t need to take months, they can be done in weeks. Customer service isn’t challenging when communication happens openly and quickly. Enhancements are affordable, and newer platforms offer nimbleness and openness.

In order to succeed, fintechs must find ways to innovate within the gray space. This could look like any number of things: taking advantage of mandates that create new opportunities, stretching systems and capability gaps to explore new norms, or venturing out into entirely uncharted territory. And banks do not have to fit into the same familiar patterns; changing one piece of the puzzle does not always have to be a massive undertaking.

What within your bank’s walls just “works”? What system or processes have been on autopilot that could chart a new path? What external services are your customers using that the bank could bring in-house if executives thought outside the box? Fintech can complement the bank, if you select the right partner that expands your ecosystem. Fintech can change user experiences — simplifying them to deliver a truly different outcome altogether.

Take a chance on fintech. It will be epic.

The Future-Proof Response to Rising Interest Rates

After years of low interest rates, they are on the rise — potentially increasing at a faster rate than the industry has seen in a decade. What can banks do about it?

This environment is in sharp contrast to the situation financial institutions faced as recently as 2019, when banks faced difficulties in raising core deposits. The pandemic changed all that. Almost overnight, loan applications declined precipitously, and businesses drew down their credit lines. At the same time, state and federal stimulus programs boosted deposit and savings rates, causing a severe whipsaw in loan-to-deposit ratios. The personal savings rate — that is, the household share of unspent personal income — peaked at 34% in April 2020, according to research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. To put that in context, the peak savings rate in the 50 years preceding the pandemic was 17.7%.

These trends became even more pronounced with each new round of stimulus payments. The Dallas Fed reports that the share of stimulus recipients saving their payments doubled from 12.5% in the first round to 25% in the third round. The rise in consumers using funds to pay down debt was even more drastic, increasing from 14.6% in round one to 52.3% in round three. Meanwhile, as stock prices remained volatile, the relative safety of bank deposits became more attractive for many consumers — boosting community bank deposit rates.

Now, of course, it’s changing all over again.

“Consumer spending is on the rise, and we’ve seen a decrease in federal stimulus. There’s less cash coming into banks than before,” observes MANTL CRO Mike Bosserman. “We also expect to see an increase in lending activities, which means that banks will need more deposits to fund those loans. And with interest rates going up, other asset classes will become more interesting. Rising interest rates also tend to have an inverse impact on the value of stocks, which increases the expected return on those investments. In the next few months, I would expect to see a shift from cash to higher-earning asset classes — and that will significantly impact growth.

These trends are unfolding in a truly unprecedented competitive landscape. Community banks are have a serious technology disadvantage in comparison to money-center banks, challenger banks and fintechs, says Bosserman. The result is that the number of checking accounts opened by community institutions has been declining for years.

Over the past 25 years, money-center banks have increased their market share at the expense of community financial institutions. The top 15 banks control 56.2% of the overall marketshare, up from 40% roughly 25 years ago. And the rise of new players such as fintechs and neobanks has driven competition to never-before-seen levels.

For many community banks, this is an existential threat. Community banks are critical to maintaining competition and equity in the U.S. financial system. But their role is often overlooked in an industry that is constantly evolving and focused on bigger, faster and shinier features. The average American adult prefers to open their accounts digitally. Institutions that lack the tools to power that experience will have a difficult future — regardless of where interest rates are. For institutions that have fallen behind the digital transformation curve, the opportunity cost of not modernizing is now a matter of survival.

The key to survival will be changing how these institutions think about technology investments.

“Technology isn’t a cost center,” insists Christian Ruppe, vice president of digital banking at the $1.2 billion Horicon Bank. “It’s a profit center. As soon as you start thinking of your digital investments like that — as soon as you change that conversation — then investing a little more in better technology makes a ton of sense.”

The right technology in place allows banks to regain their competitive advantage, says Bosserman. Banks can pivot as a response to events in the macro environment, turning on the tap during a liquidity crunch, then turn it down when deposits become a lower priority. The bottom line for community institutions is that in a rapidly changing landscape, technology is key to fostering the resilience that allows them to embrace the future with confidence.

“That kind of agility will be critical to future-proofing your institution,” he says.

Top 5 Fintech Trends, Now and in the Future

A version of this article originally appeared on RSM US LLP’s The Real Economy Blog.

Financial technology, or fintech, is rapidly evolving financial services, creating a new infrastructure and platforms for the industry’s next generation. Much remains to be seen, but here are the top trends we expect to shape fintech this year and beyond:

1. Embedded Finance is Here to Stay
Increasingly, customers are demanding access to products and services that are embedded in one centralized location, pushing companies to provide financial services products through partnerships and white-label programs.

Health care, consumer products, technology companies can embed a loan, a checking account, a line of credit or a payment option into their business model and platform. This means large-scale ecosystem disruption for many players and presents a potential opportunity for companies that offer customized customer experiences. This also means the possibility of offering distinct groups personalized services uniquely tailored to their financial situation.

2. A Super App to Rule All
We also anticipate the rise of “super apps” that pull together many apps with different functions into one ecosystem. For example, WeChat is used in Asia for messaging, payments, restaurant orders, shopping and even booking doctors’ appointments.

The adoption of super apps has been slower in the United States, but finance and payment companies and apps including PayPal Holding’s PayPal and Venmo, Block’s Cash App, Coinbase Global’s cryptocurrency wallet, Robinhood Markets’ trading app, buy now, pay later firms Affirm and Klarna and neobank Chime are building out their functionality. Typical functions of these super apps include payments via QR code, peer-to-peer transfers, debit and checking accounts, direct deposits, stock trading, crypto trading and more.

3. DeFi Gains Further Acceptance
Roughly a third of all the venture capital fintech investments raised in 2021 went to fund blockchain and cryptocurrency projects, according to PitchBook data. This includes $1.9 billion in investments for decentralized finance (known as DeFi) platforms, according to data from The Block. DeFi has the potential not only to disrupt the financial services industry but radically transform it, via the massive structural changes it could bring.

DeFi is an alternative to the current financial system and relies on blockchain technology; it is open and global with no central governing body. Most current DeFi projects use the Ethereum network and various cryptocurrencies. Users can trade, lend, borrow and exchange assets directly with each other over decentralized apps, instead of relying on an intermediary. The net value locked in DeFi protocols, according to The Block, grew from $16 billion in 2020 to $101.4 billion in 2021 in November 2021, demonstrating its potential.

4. Digital Wallets
Digital wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay are increasingly popular alternatives to cash and card payments, and we expect this trend to continue. Digital wallets are used for 45% of e-commerce and mobile transactions, according to Bloomberg, but their use accounts for just 26% of physical point-of-sale payments. By 2024, WorldPay expects 33% of in-person payments globally to be made using digital wallets, while the use of cash is expected to fall to 13% from 21% in the next three to four years.

We are starting to see countries like China, Mexico and the United States strongly considering issuing digital currency, which could also drastically reduce the use of cash.

5. Regulators Catching Up to Fintechs
It’s no surprise that regulators have been playing catch up to fintech innovation for a few years now, but 2022 could be the year they make some headway. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, noting the rapid growth of “buy now, pay later” adoption, opened an inquiry into five companies late in 2021 and has signaled its intent to regulate the space.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler signaled the agency’s intent to regulate cryptocurrencies during an investor advisory committee meeting in 2021. The acting chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has similarly prioritized regulating crypto assets in 2022, noting the risks they pose. And this January, the Acting Comptroller of the Currency, Michael Hsu, noted that crypto has gone mainstream and requires a “coordinated and collaborative regulatory approach.”

Other agencies have also begun evaluating the use of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning in financial services.

The Takeaway
There are other forces at play shaping the fintech space, including automation, artificial intelligence, growing attention on environmental, social and governance issues, and workforce challenges. But we’ll be watching these five major trends closely as the year continues.

Should You Invest in a Venture Fund?

Community banks needing to innovate are hoping they can gain an edge — and valuable exposure — by investing in venture capital funds focused on early-stage financial technology companies.

Investing directly or indirectly in fintechs is a new undertaking for many community banks that may lack the expertise or bandwidth to take this next step toward innovation. VC funds give small banks a way to learn about emerging technologies, connect with new potential partners and even capture some of the financial upside of the investment. But is this opportunity right for all banks?

The investments can jump start “a virtuous circle” of improvements and returns, Anton Schutz, president at Mendon Capital Advisors Corp., argues in the second quarter issue of Bank Director magazine. Schutz is one of the partners behind Mendon Ventures’ BankTech Fund, which has about 40 banks invested as limited partners, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

If there is a return, it might not appear solely as a line item on the bank’s balance sheet, in other words. A bank that implements the technology from a fintech following a fund introduction might become more effective or productive or secure over time. The impact of these funds on bank innovation could be less of a transformation and more of an evolution — if the investments play out as predicted.

But these bets still carry drawbacks and risks. Venture capital dollars have flocked to the fintech space, pushing up valuations. In 2021, $1 out of every $5 in venture capital investments went to the fintech space, making up 21% of all investments, according to CB Insight’s Global State of Venture report for 2021. Participating in a VC fund might distract management teams from their existing digital transformation plan, and the investments could fail to produce attractive returns — or even record a loss.

Bank Director has created the following discussion guide for boards at institutions that are exploring whether to invest in venture capital funds. This list of questions is by no means exhaustive; directors and executives should engage with external resources for specific concerns and strategies that are appropriate for their bank.

1. How does venture capital investing fit into our innovation strategy?
How do we approach innovation and fintech partnerships in general? How would a fund help us innovate? Do we expect the fund to direct our innovation, or do we have a clear strategy and idea of what we need?

2. What are we trying to change?
What pain points does our institution need to solve through technology? What solutions or fintech partners have we explored on our own? Do we need help meeting potential partners from a VC fund, or can we do it through other avenues, such as partnering with an accelerator or attending conferences?

3. What fund or funds should we invest in?
What venture capital funds are raising capital from community bank investors? Who leads and advises those funds? What is their approach to due diligence? Do they have nonbank or big bank investors? What companies have they invested in, and are those companies aligned with our values? What is the capital commitment to join a fund? Should we join multiple funds?

4. What is our risk tolerance?
What other ways could we use this capital, and what would the return on investment be? How important are financial returns? What is our risk tolerance for financial losses? Is our due diligence approach sufficient, or do we need some assistance?

5. What is our bandwidth and level of commitment?
What do we want to get out of our participation in a fund? Who from our bank will participate in fund calls, meetings or conferences? Would the bank use a product from an invested fintech, and if so, who would oversee that implantation or collaboration with the fintech? Do bank employees have the bandwidth and skills to take advantage of projects or collaborations that come from the fund?