Managing Risk When Buying Technology for Engagement

No bank leader wants to buy an engagement platform, but they do want to grow customer relationships. 

Many, though, risk buying engagement platforms that won’t grow relationships for a sustained period of time. Most platforms are not ready-made for quality, digital experience that serve depositors and borrowers well, which means they threaten much more than a bank’s growth. They are a risk to the entire relationship with each customer.  

Consumers are increasingly expressing a need for help from their financial providers. Less than half of Americans can afford a surprise $1,000 expense, according to a survey from Bankrate; about 60% say they do not have $1,000 in savings. One in 5 adults would put a surprise expenditure on a credit card, one of the most expensive forms of debt. More than half of consumers polled want more help than they’re getting from their financial provider. However, the 66% of those  who say they have received communication from their provider were unhappy about the generic advice they received. 

This engagement gap offers banks a competitive opportunity. Consumers want more and better engagement, and they are willing to give their business those providers who deliver. About 83% of households polled said they would consider their institution for their next product or service when they are both “satisfied and fully engaged,” according to Gallup. The number drops to 45% if the household is only satisfied. 

Banks seeking to use engagement for growth should be wary of not losing customer satisfaction as they pursue full engagement. As noted earlier, about 66% of those engaged aren’t satisfied with the financial provider’s generic approach. What does that mean for financial institutions? The challenge is quality of engagement, not just quantity or the lack thereof. If they deliver quantity instead of quality, they risk both unsatisfied customers as well as customers who ignore their engagement. 

According to Gallup, only 19% of households said they would grow their relationship when they are neither satisfied nor fully engaged. This is a major risk banks miss when buying engagement platforms: That the institution is buying a technology not made for quality, digital experiences and won’t be able to serve depositors and borrowers well any time soon. 

But aren’t all engagement platforms made for engagement? Yes — but not all are made for banking engagement, and even fewer are made with return on investment in mind. Banking is unique; the tech that powers it should be as well. Buyers need to vet platforms for what’s included in terms of know-how. What expertise does the platform contain and provide for growing a bank? Is that built into the software itself?

A purpose-built platform can show bankers which contact fields are of value to banking engagement, for example, and which integrations can be used to populate those fields. It can also show how that data can become insights for banks when it overlaps with customers’ desired outcomes. And it offers the engagement workflows across staff actions, emails, print marketing and text messaging that result in loan applications, originations, opened accounts or activated cards.   

Previously, the only options available were generic engagement platforms made for any business; banks had to take on the work of customizing platforms. Executives just bought a platform and placed a bet that they could develop it into a banking growth tool. They’d find out if they were right only after paying consultants, writers, designers, and marketing technologists for years.  

Financial services providers no longer need to take these risks. A much better experience awaits them and their current and prospective customers clamoring for a relationship upgrade.

2022 Technology Survey: Complete Results

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, surveyed 138 independent directors, chief executives, chief operating officers and senior technology executives of U.S. banks below $100 billion in assets to understand how these institutions leverage technology in response to the competitive landscape. The survey was conducted in June and July 2022, and primarily represents banks under $10 billion in assets. Members of the Bank Services program have exclusive access to the full results of the survey, including breakouts by asset category.

The survey finds that most respondents (81%) say their bank increased its 2022 technology budget over last year, reporting a median 11% increase. Banks have primarily prioritized investments in new technology features and updates in areas like security, or where customers frequently interact with the bank, like payments or digital loan applications. 

Leveraging technology to create a more competitive and efficient organization requires internal know-how, and directors and executives find this to be a key area for concern: 48% worry about an inadequate understanding within the bank of emerging technologies. Forty-five percent say they’re worried about their organization’s reliance on outdated technology. 

While directors aren’t involved in day-to-day decisions about the bank’s technology, the board needs to align technology with strategy and ensure that the bank has the resources it needs to achieve its goals. Forty-two percent of respondents say their board has at least one member they would consider to be an expert in technology, including digital transformation, user experience or data analytics. 

Click here to view the complete results.

Key Findings

The Competitive Landscape
Fifty-six percent of all respondents view local banks and credit unions as their top competitive threat, followed by big and superregional banks, at 46%. One-third worry about competition from big tech companies such as Apple, while an equal number are concerned about competition from digital, nonbank business lenders. 

Hit-or-Miss on Digital Applications
Nearly half of respondents say their bank has a fully digital process for opening retail deposit accounts, with larger shares representing banks over $1 billion reporting as much. Far fewer respondents report a fully digital process for retail loans, small business deposits or loans, or commercial loans. 

Generational Divides
Just 25% of the directors and executives surveyed say their bank has the tools it needs to effectively serve Generation Z (16-25 years old), and half believe their institution can effectively serve millennials (26-40). Eighty-five percent say as much about Generation X (41-56), and 93% say this of baby boomers (57-75). 

All-In on the Cloud
Eighty-eight percent say their bank uses cloud technology to generate efficiencies internally; 66% use application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow different applications or systems to exchange data. Robotic process automation (32%) and artificial intelligence or machine learning (19%) are far less commonly used. 

New Frontiers
Three-quarters say their board or leadership team has discussed risks or opportunities related to cryptocurrency or digital assets in the past 18 months. Sixty-four percent say the same of banking as a service (BaaS), and 69% say that of environmental, social and governance issues. Cannabis, on the minds of 58%, has been more commonly discussed at banks under $5 billion of assets. 

Views on Collaboration
More than half of respondents view technology companies as vendors only, as opposed to collaborating with or investing in these firms. Thirty-nine percent, primarily representing banks over $1 billion in assets, say their institution has collaborated with technology providers on specific solutions. Twenty percent have participated in a venture fund that invests in technology companies, and 11% have directly invested in one or more of these companies. 

2022 Technology Survey Results: Investing in Banking’s Future

In mid-July, at the peak of second quarter earnings, large regional banks showed off an array of technology initiatives. 

Providence, Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial Group, with $227 billion in assets, highlighted a new mobile app for its direct-to-consumer digital bank. And $591 billion U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis realized the benefits of its ongoing investments in digital payments capabilities over the years, reporting $996 million in payments services revenue, or a year-over-year increase of nearly 10%.

Community banks, with far fewer dollars to spend, have to budget wisely and invest where it makes the most sense. For many, that means prioritizing new technology features and updates in areas like security, or where customers frequently interact with the bank, like payments or digital loan applications.

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, delves into some of these strategies, asking bank senior executives and board members about the concerns and challenges that their institutions face, and where they’ve been investing their resources in technology.

Eighty-one percent of respondents say their bank increased its 2022 technology budget over last year, reporting a median 11% increase. Asked where their bank built more efficient processes by deploying new technology or upgrading capabilities in the past 18 months, 89% named cybersecurity as a key area for investment, followed by security and fraud (62%). During the same time period, 63% implemented or upgraded payments capabilities to improve the customer experience; 54% focused on enhancing digital retail account opening.

Leveraging technology to create a more competitive and efficient organization requires internal know-how, and directors and executives find this to be a key area for concern: 48% worry about an inadequate understanding within the bank of emerging technologies. Forty-five percent say they’re worried about their organization’s reliance on outdated technology.

While directors aren’t involved in day-to-day decisions about the bank’s technology, the board needs to align technology with strategy and ensure that the bank has the resources it needs to achieve its goals. Forty-two percent of respondents say their board has at least one member they would consider to be an expert in technology, including digital transformation, user experience or data analytics.

Following on the heels of Bank Director’s 2022 Compensation Survey, which found technology talent in demand, the 2022 Technology Survey indicates that most banks employ high-level executives focused on technology, particularly in the form of a chief information security officer (44%), chief technology officer (43%) and/or chief information officer (42%). However, few have a chief data officer or data scientists on staff — despite almost half expressing concerns that the bank doesn’t effectively use or aggregate the bank’s data.

Key Findings

The Competitive Landscape
Fifty-six percent of all respondents view local banks and credit unions as their top competitive threat, followed by big and superregional banks, at 46%. One-third worry about competition from big tech companies such as Apple, while an equal number are concerned about competition from digital, nonbank business lenders.

Hit-or-Miss on Digital Applications
Nearly half of respondents say their bank has a fully digital process for opening retail deposit accounts, with larger shares representing banks over $1 billion reporting as much. Far fewer respondents report a fully digital process for retail loans, small business deposits or loans, or commercial loans.

Generational Divides
Just 25% of the directors and executives surveyed say their bank has the tools it needs to effectively serve Generation Z (16-25 years old), and half believe their institution can effectively serve millennials (26-40). Eighty-five percent say as much about Generation X (41-56), and 93% say this of baby boomers (57-75).

All-In on the Cloud
Eighty-eight percent say their bank uses cloud technology to generate efficiencies internally; 66% use application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow different applications or systems to exchange data. Robotic process automation (32%) and artificial intelligence or machine learning (19%) are far less commonly used.

New Frontiers
Three-quarters say their board or leadership team has discussed risks or opportunities related to cryptocurrency or digital assets in the past 18 months. Sixty-four percent say the same of banking as a service (BaaS), and 69% say that of environmental, social and governance issues. Cannabis, on the minds of 58%, has been more commonly discussed at banks under $5 billion of assets.

Views on Collaboration
More than half of respondents view technology companies as vendors only, as opposed to collaborating with or investing in these firms. Thirty-nine percent, primarily representing banks over $1 billion in assets, say their institution has collaborated with technology providers on specific solutions. Twenty percent have participated in a venture fund that invests in technology companies, and 11% have directly invested in one or more of these companies.

To view the high-level findings, click here.

Bank Services members can access a deeper exploration of the survey results. Members can click here to view the complete results, broken out by asset category. If you want to find out how your bank can gain access to this exclusive report, contact bankservices@bankdirector.com.

FinXTech’s Need to Know: Debt Collections and Recovery

The Covid-19 pandemic may have stalled debt collection efforts for two years, but a partial economic recovery — paired with a looming recession — could soon send unprepared borrowers and their loans to collections.

Missed payments on certain loans are already on the rise. The Wall Street Journal reported that borrowers with credit scores below 620 — also known as subprime — with car loans, personal loans or credit cards that are over 60 days late are “rising faster than normal.” Eleven percent of general purpose credit cards were late, as compared to 9.8% in March 2021. Personal loan delinquencies have hit 11.3% versus 10.4% last year, and delinquent auto loans hit a record high of 8.8% in February.

As a result, banks may be seeing an influx in their collections and recoveries activity. It may be an opportune time to enhance and better your bank’s collections practices — doing so could help at-risk borrowers avoid collections altogether, and give your institution the chance to show customers that they are more than the debt they owe. 

Debt collections practices and agencies generally don’t have a good reputation among consumers: A quick Google search will uncover countless 2-star reviews and repulsive anecdotes. And while the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from harsh, unfair and threatening collections tactics, a good experience with a collection agency is far from guaranteed. 

Banks exacerbate the issue by not conducting proper and continual due diligence on the third-party agencies they work with. With over 7,000 to choose from, this can be difficult to execute, but is a necessary task that could be the difference between retaining a customer and losing one.

A technology company may be able to provide your bank with the high-touch element with consumers during the collections process.

Fintechs have a few things banks might not offer (or have upgraded versions of): Predictive analytics software, APIs, rules-based platforms, self-upgrading machine learning, among others. These technologies can and should be harnessed to find problem loans before they become delinquent and reach consumers within their preferred method of communication. Traditional collection agencies can have difficulties navigating within FDCPA protections — fintechs can use their enhanced technologies to thrive within the compliance. 

Some fintechs even offer their products and services underneath the bank’s brand, which could be a strategic move if providing educational services and resources could get a customer back on track with payments.

Here are three fintechs that can help banks with their collections and recovery efforts.

TrueAccord has two products of interest to banks: Retain and Recover. Retain is a proactive solution for delinquent accounts that works with borrowers to keep the account from moving to collections. Retain primarily uses text, email and voicemail and communication methods, as preferred to cold calling.

When Retain fails to resolve the payment with a customer, banks can turn to TrueAccord’s Recover solution. Recover is primarily a self-servicing software, meaning that customers engage with Recover, and not the bank, to find a solution. Again, communication is through SMS, Facebook messaging, emails or text.

In addition, TrueAccord is a licensed collections agency.

Birmingham-based FIntegrate offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution — Fusion CRS — for delinquency collections through charge-off recoveries and delinquency management. The software tracks and manages any type of account in any status, including but not limited to: commercial real estate loans, Small Business Administration loans, Paycheck Protection Program loans, deposit and share drafts, and consumer loans that are in repossession, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or have negative balances or become real estate owned.

Fusion CRS also assigns tasks, creates rules-based sequences and monitors special collection cases and statuses. It automatically generates letters, emails, texts, phone calls or other means of communication to account holders and other involved entities (such as a repossession or insurance company).

Collections technology can’t operate without customer information, which is where a company like Intellaegis can help. Its masterQueue product harnesses big data to gather, organize and track available data on a borrower. MasterQueue collects public record data and open source information from the web to track the borrower’s digital footprint and pinpoint a borrower’s whereabouts, online activity and associates.

The software then scores the data that represents the likelihood of locating the borrower based on its quantity and quality — users can then go down the list and attempt contact.

Consumers are spending more than during the pandemic, and debt levels are increasing in tandem even as rates rise and a potential recession looms. Technology can not only help banks handle the influx of overdue and delinquent accounts, but can aid in preserving and enhancing vulnerable relationships with customers as well.

5 Things Banks Can Do Right Now to Protect Older Customers

Your bank’s most valuable customers are also its most vulnerable.

Americans born before 1965 hold 65% of bank deposits in the U.S., according to the American Bankers Association 2021 Older Americans Benchmarking Report. They are also routinely targeted by criminals: Adults ages 60 and older reported losing more than $600 million to fraud in 2020 alone, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Banks’ role in protecting these customers is quickly becoming codified into law. More than half of states mandate that financial institution’s report suspected elder financial exploitation to local law enforcement, adult protective services or both.

However, banks need to go further to keep older adults’ money safe. Not only will these efforts help retain the large asset base of these valuable customers, but it can drive engagement with their younger family members who are involved in aging loved ones’ financial matters. Banks can do five things to support and protect their older adult customers.

1. Train employees to detect and report elder financial exploitation.
Although most banks train employees to spot elder financial exploitation, there’s confusion around reporting suspected exploitation due to privacy concerns, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And when banks do file reports, they often aren’t filed directly with law enforcement or state Adult Protective Services agencies.

Executives must ensure their bank has clear guidelines for employees on reporting suspected exploitation. Training employees to detect and report fraud can help reduce the amount of money lost to exploitation. A study by AARP and the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology found that bank tellers who underwent AARP’s BankSafe training reported five times as many suspicious incidents and saved older customers 16 times as much money as untrained tellers did.

2. Use senior-specific technology to monitor for fraud and financial mistakes.
Standard bank alerts don’t go far enough to protect against elder fraud. Banks should offer a financial protection service that:

  • Recognizes senior-specific risks such as unusual transfers, unfamiliar merchants and transactions that could be related to scams.
  • Monitors accounts to determine what is “normal” for each individual.
    Detects changes in transactional behavior and notifies customers of suspicious activity and their own money mistakes.
  • Bank Director identified companies and services, like Carefull, that can offer added protection by analyzing checking, savings and credit card accounts around the clock, creating alerts when encountering signs of fraud and other issues that impact older adults’ finances, such as duplicate or missed payments, behavior change and more.

3. Ensure older customers have trusted contacts.
The CFPB recommends that financial institutions enable older account holders to designate a trusted contact. If your bank isn’t already providing this service, it should. Technology gives banks a way to empower users to add trusted contacts to their accounts or grant varying levels of view-only permissions. This helps banks ensure that their customers’ trusted contacts are informed about any potential suspicious activity. It’s also a way for banks to connect with those contacts and potentially bring them on as new customers.

4. Create content to educate older customers.
Banks should inform older customers how to safeguard their financial well-being. This includes alerting them to scams and providing time-sensitive planning support, video courses and webinars about avoiding fraud.

Banks must also provide older customers with information about planning for incapacity, including the institution’s policy for naming a power of attorney. And banks must accept legally drafted power of attorney documents without creating unnecessary hurdles. Having a policy here allows for this balance.

5. Create an ongoing engagement strategy with older customers.
The days of banks simply shifting older adults to “senior checking accounts” are fading. Banks should take a more active role in engaging with older customers. Failing to do so increases the risk that this valuable customer base could fall victim to fraud, which AARP estimates totals about $50 billion annually.

Banks need a strategy to combine training, technology and content to generate ongoing senior engagement. Working with a trusted partner that has a proven track record of helping banks engage and protect older customers could be the key to implementing this sort of holistic approach.

How Technology Blends Banking’s Future

After rapidly adjusting operations at the start of the pandemic and accelerating their digital transformation roadmaps, banks are left wondering: What happens next? And what did the acceleration mean for banks’ digital strategy?

Banks need to shift their mindsets from emergency response toward using digital technologies to boost their relevance to their customer’s lives. Blended banking will become the norm. Although Covid-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, people have returned to shops, restaurants and theatres. Similarly, customers are returning to bank branches, but in lower volumes and for different reasons. The proliferation of digital banking means customers no longer need to visit a branch for a transaction. But many retail and business customers will still visit a branch to receive advice or to buy a financial product. And although most banking journeys start online, many are still completed in branch.

Banks must recognize this and provide a consistent customer experience across channels, with human support for digital interaction and digital tools that augment human interaction. In practice, this means empowering customers with an engaging digital experience that can continue in branch. Many banks already acknowledge this evolution: They are repurposing branches as advice centers, with less emphasis on over-the-counter transactions. In addition, banks can harness modern tech devices, like tablets, to support the in-person experience. But to truly elevate the customer experience and increase engagement, banks must also harness the power of data.

Advanced Analytics
For many banks, data and analytics have great untapped potential to drive the next wave of innovation to increase customer engagement. With a wealth of customer data at their disposal, banks can gain a deep understanding of customers behavior, goals and financial aspirations, and deliver personalized experiences in a way that was never before possible.

In practice, big life events have financial consequences — buying a car, getting married or having children — but the reality is that small transactions and spending habits can also provide valuable clues to a customer’s behavior. Careful use of data and analytics allows banks to help customers align their financial services closely with real-life events. They can also use data to help their customers gain a deeper understanding of their own financial standing, providing recommendations to optimize the use of cash. For example, a customer with surplus funds may be advised to pay down a mortgage or increase pension contributions rather the leave money on deposit.

Banks can also do more for commercial customers to evolve beyond transactional banking to helping them run their business more effectively. Once again, data and integration are key. Providing commercial customers with up-to-the-minute aggregated cash positions and forecasts gives them a deeper understanding of their cash use, liabilities and commitments. As banking becomes more open and connected, commercial banks can become the heart of an ecosystem with many participants. Banks must embrace modern technologies, boost automation and integration and ultimately adopt a fintech approach to finance.

A Fintech-First Approach to Finance
The pandemic has accelerated banking’s shift to a technology business. Banks that ignore this will be left behind. To attract and retain consumers and business customers, banks need to eliminate guesswork by harnessing technology and data and offering customers what they want, when they need it.

Banks have much to learn from big technology: Amazon.com generates around 35% of sales from recommendations, while 75% of what’s streamed on Netflix is because of its suggestion algorithm. In the digital age, consumers welcome recommendations, nudges and insights — and are usually happy for trusted suppliers to use their data to personalize their digital experience. Banks must adopt a more entrepreneurial approach to customer engagement.

Retail banking: For a long time, bankers have designed banking experiences based on customer journeys. Now is the time to support customer life journeys by proactively supporting customers throughout their entire lifecycle — from large, life-changing decisions as well as everyday spending and budgeting.

Commercial banking: Banks must acknowledge that millennials are more digital savvy and entrepreneurial than any previous generation. Many current retail customers will start businesses and become the commercial customers of tomorrow. Many will need financial advice, and all will need banking.

With fintechs and challenger banks growing in scope and number, now is the time for incumbent banks to act. The digital age is here to stay.

Poll Results: Digital Transformation’s Next Phase

NYDIG-Report.pngJPMorgan Chase & Co., which is the largest U.S. bank by assets, spends $12 billion a year on technology, investing in a vast array of technologies that include machine learning, artificial intelligence and blockchain. The second largest bank, Bank of America Corp., spends roughly $3.5 billion annually on new technology initiatives alone, according to Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan.

It’s a lot of money — and a level of spending that smaller banks can’t hope to achieve. Executives and directors primarily representing community banks under $10 billion in assets reported a median technology budget of $1.7 million for fiscal year 2021 in Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey, with a median increase in spending of 10% compared to the previous year.

Those limitations should have bank leaders thinking strategically about how to allocate those precious dollars. With that in mind, Bank Director’s FinXTech division polled bank executives in January and February 2022 about technology adoption trends, and asked about specific noncore solutions that have had a recent, significant impact toward achieving their goals.

Bankers identified 20 platforms as their favorites when it came to driving that change, ranging from digital lending solutions to data analysis. You can find the companies listed on page 7-8 of the report. To categorize the solutions by type, we relied on input from FinXTech Research Analyst Erika Bailey, who manages Bank Director’s FinXTech Connect platform, a guide to financial technology companies working with U.S. banks.

While the past 18 months found many banks putting digital account opening and lending platforms in place — in response to the digital acceleration brought about by the pandemic — banks shifted plans for the next 12 months to application programming interface (API) platforms, data aggregation and analysis, and workflow automation.

To gain additional perspective on these trends, we talked to the executives of three banks that are actively accelerating their digital journeys. Mascoma Bank, a $2.6 billion mutual in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is in the early stages of implementing an API-enabled, cloud-based core platform that will help the bank customize its product and service offerings. St. Louis-based Midwest BankCentre, with $2.4 billion in assets, leveraged its digital subsidiary to expand its capabilities to all of its customers; it will expand digital account opening to business clients in 2023. And West Reading, Pennsylvania-based Customers Bancorp, with $20 billion in assets, is using data-driven insights to fuel the next phase of its digital transformation.

Click here to access the poll results and learn more about how those banks are moving technology transformation forward in this special report.

Also included is a success checklist, questions that boards and leadership teams could ask to help strengthen their technology strategy.

Bank leaders should start by evaluating their organization’s strengths and how technology can align with strategy, advises Ron Shevlin, chief research officer at Cornerstone Advisors. “Stop thinking about technology adoption, and focus more on … the business opportunity,” he says. “Focus on the business results.”

An Inside Look At One Bank’s Digital Growth Planning

By now, most bank leadership teams understand the importance of offering well-designed digital experiences. What we’ve found is often more elusive is knowing where to start when making a significant investment in digital.

One bank that recently grappled with this was Boston-based Berkshire Hills Bancorp, the $11.6 billion parent company of Berkshire Bank.

Executives wanted to digitally transform the bank and that success would only be achievable if they unified around a core set of goals and built a robust strategic plan for reaching them. This vision allowed teams to work toward individual milestones along the way.

We recently spoke with Lucia Bellomia, EVP and head of retail banking and CIO Jason White. They gave us an inside look at what went into developing the Berkshire BEST plan for transformation, and the factors they believe will lead to their successful digital growth.

The Berkshire leadership team started by recognizing that if the plan was going to truly transform the entire bank, they needed to gather input and feedback from every department. “Executives spoke to stakeholders in every department to what milestones the bank would need to hit and what it would take to achieve those goals”, says Bellomia. They also formed groups specifically to achieve some of the components of that milestone.

Involving this many additional stakeholders extended the strategic planning phase — In Berkshire’s case, it took three months of meetings. But White felt the time spent laying a foundation of transparency and open communication will help the bank execute and fulfill the objective of the transformation.

Without some clearly defined pillars outlining your main goals, the whole process of starting the institution’s digital plan can feel chaotic and messy. White suggests that banks first investigate what it means for their institution to digitally transform, and then define the core strategic pillars from there.

Berkshire’s three core pillars were: optimize, digitize and enhance. These pillars support efforts to improve the customer experience, deliver profitable growth, enhance stakeholder value, and strengthen their community impact. Taking the time to first define core pillars that support a larger strategic plan helped Berkshire Bank recognize even greater opportunities. Rather than simply adding new digital services to their banking stack, they realized they could facilitate the evolution of their entire bank.

With the plan announced and in place, Berkshire launched into the execution phase of its transformation. Here, they were met with new challenges that required thoughtful commitments from leadership and investments in project infrastructure. One impactful early investment was developing a transformation office that was responsible for measuring, monitoring and communicating the success of the plan. Executives and sponsors worked with the office to define both date and monetary milestones.

A dedicated internal resource focused on project management helped Berkshire communicate the progress made toward each milestone through regular meetings, tracked and updated key performance indicators, and other updates.

Equally important to the success of Berkshire’s transformation plan was its commitment to scrutinizing each investment and vendor to ensure the right fit and an acceptable return on investment for the bank. The bank is a “low-code” development team with limited resources and used achievable digital goals to identify and select vendors to digitize, according to the bank’s plan.

As part of its transformation plan, the bank extended its existing fintech relationship to include digital banking platforms for consumer and small business customers. This allows the bank to innovate and digitize at an accelerated pace, without having to grow internal developer resources.

Ultimately, institutions like Berkshire Bank are realizing that developing a successful plan for digital transformation that works for both internal stakeholders and customers requires a rethinking of the way executive teams gather feedback, address challenges across departments, and monitor the success of a project.

5 Key Factors for Fintech Partnerships

As banks explore ways to expand their products and services, many are choosing to partner with fintech companies to enhance their offerings. These partnerships are valuable opportunities for a bank that otherwise would not have the resources to develop the technology or expertise in-house to meet customer demand.

However, banks need to be cautious when partnering with fintech companies — they are subcontracting critical services and functions to a third-party provider. They should “dig in” when assessing their fintech partners to reduce the regulatory, operational and reputational risk exposure to the bank. There are a few things banks should consider to ensure they are partnering with third party that is safe and reputable to provide downstream services to their customers.

1. Look for fintech companies that have strong expertise and experience in complying with applicable banking regulations.

  • Consider the banking regulations that apply to support the product the fintech offers, and ask the provider how they meet these compliance standards.
  • Ask about the fintech’s policies, procedures, training and internal control that satisfy any legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Ensure contract terms clearly define legal and compliance duties, particularly for reporting, data privacy, customer complaints and recordkeeping requirements.

2. Data and cybersecurity should be a top priority.

  • Assess your provider’s information security controls to ensure they meet the bank’s standards.
  • Review the fintech’s policies and procedures to evaluate their incident management and response practices, compliance with applicable privacy laws and regulations and training requirements for staff.

3. Engage with fintechs that have customer focus in mind — even when the bank maintains the direct interaction with its customers.

  • Look for systems and providers that make recommendations for required agreements and disclosures for application use.
  • Select firms that can provide white-labeled services, allowing bank customer to use the product directly.
  • Work with fintechs that are open to tailoring and enhancing the end-user customer experience to further the continuity of the bank/customer relationship.

4. Look for a fintech that employs strong technology professionals who can provide a smooth integration process that allows information to easily flow into the bank’s systems and processes.

  • Using a company that employs talented technology staff can save time and money when solving technology issues or developing operational efficiencies.

5. Make sure your fintech has reliable operations with minimal risk of disruption.

  • Review your provider’s business continuity and disaster recovery plans to make sure there are appropriate incident response measures.
  • Make sure the provider’s service level agreements meet the needs of your banking operations; if you are providing a 24-hour service, make sure your fintech also supports those same hours.
  • Require insurance coverage from your provider, so the bank is covered if a serious incident occurs.

Establishing a relationship with a fintech can provide a bank with a faster go-to-market strategy for new product offerings while delivering a customer experience that would be challenging for a bank to recreate. However, the responsibility of choosing a reputable tech firm should not be taken lightly. By taking some of these factors into consideration, banks can continue to follow sound banking practices while providing a great customer experience and demonstrating a commitment to innovation.