The Formula for Building Customer Trust


customer-11-9-18.pngDue to several recent data breaches and incidents of internal fraud at some of the world’s most recognizable financial brands, millions of consumers are impacted, loyalty is eroding, and risk is added to the bottom line. For banking leaders charged with driving the growth and managing that risk to their organizations, trust is a key to supporting both growth and financial performance.

A recent Carnegie Mellon study of customers of large banks showed those with fraudulent activity on their accounts were more likely to leave in the next six months. Following a series of internal scandals, a leading bank reported a 77 percent increase in unplanned operational expenses, a direct impact on performance.

These numbers tell a story of heightened risk in banking, but they also illuminate the critical role trust can play. Following risk incidents, every financial institution is impacted. The hard reality is trust and confidence in banks remain low across the industry, and have yet to recover to pre-financial crisis levels. In fact, 2018 Gallup polling data indicates only 30 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in banks, down from 41 percent before the crisis (2007). Risk is engrained in the banking industry’s DNA, and while recovery depends largely on a robust and adaptive risk management function, restoring trust with customers touches every area of the organization.

Banking leaders have an opportunity to rebuild trust by mobilizing their functional teams around Experience Design, or the entire experience a customer has with the bank. The benefits of taking an experience-led approach correlate directly to building trust in financial services. In fact, in the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, (1) user experience, (2) ease of human interaction, and (3) use of the latest technology were the top factors building trust in financial services—and all of these elements require the careful orchestration of human and digital touchpoints that Experience Design enables.

Banking services can no longer stand alone as customer decisions are being made around every interaction with the organization. There’s an opportunity for banks to differentiate and build trust by uncovering the gaps in their current experience engagement model, and designing experiences that align to customers’ needs and expectations.

To put Experience Design into action, banks must deeply understand their customers’ needs and preferences. Banks must identify the unifying experience they want to achieve through techniques such as Accelerated Service Design, which focuses on human needs and processes, as well as its systems and employees.

To trust a financial institution with deeply personal activities such as saving for retirement or managing credit and mortgages, customers need to feel the bank has their best interests at heart. Digital alone isn’t the answer to the trust challenge. Customers still value face-to-face interactions; one recent study by Celent found 93 percent of customers “still prefer at least some interactions” at a physical branch. In fact, according to the 2018 J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study, digital-only and physical branch-only customers reported the lowest levels of satisfaction. What’s most important is developing an approach that intentionally weaves together human and digital touchpoints in a way that is authentic, smart and relevant.

As banking leaders shape a larger strategic vision around recovery from risk incidents, they should design consumer touchpoints with the Human Experience dimensions—relevance, ease, orchestration, and empathy—at heart. Those dimensions can be brought to life with a focus on embedding the following principles:

Human-centered: Organizations must center experiences and offerings on the human needs of their customers. This includes the services delivered, the processes used to deliver them, and the alignment of the organization and leadership behind that vision.

Co-created: Bank leadership must work with employees to build the internal foundation for a better experience. When trust is at a culture’s core, it permeates throughout the organization, and is felt by customers across all touchpoints.

Holistic: Experience must be viewed from an end-to-end perspective, similar to those provided by Airbnb and Uber. These companies orchestrate digital and physical experiences that seamlessly integrate with a customer’s lifestyle. In turn, these customers value the organization for the things it enables them to do, not the product or service provided. Examine how every touchpoint is influencing the customer experience, and how to better meet customer demand with a more seamless experience.

Iterative: Experience Design is not a “one and done” effort. Customer needs and preferences are always changing, and they are not making one-time transactions. Banks need to be a trusted partner to their customers throughout their relationship.

An experience-focused approach builds trust, and in turn, customer loyalty that drives the bottom line. By taking a comprehensive view of the customer experience, banks can build the trust that’s critical to sustainable risk incident recovery.

Two Traditional Strategies to Supercharge a Bank’s Growth


strategy-10-26-18.pngBankers would be excused for thinking right now that everything has changed in the industry and nothing is the same—that all of the old rules of banking should be thrown out, replaced by digital strategies catering to the next generation of customers.

There is some truth to this, of course, given how quickly customers have taken to depositing money and checking their account balances on their smartphones. Yet, banks should nevertheless think twice before throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

This is especially true when it comes to growth strategies.

Make no mistake about it, digital banking channels are thriving. At PNC Financial Services Group, two-thirds of customers are primarily digital, up from roughly a third of customers five years ago. And a quarter of sales at Bank of America Corp., the nation’s second biggest bank by assets, now come by way of its digital channels.

Yet, just because digital banking is transforming the way customers access financial products doesn’t logically mean that the old rules of banking no longer apply.

In a recent conversation with Bank Director, Tim Spence, the head of consumer banking at Fifth Third Bancorp, observed that digital channels are still not as effective as traditional mergers and acquisitions when it comes to moving into a new geographic market.

If a bank wants to grow at an accelerated rate, in other words, it shouldn’t cast aside the traditional method of doing so. This is why it’s valuable to continue learning from those who have safely and rapidly built banks over the past 30 years—as the barriers to interstate banking came down.

One approach is to wait for a downturn in the credit cycle to make acquisitions.

This strategy has been used repeatedly by $117 billion asset M&T Bank Corp., based in Buffalo, New York. In the most recent cycle, it acquired the largest independent bank in New Jersey, Hudson City Bancorp, as well as one of the nation’s preeminent trust businesses, Wilmington Trust—both at meaningful discounts to their book values.

Great Southern Bancorp, a $4.6 billion asset bank based in Springfield, Missouri, followed a similar strategy in the wake of the financial crisis. Through four FDIC-assisted transactions between 2009 and 2012, Great Southern transformed from a community bank based in southwestern Missouri into a regional bank operating in multiple states along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

A second approach that has proven to be effective is to buy healthy banks in good times and then accelerate their growth.

Bank One did this to grow from the third largest bank in Columbus, Ohio, into the sixth largest bank in the country, at which point it was acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Its former chief executive officer, John B. McCoy, pioneered what he called the uncommon partnership: a non-confrontational, Warren Buffett-type approach to buying banks, where the acquired bank’s managers remain on board.

Another bank that has applied this acquisition philosophy is Glacier Bancorp, an $11.8 billion asset bank headquartered in Kalispell, Montana. Starting in 1987 under former CEO Michael “Mick” Blodnick, Glacier bought more than two dozen banks throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

Importantly, however, it wasn’t the assets acquired in the deals that helped Glacier grow from $700 million to $9.5 billion in assets in the 18 years Blodnick ran the bank. Rather, it was the subsequent growth of those banks post-acquisition that accounted for the majority of this ascent.

Glacier’s success in this regard boiled down to its model.

Today, it operates more than a dozen banks in cities and towns throughout the West as divisions of the holding company. These banks have retained their original names—First Security Bank, Big Sky Western Bank and Mountain West Bank, among others—as well as a significant amount of autonomy to make decisions locally.

Approaching acquisitions in this way has reduced the customer attrition that tends to follow a traditional acquisition and rebranding. At the same time, because these banks are now within a much larger organization, they have larger lending limits and access to new, often more profitable deposit products, allowing them to expand both sides of their balance sheets.

In short, while it’s true that the financial services industry is changing as a result of the proliferation of digital distribution channels, it isn’t true that these changes render the traditional growth strategies that have worked so well over the years obsolete.

Should You Buy, Sell Or Do Neither?


acquire-10-23-18.pngShould you acquire or be acquired? Some community banks are electing to do neither, and instead are attempting to forge a different path – pursuing niche business models. Each of these business models comes with its own execution and business risks. All of them, however, come with the same regulatory risk – whether the bank’s regulators will challenge or be supportive of the changes in the business model.

Some community banks are developing partnerships with non-bank financial services, or fintech, companies – companies that may have created an innovative financial product or delivery method but need a bank partner to avoid spending millions of dollars and years of time to comply with state licensing requirements. These partnerships not only drive revenue for the bank, but can also – if properly structured – drive customers as well. WebBank is a prime example of the change this model can bring. As of the close of 2007, WebBank had only $23 million in assets and $1 million in annual net income. Ten years later, WebBank had grown to $628 million in assets and $27.5 million in annual net income, a 39 percent annualized growth in both metrics.

Following the recession, bank regulators have generally been supportive of community banks developing new business models, either on their own or through the use of third party technology. As the OCC notes, technological changes and rapidly evolving consumer preferences are reshaping the financial services industry at an unprecedented rate, creating new opportunities to provide customers with more access to new product options and services. The OCC has outlined the principles to prudently manage risks associated with offering new products and services, noting that banks are motivated to implement operational efficiencies and pursue innovations to grow income.

Even though the new business model may not involve an acquisition, the opening of a new branch, a change in control, or another action that requires formal regulatory approval, a bank should never forge ahead without consulting with its regulators well before launching, or even announcing, its plan. The last thing your board will want is a lawsuit from unhappy investors if regulators shut down or curb the projected growth contemplated by a new business model.

Before introducing new activities, management and the board need to understand the risks and costs and should establish policies, procedures and controls for mitigating these risks. They should address matters such as adequate protection of customer data and compliance with consumer protection, Bank Secrecy Act, and anti-money laundering laws. Unique risks exist when a bank engages in new activities through third-party relationships, and these risks may be elevated when using turnkey and white-label products or services designed for minimal involvement by the bank in administering the new activities.

The bank should implement “speed bumps” – early warning indicators to alert the board to issues before they become problems. These speed bumps – whether voluntary by the bank or involuntary at the prompting of regulators – may slow the bank’s growth. If the new business model requires additional capital, the bank should pay close attention to whether the projected growth necessary to attract the new investors can still be achieved with these speed bumps.

Bank management should never tell their examiners that they don’t understand the bank’s new business model. Regardless of how innovative the new business model may be, the FDIC and other bank regulators will still review the bank’s performance under their standard examination methods and metrics. The FDIC has noted that modifying these standards to account for a bank’s “unique” business plan would undermine supervisory consistency, concluding that if a bank effectively manages the strategic risks, the FDIC’s standard examination methods and metrics will properly reflect that result.

Banks also need to be particularly wary of using third-party products or services that have the effect of helping the bank to generate deposits. Even if the deposits are stable and low-cost, and even if the bank does not pay fees tied to the generation of the deposits, the FDIC may say they are brokered deposits. Although the FDIC plans to review its brokered deposit regulations, it interprets the current regulations very broadly. Under the current regulations, even minor actions taken by a third party that help connect customers to a bank which offers a product the customer wants can cause any deposits generated through that product to be deemed brokered deposits.

Community banks definitely can be successful without acquiring or being acquired. However, before choosing an innovative path a bank should know how its regulators will react, and the board should recognize that although regulators may generally be supportive, they do not like to be surprised.

What You Need to Know About the OCC’s Fintech Charter


OCC-10-17-18.pngOn July 31, 2018, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said it will begin accepting applications for a special purpose national bank charter designed specifically for fintech companies. The news came hours after the Treasury Department issued a parallel report preemptively supporting the move.

In connection with its announcement, the OCC issued a supplement to its Comptroller’s Licensing Manual as well as a Policy Statement addressing charter applications from fintech companies. Both are worth reviewing by anyone thinking about submitting an application.

The Application Process
To apply for a fintech charter, a company must engage in either or both of the core banking activities of paying checks or lending money. Generally, this would include businesses involved in payment processing or marketplace lending.

The fintech charter is not available for companies that want to take deposits, nor is it an option for companies seeking federal deposit insurance. Such companies would have to apply instead for a full-service national bank charter and federal deposit insurance.

The application process for a fintech charter is similar to that for a de novo bank charter, with each application reviewed on its own unique facts and circumstances.

The four stages of the application process are:

  1. The pre-filing phase, involving preliminary meetings with the OCC to discuss the business plan, proposed board and management, underlying marketing analysis to support the plan, capital and liquidity needs and the applicant’s commitment to providing fair access to its financial services
  2. The filing phase, involving the submission of a completed application
  3. The review phase, during which the OCC conducts a detailed review and analysis of the application
  4. The decision phase, during which the OCC determines whether to approve the application

The process from beginning to end can take up to a year or longer.

Living with a fintech charter
Fintech banks will be supervised in a similar manner to national banks. They will be subject to minimum capital and liquidity requirements that could vary depending on the applicant’s business model, financial inclusion commitments, and safety and soundness examinations, among other things.

Additionally, to receive final approval to open a fintech bank, an applicant must adopt and receive OCC approval of a contingency plan addressing steps the bank will take in the event of severe financial stress. Such options would include a sale, merger or liquidation. The applicant must also develop policies and procedures to implement its financial inclusion commitment to treat customers fairly and provide fair access to its financial services.
Similar to a traditional de novo bank, a fintech bank will be subject to enhanced supervision during at least its first three years of operation.

Pre-application considerations
A company thinking about applying should consider:

  1. The advantages of operating under a single, national set of standards, particularly for companies operating in multiple states
  2. The ability to meet minimum capital and liquidity requirements
  3. The time and expense of obtaining a charter
  4. Whether a partnership with an existing bank is a superior alternative
  5. The potential for delays in the regulatory process for obtaining a charter, including delays resulting from the OCC application process or legal challenges to that process

There is one complicating factor in all of this. Following the OCC’s initial proposal to issue fintech charters in 2017, two lawsuits were filed challenging the OCC’s authority to do so—one by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and one by the New York State Department of Financial Services. Both were dismissed, because the OCC had yet to reach a final decision. But now that the OCC has issued formal guidance and stated its intent to accept applications, one or both lawsuits may be refiled.

Whether this happens remains to be seen. But either way, the OCC’s decision to accept applications for fintech charters speaks to its commitment to clear the way for further innovation in the financial services industry.

What’s At Stake In A Tech-Driven World


technology-10-2-18.pngTechnology is driving a wave of disruption across the entire financial services landscape. Financial services companies are increasingly finding themselves both competing with and working alongside more agile, highly entrepreneurial technology-based entities in a new and evolving ecosystem.

There are a number of global trends creating opportunities for financial services companies:

  • China’s population is growing at about 7 percent annually, roughly the equivalent of creating a country the size of Mexico every year.
  • At the same time, China and other emerging, fast-growing economies are raising many of their people above the poverty line, creating a new class of financial services consumer.
  • In more developed countries, people are retiring later and living longer.

These trends are driving a growing need for financial services. However, the story does not end with demographics and economics. Changes in technology are reshaping the ways these services are being delivered and consumed.

Consumers expect simplicity and mobility. Smartphones provide a wide range of financial services at our fingertips. With the rapid growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, savvy financial services companies are adapting to the new ecosystem of digital service delivery and customer relationship providers. Gone are the days when customers have to visit the local bank branch to get most of the services and products they needed. The shakeup in providers will make for a vastly different landscape for competing financial services organizations in the near future.

While the adoption of blockchain technology is still in its infancy, it will potentially reshape the financial services landscape. Much of the transaction processing, matching, reconciliation and the movement of information between different parties will be a thing of the past. Once regulation has caught up, blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, will become ubiquitous.

Financial services companies need to understand where they fit in this digitally fueled, rapidly evolving environment. They need to decide how to take advantage of digital transformation. Many are starting to use robotic process automation to reduce their costs. But the reality is the spread of automation will soon level the playing field in terms of cost, and these companies will once again need to look for competitive advantage, either in the products and services they offer or the way they can leverage their relationships with customers and partners.

When companies leverage technology and data to achieve their business goals in this new environment, they also introduce new risks. Cybersecurity and data governance are two areas where financial services companies continue to struggle. The safety of an ecosystem will be dependent on its weakest link. For instance, if unauthorized breaches occur in one entrepreneurial technology company with less mature controls, those breaches can put all connected institutions and their customer information at risk. Further, automation can result in decisions based solely on data and algorithms. Without solid data governance, and basic change controls, mistakes can rapidly propagate and spiral before they can be detected, with dramatic consequences for customer trust, regulatory penalty and shareholder value.

Strategically, financial services companies will need to decide if they want to be curators of services from various providers—and focus on developing strong customer relationships—or if they want to provide the best product curated and offered by others. Investing in one of these strategies will be a key to success.

Why Soccer And Restaurant Reviews Are Becoming Part of Digital Banking


fintech-9-27-18.pngFor years banks have looked to fintechs to make their digital offerings more convenient, an area where legacy core systems have been slow to develop. That remains a primary goal for some institutions that have been slower to adopt modern digital capabilities.

Banks attending Finovate Fall Sept. 24-26 in New York City were looking for fintech partners that could help them bolster their main value proposition: deep customer relationships and personalized customer service. Several companies are serving up unique capabilities such as providing restaurant recommendations or basing savings goals on how well your favorite soccer team performs.

Dan Latimore, senior vice president of banking at the research firm Celent, tweeted that customer experience was the leading topic of discussion at this year’s fintech-heavy U.S. conference, but it’s not just the conveniences of a robust mobile app that banks are rolling out. Some banks are working with fintechs to build unusual but highly personalized capabilities in their digital experience to drive human interaction and improve the quality of their customer relationships.

Three unique examples of bringing the bank and its customers closer together involve recommendations from the bank through its fintech partner.

Tinkoff Bank – Tinkoff Bank, a branchless Russian bank with $278 billion in assets according to its most recent disclosure, bills itself as a “digital ecosystem of financial and lifestyle products.” The bank’s mobile app goes beyond traditional banking services to provide things like restaurant recommendations, user tips and troubleshooting advice. Tinkoff engages its user base of about 7 million customers through stories that are similar to those used in popular social media apps like Instagram.

Meniga – This London-based fintech’s transaction categorization engine helps banks personalize their digital channels. Meniga presented at the conference with client Tangerine Bank, a Canadian direct bank and subsidiary of Toronto-based Scotiabank with $38 billion in total assets. The bank’s app recommends personalized savings goals.

For example, Tangerine’s app will notice if a user is a fan of a particular soccer team based on their purchasing history. The app can then automate a savings challenge for the user that will move money from their checking account to savings every time the team scores a goal.

Bond.AI – One of several chatbots in attendance at Finovate, Bond brands itself as an “empathy engine” that understands the context of financial data. In addition to answering basic banking inquiries, Bond proactively recommends behaviors users should take and products that fit their lifestyle.

Meniga and Bond.AI were both awarded Best in Show by conference attendees. They represent an emerging focus on understanding a customer’s lifestyle through transaction data and then making helpful recommendations to them based on that information, which are often described as artificial intelligence or machine learning. This is the latest stage in the innovation of fintech capabilities, which began by making the bank’s digital experience more convenient and friendly to mobile users.

These capabilities have been popular topics at national conferences, including Bank Director’s FinXTech Summit, held in May at The Phoenician in Phoenix, Arizona.

There’s no doubt that the challenges of partnering with fintechs was a much different proposition than when fintech firms were stood up some 10 years ago. Now, more than a decade into some fintech life cycles, the firms have matured.

Fintechs have learned to work within the regulatory framework, core system capabilities and other legacy issues banks have long been familiar with. Banks, on the other hand, have become more open to partnership with smaller, nimble tech companies.

The technology banks need to engage customers on a meaningful level has arrived. Fintechs have established themselves as viable business partners. Consumers are demanding more convenient digital experiences and many banks are progressing in meeting those demands, but those who don’t continue to lose ground in being able to grow or remain competitive.

Make the Most of Your Account Opening Process


accounts-9-29-18.pngIt used to be that bank onboarding best practices included a firm handshake and maybe a stuffed toy or T-shirt. In 2018, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Today, customers have a long list of expectations that add up to nothing short of complete personalization across all the many moments — and micro-moments — they face. Customers may have picked this checklist up elsewhere, but they see no reason why those same rules wouldn’t apply everywhere, including when they open a new account at their bank.

In a mobile-everything world, the one-size-fits-all solutions won’t work. New research from Deloitte shows customers want personalized, simple and complete communications. Essentially, they want you to know what they need, when they need it, so you can make it as simple as possible for them. They’re no longer willing to sift through generic self-service tools, and the more your institution can guide them with specific content that comes in their moments of need, the more you will win their loyalty — and dollars.

Meeting these new expectations is increasingly the only way to engage your customers — engagement that’s necessary for high Net Promoter Scores (NPS), revenue growth and profitability. The industry — and onboarding best practices — have started to change.

CX trends are changing onboarding best practices
For the financial services industry, the math is clear. The lifetime value of a promoter is 2.5 times higher than that of a detractor. At the same time, a detractor is 2.3 times more likely to switch to your competitor.

Delivering a positive experience is the best way to create more promoters, particularly during critical moments like your bank’s account opening process, which is the bank’s first impression.

A 2017 Deloitte study makes plain what people are looking for in onboarding programs for banks. The 3,000 customers surveyed who had recently opened bank accounts said they wanted improvements in two fundamental areas, during and post-account opening:

  • Speed
  • Communications

Overall, digital customers say the opening process was unclear and took too long. Worse, once they had opened an account, they felt abandoned. Many banks didn’t follow up with basic information customers felt they needed. That silence was one of the biggest causes of customer dissatisfaction, forcing customers to follow up on their own or forgo information they wanted.

How to apply best practices to your bank
So, we have two main directives for improving the bank customer onboarding process: speed and communication. And we know how customers want that communication to feel: personalized, simple and timed to their needs.

Now you just need to deliver it.

While banks are worried about sending too many communications, customers are asking for guidance. The second they open an account, you have an opportunity to start a relationship by delivering clear and concise instructions that notify them of missing information and next steps to help them complete the process. Then, when the account’s open, you can stay in touch, and help them become familiar with their account and the services your bank can provide.

Data shows this approach works. Leading student lender Citizens Bank increased new accounts by 10 percent and decreased time to completion by 40 percent using automated mobile engagement with its digital customers.

The right communications — timed to arrive when customers reach specific points in their journeys — can improve the customer experience. If you deliver personalized solutions on day one, you can answer customer questions before they ask, offer information about their accounts, recommend new products or services, and point them to tools and content that help them complete actions quickly and easily. This kind of prescribed, proactive approach to service reduces customer effort and builds trust along the way.

The benefits of a better onboarding strategy
Customer surveys like Deloitte’s clearly show an increasing emphasis on easy and convenient interactions. If you want to win customer loyalty, you need to deliver an effortless customer experience now. Not only will a better onboarding experience create stickiness and turn your customers into promoters, it will set an expectation of useful communication. When your customers start their relationship with personalized mobile communications — rather than generic emails, or worse, having to hunt through your website — it teaches them they should pay attention when you contact them.

By meeting that expectation, the potential value for that account can stretch as big as your offering. You can promote additional products, suggest expansions on the products they have and offer rewards when they recommend a friend. As long as you continue to make those experiences personalized, useful and easy, you can continue to nurture your customers and realize maximum value.

One Thing That Will Make You a Better Bank CEO


leaders-9-11-18.pngThere’s a reason great leaders also tend to be better than the average Joe and Jane at forecasting the future. As multiple conversations with participants on the first day of the 2018 Bank Board Training Forum in Chicago reveal, effective leadership and accurate predictions seem to derive from the same underlying trait.

For a long time it was believed that forecasting was about as accurate as throwing darts at a dartboard with a blindfold on. It’s common knowledge and running joke, after all, that economists have predicted nine out of the past five recessions.

But a growing body of research, spearheaded by Philip Tetlock, the Annenberg professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, has found not only that some people are better at forecasting than others, but also that certain traits make some better at predicting the future than others.

What’s that important trait?
Tetlock refers to it as perpetual beta—“the degree to which one is committed to belief updating and self-improvement.” In other words, if you’re dedicated to constantly learning and accumulating knowledge, chances are you’ll be better at predicting the future than an ordinary person.

Perpetual beta isn’t just slightly more important than other traits; it’s vastly more important. “It is roughly three times as powerful a predictor as its closest rival, intelligence,” Tetlock wrote in his book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

This is interesting in and of itself, but what makes it more interesting is this idea of constant improvement and knowledge accumulation also happens to be one of the most robust commonalities of great bankers.

Bank Director CEO Al Dominick noted this in his opening remarks at this year’s training forum, when he talked about the three traits of top bank boards. No. 2 was cultivating curiosity—embracing a learner’s mindset.

It was also a theme that coursed through the keynote conversation with Katherine Quinn, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of U.S. Bancorp, the fifth-largest commercial bank in the country and long one of the best-performing companies in the industry.

Quinn took it one step further, connecting the dots between diversity, knowledge and decision-making. The more diverse your employee base is, she explained, the wider the spectrum of ideas your organization will be exposed to, making it more likely you’ll arrive at the optimal solution to whatever issues you need to address.

The connection between constant learning and effective leadership was also a point that Tom Brown, the founder and CEO of Second Curve Capital, a hedge fund that invests in publicly traded financial services companies, made in a conversation on the sidelines of this year’s training forum.

Brown would know. Walk into the corner office of most superregional or major money center banks and the chances are good that, at one time or another, he has been there.

So, how do you pursue knowledge and get others in your organization to follow suit? You have to read—a lot. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly powerful.

Asked once for advice on how to become a successful investor, Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, pointed to a stack of papers: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

You’ll hear the same thing from other extraordinary bankers.

Michael “Mick” Blodnick, the former CEO of Glacier Bancorp, the second best-performing bank of all time based on total shareholder return, spent years staying up late reading about banking. And anyone who worked with Robert Wilmers, the late chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, the top-performing bank of all time, will tell you he was a voracious reader.

And it’s not just about reading either, a point Bank of America chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan made in a recent interview with Bank Director magazine, which will appear in the fourth quarter.

“Reading is a bit of a short-hand for a broader type of curiosity,” said Moynihan. “The reason I attend conferences is to listen to other people, to pick up what they’re talking and thinking about. It’s about being willing to listen to people, think about what they say. It’s about being curious and trying to learn. The minute you quit being educated formally your brain power starts to shrink unless you educate yourself informally.”

Ideas like this can sound trite—a point great CEOs will readily acknowledge—but after hearing it enough times from enough of them and you can’t help but conclude that what’s trite also often tends to be true.

A Report Shows Amazon Is, Piece By Piece, Assembling a Bank


amazon-7-12-18.pngIt gets clearer every day that banks have work to do if they’re going to remain at the center of their customers’ financial lives, as more and more companies, be it upstart fintech companies or well-established technology firms, seek to disrupt the traditional banking relationship.

The examples are numerous, and attract glitzy headlines, led by Amazon, which seems intent on trying its hand at banking.

A recent report from CB Insights walks through the myriad ways the ecommerce giant is positioning itself to be, what some are calling, the Bank of Amazon. It’s not there yet, and may never be, according to some analysts, but it’s certainly making a run at it.

For bankers, this is nothing new. Amazon has long been viewed as a potential threat, but it hasn’t brought widespread disruption just yet. This could soon change, however. Amazon has purportedly been in talks with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Capital One Financial Corp. about offering a checking account-like product, the core of any banking operation. This would be on top of Amazon Cash and Prime Reload, which allow customers to move funds from a traditional bank-managed account into a digital wallet. It’s also had co-branded credit cards with JPMorgan for years.

It was announced earlier this year, moreover, that Amazon has joined JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s company, in an effort to establish a health insurance company for their employees, collectively totaling some 1.2 million people. It’s the latest grab by the companies at creating an unbreakable relationship with American consumers.

Amazon has gotten into lending, too, backed by Bank of America. All told, Amazon has already made $3 billion in loans to more than 20,000 independent retailers on its Marketplace platform. The borrowers are invited to borrow and half of them take a second loan.

And it’s not just Amazon. SoFi now plans to offer multiple depository products as well, products which it struggled to get off the ground after former cofounder Mike Cagney was ousted in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. With a combined checking-savings account product that pays up to 1.1 percent interest, it’s only a matter of time before the creep of non-banks like SoFi threaten the core deposit products offered by banks, regardless of FDIC insurance.

Some banks, though, have been able to spot and partner with companies that offer these alternative banking options. Ally Financial, Live Oak Bank, SunTrust Banks, NBKC Bank and, yes, Amazon all invested earlier this year in Greenlight, an alternative debit card for kids that’s backed by Community Federal Savings Bank, based in Jamaica, New York, and MasterCard.

The CB Insights report suggests there’s time for banks to adjust, but community banks with limited technology budgets will be left to watch and learn, or focus their attention on depositors they know they can keep.

In a digital age, bankers should understand that no matter the size or scope of the disruptor, they still have an advantage—the financial data they have on their customers—which will continue to grow in value as technology and analytics become more sophisticated, Jim Sinegal, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, wrote in March.

That data may be the key that allows banks to maintain a healthy bottom line, according to Deloitte’s Banking Industry Outlook for 2018: “Banks that successfully target customers through sophisticated data analytics, make compelling product offers, and deliver strong digital experiences, could gain funding advantages and see slower increases in deposit costs.”

Effective Cybersecurity Demands Involvement From Everyone at Your Bank


cybersecurity-7-10-18.pngCybersecurity is one of the most discussed risks facing financial services companies today, but many organizations are taking too narrow an approach to combating cybercrime. These organizations make the mistake of placing responsibility for defending against the risks solely on their IT professionals.

As criminals continue to develop increasingly targeted attacks, institutions must tackle cybersecurity from an enterprise-wide perspective that goes further than mere regulatory compliance. Cybersecurity can no longer be the function of a single department–executives must see that it is embedded throughout the enterprise, from the branch to the boardroom.

Common Cybersecurity Gaps
Even institutions that have invested funding, allocated resources, built perimeters, and complied with regulations can fall prey to a single point of cybersecurity failure. Some of the recent major attacks have resulted, at least in part, from one of the following fail points:

  • Poor governance
  • Weak passwords
  • Inaccurate monitoring or unattended security information and event monitoring functions
  • Inadequate system patching procedures
  • Lack of cyberintelligence (external information gathered on known attacks)
  • Insufficient training
  • Lack of incident response planning

Notably, vulnerabilities such as weak passwords and insufficient training involve more than just IT staff. Organizations that involve all departments empower their employees and think daily about how their actions protect or expose the organization, and translates into multiple points of control. Strong governance is, of course, essential to achieving such an embedded mindset.

The Need for a Tailored Approach
Many financial services organizations have responded to cyberthreats by investing heavily in costly, one-size-fits-all technology systems. They rely on traditional controls for protection, like firewalls, encryption, anti-virus software, and multifactor authentication. These components are helpful and most often are necessary; however, many institutions require more tailored controls and processes. Instead, organizations should adopt enterprise-wide cybersecurity programs commensurate to their particular risks and sensitive assets.

For example, it’s common for a financial service organization to provide employee training on cyber risks. But standardized, “off-the-shelf” training does not consider the varying degrees of risk across the staff population. For training to be meaningful, it must be customized to different employees’ roles and access to data.

To develop such training, as well as other appropriate controls, an organization will need to identify the assets it wishes to protect and the associated access points. Each department or business unit that maintains sensitive information must catalog the information and classify the sensitivity of each asset, taking into account the organization’s risk appetite (the acceptable level of risk exposure). The departments then should identify all methods of access to each asset, as well as the parties with such access, and quantify the resulting risk.

Only when armed with this information can a financial services organization tailor appropriate controls and properly allocate resources against the related cyberthreats. For example, most organizations do not need to treat data across the enterprise equally. Rather, they can define unique security controls for the most sensitive data. Similarly, it might be wise to institute the most comprehensive training in the departments with access to sensitive data, are customer-facing, or those who provide information to third parties on behalf of the organization.

Enterprise incident response is another area that calls for a more customized. An organization should identify employees best positioned to notice suspicious activity and ensure they know how to respond. IT employees who are monitoring account and system activity should be included in this process, but key stakeholders and employees who are client and third-party facing also should be involved. The organization also must have an appropriate response plan ready to execute when those on the front lines raise the red flag.

Critical Steps
To adopt an enterprise-wide cybersecurity program, financial services organizations should:

  1. Identify and prioritize sensitive assets.
  2. Design and implement tailored and global controls aligned with sensitive assets and their associated risks (including dual controls for especially sensitive areas).
  3. Ensure executives and the board are aware of and aligned to the tailored program, which includes making cybersecurity part of the overall strategy of the institution.
  4. Educate employees specific to their roles and the associated.
  5. Manage cybersecurity at the enterprise level and on employee devices.
  6. Continuously monitor significant areas and environmental changes.
  7. Keep software and systems up to date.

Multiplying the Benefits
Financial services organizations that take a broad view of cybersecurity establish more effective and cost-efficient controls. Moreover, organizations with all of their employees on the same page are more likely to enjoy improved performance.