Connecting with Millennials By Going Beyond Traditional Services


technology-8-28-19.pngBanks are at a crossroads.

They have an opportunity to expand beyond traditional financial services, especially with younger customers that are used to top-notch user experiences from large technology companies. This may mean they need to revisit their strategy and approach to dealing with this customer segment, in response to changing consumer tastes.

Banks need to adjust their strategies in order to stay relevant among new competition: Accenture predicts that new business models could impact 80% of existing bank revenues by 2020. Many firms employ a “push” strategy, offering customers pre-determined bundles and services that align more with the institution’s corporate financial goals.

What’s missing, however, is an extensive “pull” strategy, where they take the time to understand their customers’ needs. By doing this, banks can make informed decisions about what to recommend to customers, based on their major consumer life milestones.

Only four in 10 millennials say that they would bundle services with financial institutions. Customers clearly do not feel that banks are putting them first. To re-attract customers, banks need to look at what they are truly willing to pay for — starting with subscription-based services. U.S consumers age 25 to 34 would be interested in paying subscription fees for the financial services they bundle through their bank such as loans, identity protection, checking accounts and more, according to a report from EY. With banks already providing incentives like lower interest rates or other perks to bundle their services, customers are likely to view a subscription of bundled services with a monthly or annual fee as the best value.

Subscription-based services are a model that’s already found success in the technology and lifestyle sector. This approach could increase revenue while re-engaging younger generations in a way that feels personal to them. Banks that decide to offer subscription-based services may be able to significantly improve relationships with their millennial customers.

But in order to gain a deeper understanding of what services millennials desire, banks will need to look at their current customer data. Banks can leverage this data with digital technology and partnerships with companies in sectors such as automotive, education or real estate, to create service offerings that capitalize on life events and ultimately increasing loyalty.

Student loans are one area where financial institutions could apply this approach. If a bank has customers going through medical school, they can offer a loan that doesn’t need to be repaid until after graduation. To take the relationship even further, banks can connect customers who are established medical professionals to those medical students to network and share advice, creating a more personal experience for everyone.

These structured customer interactions will give banks even more data they can use to improve their pull strategy. Banks gain a more holistic view of customers, can expand their menu of services with relevant products and services and improve the customer experience. Embracing a “pull” strategy allows banks to go above and beyond, offering products that foster loyalty with existing customers and drawing new ones in through expanded services. The banks that choose to evolve now will own the market, and demonstrate their value to customers early on.

How to Deliver a Full Customer Experience Over Mobile Banking


mobile-8-21-19.pngWith most banking activity taking place on mobile, banks must innovate in order to deliver the full customer experience straight to customers’ fingertips.

With more people using their phones to access banking services, banks cannot afford to miss out on the massive opportunity to go beyond transactions and offer the sales and service customers seek. A Citigroup study found that mobile banking is among the top three most-used applications on a consumers’ phone, increasing 50% from 2017 to 2018.

Many banks still have a siloed mindset, considering in-branch, mobile and online experiences as separate and distinct entities. But their customers don’t differentiate between channels; they view banking as an omni-channel experience.

Their expectations are the same, whether they go to a branch, visit their bank’s webpage at home or open an app on their phone. If they have questions, they expect the ability to ask their bank within the mobile app just as easily as they would in branch. And if they are interested in learning about savings accounts or loan rates, they expect to easily find that information within the mobile banking space.

Banks have long thrived by delivering seamless transactions, competitive and unique products and outstanding service. They have responded to the growing popularity of mobile banking by investing in technology to build out robust transactional experiences for their customers. From mobile deposit to transferring funds to bill pay, the ability to conduct fundamental banking transactions is available to and frequently used by customers.

Where bank mobile apps are lacking, however, is in providing the sales and service that they excel at delivering in their branches to the mobile devices of their customers. This is a huge opportunity many banks are missing. Based on our data, there are about 2,000 opportunities per every 25,000 accounts where a customer expresses an intent to inquire about how to do something or how to adopt a new product that is entirely uncaptured in mobile banking.

With the advent of digital transformation and more activity moving to mobile channels, the sales and service aspects of banking have gradually become more diluted. Banking has become less sales and service oriented and increasingly more transactional.

There is only one direction for banks to go: give consumers what they want and demand. Banks need to offer customers the ability to connect with them on their phone anytime, anywhere, and to receive the same level of sales and service they do at a branch. Mobile banking provides a plethora of opportunities to do just that.

Banks need to do more to provide the same support and service in their mobile channels as they do within their branches. There are three easy ways they can begin to leverage mobile banking to go beyond transactions to deliver sales and service to their customers.

1. Embed a robust help center within mobile banking.
Make finding and accessing digital support a breeze. Embed support content from your website within your mobile banking application to allow customers easy access to help content like resetting passwords and fund transfers. Make sure the most frequently asked questions are answered in a manner that answers the questions, provides additional information and creates a call to action.

2. Utilize chatbot to further engage customers.
Add live chat or an automated chatbot for an additional avenue to engage with your mobile customers. Banks can use chat to suggest relevant content or products and services, help point customers in the right direction and to learn more about their financial goals and needs.

It’s not uncommon for chat usage to double once it is added to mobile banking, which can put a sizeable strain on contact centers. Use support content in the form of a chatbot to allow customers the ability to self-answer common support questions, and offer live chat for more complex questions and issues.

3. Provide clear, concise product information.
Customers no longer consider mobile banking to be purely transactional. They think of it as an extension of a branch, where they’ve come to expect support and sales information. Providing links to your key products within mobile banking can encourage customers to explore your offerings.

When banks fail to go beyond transactions in mobile banking, they miss out on a vast opportunity to provide sales and service through the channel customers are the most present. The consequences of not doing so can result in greater contact center volume, and missed opportunities to increase wallet share.

Six Reasons to Have a Fintech Strategy


fintech-7-23-19.pngFinancial technology, or fintech, is rapidly and dramatically changing the financial services landscape, forcing banks to respond.

Banks are taking different approaches to capitalize on the opportunities presented by fintech, mitigating the risks and remaining competitive. Some of these approaches include partnering with fintech companies, investing in them, investing in internal innovation and development or creating or participating in fintech incubators and labs. Some banks focus on a single strategy, while some mix and match. But many have no plan at all.

The board of directors oversees the bank’s strategic direction and provides senior management with risk parameters to exercise their business discretion. Fintech must be part of that strategic direction. A thoughtful and deliberate fintech strategy is not only a best practice, it is a necessity. Here are six reasons why.

1. Fintech is Here to Stay. Bankers who have seen many trends come and go could be forgiven for initially writing off fintech as a fad. However, fintech is wholly reshaping the financial services industry through digital transformation, big data, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Fintech now goes far beyond core systems, enhancing capabilities throughout the bank.

2. Customers Expect It. Demographics are changing. Customers under 40 expect their banking services to be delivered by the same channels and at the same speed as their other retail and consumer services like online shopping and ride-hailing applications. Banks that cannot meet those expectations will force their younger customers to look elsewhere.

3. Competition and Differentiation. Community banks may not be able to compete with the largest banks on their technology spend, but they should be competitive with their peers. Developing and executing a thoughtful fintech strategy will enhance a bank’s identity and give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

4. Core Systems Management. Banks must have a strategy for their core banking systems. Replacing a legacy system can take years and requires extensive planning. Banks must weigh the maintenance expense, security vulnerability and reduced commercial flexibility of legacy systems against the cost, potential opportunities and long-term efficiencies of the next generation platforms.

5. Fiduciary Duty Demands It. A board’s fiduciary duty includes having a fintech strategy. The board is accountable to the bank’s shareholders and must create sustainable, long-term value. Director are bound by the fiduciary duty of care to act in the best interest of the bank. Given fintech’s rapid expansion, heightened customer expectations and the need to remain competitive, it is prudent and in the long-term best interest of the bank to have a fintech strategy.

6. Regulatory expectations. Boards are also accountable to bank regulators. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a bulletin in 2017 to address the need for directors to understand the impact of new fintech activities because of the rapid pace of development. The OCC is not the only regulator emphasizing that insufficient strategic planning in product and service innovation can lead to inadequate board oversight and control. A deliberate fintech strategy from the board can direct a bank’s fintech activities and develop a risk management process that meets regulatory expectations.

The best fintech strategy for a bank is one that considers an institution’s assets, capabilities, and overall business strategy and allows it to stay competitive and relevant. Not having a fintech strategy is not an option.

Using Intelligent Automation to Bank Smarter, Not Harder


technology-5-4-19.pngBy this point in 2019, most consumers and companies are somewhat familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence. Executives and consultants have discussed its application in financial services for years; lately, the conversations have been brisk and some organizations are doing more than just talking. Many tangible AI use cases have emerged at financial institutions of all sizes over the last 12 months, and intelligent technology is beginning to make an impact on banks’ productivity and bottom lines.

Still, AI remains a largely abstract concept for many institutions. Some of the biggest challenges these banks face in preparing and executing an AI strategy starts with having a too-narrow definition of these technologies.

Technically, AI is the ability of machines to use complex algorithms to learn to do tasks that are traditionally performed by humans. It is often misrepresented or misunderstood in broader explanations as a wider range of automation technologies — technologies that would be more appropriately characterized as robotics or voice recognition, for example.

Banks interested in using intelligent automation, which includes AI, robotic process automation, and other smart technologies, should target areas that could benefit the most through operational efficiencies or speed up their digital transformation.

Banks are more likely to achieve their automation goals if executives shift their mindsets toward thinking about ways they can apply smart technologies throughout the institution. Intelligent automation leverages multiple technologies to achieve efficiency. Some examples include:

  • Using imaging technology to extract data from electronic images. For example, banks can use optical character recognition, or OCR, technology to extract information from invoices or loan applications, shortening the completion time and minimizing errors.
  • Robotic process automation, or RPA, to handle high-volume, repeatable manual tasks. Many institutions, including community banks with $180 million in assets up to the largest institutions in the world have leveraged RPA to reduce merger costs, bundle loans for sale and close inactive credit and debit cards.
  • Machine learning or AI to simulate human cognition and expedite problem solving. These applications can be used in areas ranging from customer service interactions to sophisticated back-office processes. Some industry reports estimate that financial institutions can save $1 trillion within the next few years through AI optimization. Several large banks have debuted their own virtual assistants or chatbots; other financial institutions are following suit by making it easier and more convenient for customers to transact on the go.

What are next steps for banks interested in using AI? Banks first need to identify the right use cases for their organization, evaluating and prioritizing them by feasibility and business need. It’s more effective to start with small projects and learn from them. Conduct due diligence to fully assess each project’s complexity, and plan to build interactively. Start moving away from thinking about robots replacing employees, and start considering how banking smarter – not harder – can play out in phases.

Breaking Down The Three Options With Fintech


fintech-1-2-19.pngThere are three ways to consider expanding into new lines of business, improving operational capabilities, or tapping new markets. Should you build, buy, or partner?

Technology is disruptive, and established companies struggle with the best way to adapt to the changing trends.

Fortunately, there are options. Fintech partners, big and small, offer a variety of financial products and services utilizing the latest technology that can be white-labeled or simply acquired.

In addition, the talent pool of technologists is expanding, giving financial institutions access to the necessary skills should they choose to build internally. When determining whether to build, buy, or partner, these institutions must consider their core competencies and competitive advantages, as well as their culture, structure, and access to capital.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for financial institutions, partnering with fintechs can be most beneficial and provide needed flexibility for the long term.

Consider the choice to build. First, an institution must recruit and fill a team of product managers, engineers, and other highly skilled positions that demand significant compensation. An up-front investment must be made to support software development, testing, security and maintenance. The speed to market is typically slower if an institution chooses to build, elevating the risk the product or service will be out-positioned by the time of launch.

While true that some of the largest financial institutions have managed to develop popular new digital products and applications internally, they are the exception. Those banks also typically had the surplus capital to put to work.

The “buy” option presents challenges as well. Few credit unions and community banks have the financial clout to acquire a fintech company. Those that do will face numerous hurdles integrating the acquisition into their existing operations, technology stack and company culture.

There are certainly examples of successful fintech acquisitions by financial institutions, but unless the acquirer is prepared for a lengthy and resource-consuming process, this may not be the most viable option.

Partnering can often be the most cost-effective and efficient alternative. There is no shortage of turnkey solutions that allow community banks to automate products and services, enabling them to provide the kind of digital experience consumers have come to expect.

Partnering with a fintech also provides the financial institutions with an option to test before investing in a build or buy strategy later. For institutions seeking a stopgap solution, partnering can meet current needs and buy time to consider long term alternatives.

It’s not hyperbole to suggest the technological challenges and threats facing banks are existential. Those that do not adapt quickly face the risk of becoming irrelevant. Fortunately, whether it is build, buy, or partner, there are myriad solutions that allow institutions to provide an attractive digital experience without relinquishing their core competencies and competitive advantages.

5 Critical Components for Construction Lending Success


lending-12-31-18.pngThe tough reality is that bankers are experiencing margin compression due to the current state of the yield curve and rising interest rates.

Without refinances to process, and new mortgages growing rarer, they must rely on other types of loan products. Enter construction loans.

Construction lending was once a vital part of a healthy loan product mix. Of course, many bankers will point directly at TRID, or the Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rules, as their roadblock to originating construction loans. Support for TRID, like many other regulatory rules, hasn’t been prevalent in the industry, and some bankers don’t have the information they need to mitigate risk.

So what now? Who is offering support for these regulations? And how can lenders begin construction lending again?

Instead of giving up on construction lending, most community banks have all the resources they need to start and maintain a successful construction lending program; it’s all at their fingertips.

To become successful in construction lending, you need these five components to all work together:

1. Support in the C-suite and boardroom
Before looking at solutions, your board must have a consensus on whether or not to even launch the program. Construction lending programs require effort from several C-level executives and the board. Everyone in the C-suite and boardroom need to be on the same page. Having this consensus helps assemble and maintain a successful program.

2. Your Loan Origination System (LOS)
Sometimes lenders don’t know where to begin with a construction loan program, particularly with respect to staying compliant with TRID. It can surprise lenders that the fields and forms required to support construction loans may be available through their LOS. Work with your LOS provider to diagnose how other lenders have utilized the LOS platform when offering construction loan products, particularly the production of the lender’s estimate (LE) and closing document (CD). If your LOS solution does not support construction loans, there are other workarounds in order to still reach the end goal, such as using a document service provider.

3. Specialized document service provider
Mitigating risk and pleasing all who are involved in a construction loan isn’t easy given how many moving parts are involved. It can be done with the proper resources. Document service providers are one of the most important elements to have. The provider gives lenders the specific form needed for each step of the project, no matter if the project is down the street or across state lines.

Before you sign on with any document service provider, make sure of three things:

  • They are able to produce both the LE and CD, particularly if your LOS doesn’t provide them. 
  • They are able to provide the state-specific documents that are going to be needed in the closing package.
  • They are able to guarantee that their documents will protect your first lien priority in each state.

4. In-house subject matter expert
Before the financial crash 10 years ago, construction loan expertise was abundant. But a decade after the recession, experts on construction lending can be difficult to find inside the bank. Finding or recruiting somebody like this on your team can be an amazing resource. They can be helpful in educating other lenders and assist in problem-solving loan structuring to benefit the entire company.

5. Post-close draw management and servicing
How do you manage the cost and process involved after you close that construction loan? Loan servicing is an integral piece of construction lending, and it is very hands-on and specific. Once the loan is closed, someone must be servicing this loan to ensure success for the duration of the construction loan: managing first lien priority, draw administration, inspections, and communication with key stakeholders such as the borrower and contractors. At the end of the day, you need someone to manage the lenders’ holdback, while simultaneously protecting the physical, financial, and legal interests of your bank.

The New Philosophy That’s Catching on With Banks


customer-12-21-18.pngBankers are right to be concerned that Amazon will one day emerge as a competitor in the financial services industry, but that shouldn’t stop banks from stealing a page from the ecommerce company’s playbook.

Banking is a relationships business. For ages, banks have tried to leverage that relationship to grow and maximize shareholder return.

Some of the ways they’ve done so seem antiquated now, like giving away toasters to anyone that opens a checking account. But the underlying logic remains sound.

That’s why many top banks are now starting to think more like Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chairman and CEO.

In 1997, the year Bezos wrote his first shareholder letter, he cycled through the usual subjects, boasting about growth and maximizing the return for shareholders. But he also talked about the long game Amazon would play by eschewing even faster growth and profitability by instead focusing “relentlessly” on customers.

We have invested and will continue to invest aggressively to expand and leverage our customer base, brand, and infrastructure as we move to establish an enduring franchise,” he wrote in his inaugural letter.

Why? Because Bezos wanted Amazon to be engrained in people’s lives, far more than just the books they were getting 20-some years ago.

“Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh tradeoffs differently than some companies,” Bezos wrote, noting that Amazon’s first and foremost priority would be serving customers, not buckling under pressure from Wall Street.

Two decades later, everything Amazon does is driven by what the “divinely discontent” customer wants, which they learn through data collection and analysis. And as a result, Amazon has become an integral part of many consumers’ lives.

“I sense that the same customer empowerment phenomenon is happening broadly across everything we do at Amazon and most other industries as well. You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it,” Bezos wrote two decades later in his 2018 shareholder letter.

It’s this relentless, single-minded drive to satisfy customers that banks are beginning to adopt, especially when it comes to serving customers over digital distribution channels.

Many banks have modernized their digital offerings to attract digitally savvy customers. An ancillary benefit is that the interactions conducted over these channels generate immense amounts of valuable data. It’s be effectively using this data that banks can build out an Amazon-like experience.

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, recently explained to Bank Director the value of that data, and also how the $2 trillion bank can leverage it to improve customers’ experience: “We know that customer better than everybody else, because we’re seeing everything they do.”

Another bank doing this is Citizens Bank, a New England-based bank with $155 billion in assets. Citizens CEO Bruce Van Saun talked his focus on customers at the Wharton Leadership Conference this summer.

This focus is behind the bank’s decision to launch its digital offshoot, Citizens Access. It has also informed how they think and obsess over—what else—data. Van Saun said it allows them to leverage it in “moments of truth” for customers that the bank knows better than anyone.

“Citizens is doing this through an intense focus on ‘customer journeys’ – transforming the way we engage with customers at critical moments so that they are compelling, differentiated, personalized and highly user-friendly. This process starts with putting the customer – not the organization – at the center.”

Sounds an awful lot like Bezos and Moynihan. It also sounds a lot like “The Law of The Customer,” a theory discussed in Stephen Denning’s book, “The Age of Agile.”

Denning discusses a “Copernican revolution” of management that puts the customer at the center, rather than the firm. Nicolas Copernicus, of course, was first with the theory the Earth revolved around the Sun, not vice versa, a blasphemous idea in the 16th century.

What that means is delivering things like delight, enthusiasm and passion instead of products or services.

This requires a cultural transformation at organizations, Denning argues, and especially at banks that have long been driven by traditional metrics.

That is where not just the CEO, but the entire C-suite, comes in.

“If the drive to delight customers comes from the CEO alone, or from the bottom alone, the firm is lost,” Denning writes.

Most banks don’t have the manpower or capital to invest in tech capabilities like the biggest banks, but many are now realizing they do have the most prized collection of data about their customers.

That data can be leveraged, and it’s data that would make Bezos even more obsessed than he already is about customers.

How Data Can Build Trust With Customers


data-12-17-18.pngIn mid-August, driven by a cyberattack against ATMs that withdrew close to $11.5 million, the FBI sent out a warning to financial services companies that their organizations could be targeted. In another bleak headline, an Australian bank lost data on 12 million of its consumers—containing financial records from 2004-14—without disclosing it to customers.

Misuse of customer data is beginning to sound like business as usual to consumers.

Bank directors and senior leaders face a constantly evolving list of risks that can erode trust in their organizations. As we explored in the [first part of this series], these kinds of risk incidents drive other negative impacts, including increased expenses and customer attrition that stall bottom-line growth.

To combat the trend of declining trust, it’s critical that dedicated teams are enabled to address risk and regulatory compliance. However, effective recovery demands the entire organization to restore trust through a holistic risk-mitigation strategy focused on protecting and using customer data in a trustworthy way.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer highlights technology as a key enabler of trust in financial institutions, with fraud protection, use of technology to resolve customer issues, and mobile apps all cited as top drivers. Successfully deploying each of these elements commands a concerted focus on protecting customer data. Little things like requiring a complex password can signal the bank has the best interests of the customer—and the protection of his or her personal information—at heart.

By focusing on building trust through digital experiences and data, bottom-line impacts also will follow. For example, in a Forrester study on customer advocacy, customers of online banks performing well in customer advocacy tend to be more loyal: 80 percent of these customers believed they would choose that bank for their next financial product.
Bank directors and senior leaders can strengthen their bank’s business model, mitigate risk, and build trust through digital elements by empowering cross-functional teams to adhere to the following considerations:

Examine customer expectations. Customers’ digital expectations are relatively brand-agnostic. But it’s not a standalone channel, and how interactions are integrated into a more complex digital experience should be considered when forming a strategy.

Many studies have shown consumers prefer a combination of human and digital touchpoints. To build an effective customer engagement strategy, banks must enable customers in whichever channel they prefer. Doing so builds confidence, and ultimately trust—whether that be transferring funds or setting up a new account.

Mitigate risk by balancing security and design. While security measures have become increasingly important and key to establishing trust, they can also create user experience challenges. With voice-enabled search expected to comprise 50 percent of all internet searches by 2020, consumers will demand comparable capabilities from their banks—all supported by simple, streamlined interfaces. By ensuring that risk management, technology and digital design teams are finding common ground, banks can deliver a more seamless experience and reduce security concerns—giving customers the peace of mind that their finances and identity are protected.

Be a good custodian and user of customer data. Start with building a data management program with governing policies and procedures that support customer trust. Most consumers are on high alert for unapproved uses of their personal information. Banks should only ask for customer data when leadership can articulate where and how it adds value in a transparent way.

To start, banks can look across sub-sector domains like wealth management. Vanguard, one of the top customer advocacy performers in Forrester’s study, uses customer data to offer personalized investment advice to customers via mobile app, while also clearly defining the ways it uses that data on its website. By responsibly and transparently using data, banks can establish customer trust through tailored experiences.

By pairing a holistic data and risk management strategy focused on digital, banks will not only reverse the trend of waning customer trust, but also strengthen a business model equipped to thrive in the heightened risk environment in which retail banks operate today.

This article is the third in a series on building trust in financial services. Read the first two on building customer trust through experience design and creating empowered, more rewarding employee interactions.

Brace Yourself For An Unstoppable Tech Wave


technology-12-10-18.pngBanks across the country are wrestling with the challenge of transforming current banking systems—the foundations of which were conceptualized in the Middle Ages—into systems designed to serve the needs of the digital age.

This marks a critical moment for banks. Some industry data suggests we’re in a golden age of banking, including a growing economy, increased loan demand, technological efficiency and higher levels of profitability. However, these factors could only be masking more important developments that signify even more change.

Much of the world is already living with both feet firmly planted in the digital age. Author Brett King, who is the CEO of the mobile banking startup Moven, notes between 2010 and 2030, an estimated 2.5 to 3 billion people worldwide will come into the financial services space. Of those billions of people, King says some 95 percent will have never visited a bank branch.

International Banking Systems
There are hundreds of examples around the world of what the digital age of financial services looks like. Kenya’s mobile money service, M-Pesa, counts nearly 100 percent of adults in Kenya as customers and also transmits nearly 50 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

China-based Ant Financial Services Group has been valued at $150 billion, a market cap higher than Goldman Sachs. Ant Financial has the world’s largest money market fund, processes trillions of dollars in payments each year and can profitably make small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) loans as little as $50 in a matter of minutes.

Examining international banking systems helps provide directional insight into various successful financial systems and institutions developed to serve the digital age—without the hindrance of legacy regulatory and organization systems.

Evolution of Client Expectations
It’s no longer good enough for banks to have a digital strategy that only aims to keep pace with their peers. Banks must have a forward-thinking strategy for the digital age, as their customers have become used to accessing world-class, technology-enabled services from their financial services providers.

A recent BKD survey of the employees of an advanced, progressive community bank found that more than 70 percent of the bank’s own employees had two or more credit cards beyond the cards offered by the bank, and more than 80 percent of the bank’s employees had a banking relationship outside of their employer. Even employees who think highly of their bank have relationships with other financial institutions, exposing them to the best services the financial services industry has to offer. As customer expectations climb exponentially, banks are challenged with keeping up.

Banks may find comfort knowing some people prefer digital interaction with a financial services company for routine, immaterial transactions, but prefer the one-on-one experience of sitting with a banker and receiving guidance for major financial decisions.

There likely will always be a place for high-touch client service in community banking. However, we’re entering an age where people are comfortable visiting a doctor by video, and IBM’s Watson outperforms doctors in some areas of health care diagnostics. If people are comfortable trusting their health to someone over the phone, and artificial intelligence is becoming better than humans at providing health care services, a disruption and transformation of the banking industry in the U.S. can’t be far behind.

Moving Forward
As technology across all industries advances rapidly and relentlessly, the inhabitants of a digital age will expect nothing less from their financial services provider. With intense transformation facing the banking industry, consider asking these important questions of your institution:

  • Are we ready to be ambient? Can we completely surround our customers on all sides, no matter where they go or which device they use?
  • Are we ready to provide end-to-end mobile account opening, with no paper forms or signatures?
  • Are we deploying machine learning and artificial intelligence?
  • Are we preparing to authenticate accounts and payments with facial recognition technology? 

Even answering these questions affirmatively isn’t enough.

Some prognosticators say it’s too late for banks. While that’s simply not true, banks do have to move more aggressively and rethink their approach to the market. Neither consumers nor regulators are going to materially slow technology’s rapid advancement within the financial services industry. There’s no turning back the clock on the digital age.

Prepare Your Portfolio for an Economic Downturn


portfolio-11-12-18.pngAs we reach the 10-year anniversary of the inflection point of the 2008 financial crisis, it’s the perfect time to reflect on how the economy has (and hasn’t) recovered following the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. If you’ve paid the slightest attention to recent news, you’ve probably heard or read about the speculation of when the nation’s next economic storm will hit. While some reports believe the next downturn is just around the corner, others deny such predictions.

Experts can posit theories about the next downturn, but no matter how strong the current economy is or how low unemployment may be, we can count on at some point the economy will again turn downward. For this reason, it’s important that we protect ourselves from risks, like those that followed the subprime mortgage crisis, financial crisis, and Great Recession of the late 2000’s.

In an interview with USA Today, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, explained, “It’s just the time when it feels like all is going fabulously that we make mistakes, we overreact, we over-borrow.”

Zandi also noted it usually requires more than letting our collective guard down to tip the economy into recession; something else has to act as a catalyst, like oil prices in 1990-91, the dotcom bubble in 2001 or the subprime mortgage crisis in 2006-07.

As the number of predictions indicating the next economic downturn could be closer than we think continues to rise, it’s more important to prepare yourself and your portfolio for a potential economic shift.

Three Tips for Safeguarding Your Construction Portfolio In the Event of an Economic Downturn

1. Proactively Stress Test Your Loan Portfolio
Advancements in technology have radically improved methods of stress testing, allowing lenders to reveal potential vulnerabilities within their loan portfolio to prevent potential issues. Technology is the key to unlocking this data for proactive stress testing and risk mitigation, including geotracking, project monitoring and customizable alerts.

Innovative construction loan technology allows lenders to monitor the risk potential of all asset-types, including loans secured by both consumer and commercial real estate. These insights help lenders pinpoint and mitigate potential risks before they harm the financial institution.

2. Increase Assets and Reduce Potential Risk While the Market’s Hot
If a potential market downturn is in fact on the horizon, now is the best time for lenders to shore up their loan portfolios and long-term, end loan commitments before things slow. This will help ensure the financial institution moves into the next downturn with a portfolio of healthy assets.

By utilizing modern technologies to bring manual processes online, lenders have the ability to grow their construction loan portfolio without absorbing the additional risk or adding additional administrative headcount. Construction loan administration software has the ability to increase a lender’s administrative capacity by as much as 300 percent and reduce the amount of time their administrative teams spend preparing reports by upwards of 80 percent. These efficiency and risk mitigation gains enable lenders to strike while the iron’s hot and effectively grow their portfolio to help offset the effects of a potential market downturn.

3. Be Prudent and Mindful When Structuring and Pricing End Loans
As interest rates continue to trend upward, it’s crucial that lenders price and structure their long-term debts with increased interest rates in mind. One of the perks of construction lending, especially in commercial real estate, is the opportunity to also secure long-term debt when the construction loan is converted into an end loan.

Due to fluctuations in interest rates, it’s important for financial institutions to carefully consider how long to commit to fixed rates. For lenders to prevent filling their portfolio with commercial loan assets that yield below average interest rates in the future, they may find it more prudent to schedule adjustable-rate real estate loans on more frequent rate adjustment schedules or opening rate negotiations with higher fixed rate offerings (while still remaining competitive and fairly priced, of course).

Though we can actively track past and potential future trends, it’s impossible to know for sure whether we are truly standing on the precipice of the next economic downturn.

“That’s one of the things that makes crises crises—they always surprise you somehow,” said Tony James, Vice Chairman or Blackstone Group, in an interview with CNBC.

No matter the current state of the economy, choosing to be prepared by proactively mitigating risk is always the best course of action for financial institutions to take. Modern lending technology enables lenders to make smart lending decisions and institute effective policies and procedures to safeguard the institution from the next economic downturn—no matter when it hits.