Four Ways Banks Can Cater to Generational Trends

As earning power among millennials and Generation Z is expected to grow, banks need to develop strategies for drawing customers from these younger cohorts while also continuing to serve their existing customer base.

But serving these younger groups isn’t just about frictionless, technology-enabled offerings. On a deeper level, banks need to understand the shifting perspective these age groups have around money, debt and investing, as well as the importance of institutional transparency and alignment with the customer’s social values. Millennials, for instance, may feel a sense of disillusionment when it comes to traditional financial institutions, given that many members of this generation — born between 1981 and 1996, according to Pew Research Center — entered the workforce during the Great Recession. Banks need to understand how such experiences influence customer expectations.

This will be especially important for banks; Gen Z — members of which were born between 1997 and 2012 — is on track to surpass millennials in spending power by 2031, according to a report from Bank of America Global Research. Here are four ways banks can cater to newer generational trends and maintain a diverse customer base spanning a variety of age groups.

1. Understand the customer base. In order to provide a range of services that effectively target various demographics, financial institutions first need to understand the different segments of their customer base. Banks should use data to map out a complete picture of the demographics they serve, and then think about how to build products that address the varying needs of those groups.

Some millennials, for instance, prioritize spending on experiences over possessions compared to other generations. Another demographic difference is that 42% of millennials own homes at age 30, versus 48% of Generation X and 51% of baby boomers at the same age, according to Bloomberg. Banks need to factor these distinctions into their offerings so they can continue serving customers who want to go into a branch and engage with a teller, while developing tech-driven solutions that make digital interactions seamless and intuitive. But banks can’t determine which solutions to prioritize until they have a firm grasp on how their customer base breaks down.

2. Understand the shifting approach to money. Younger generations are keeping less cash on hand, opting to keep their funds in platforms such as Venmo and PayPal for peer-to-peer transfers, investing in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and other savings and investment apps. All of these digital options are changing the way people think about the concepts of money and investing.

Legacy institutions are paying attention. Bank of New York Mellon Corp. announced in February a new digital assets unit “that will accelerate the development of solutions and capabilities to help clients address growing and evolving needs related to the growth of digital assets, including cryptocurrencies.”

Financial institutions more broadly will need to evaluate what these changing attitudes toward money will mean for their services, offerings and the way they communicate with customers.

3. Be strategic about customer-facing technology. The way many fintech companies use technology to help customers automatically save money, assess whether they are on track to hit their financial goals or know when their balance is lower than usual has underscored the fact that many traditional banks are behind the curve when it comes to using technology to its full potential. Institutions should be particularly aggressive about exploring ways technology can customize offerings for each customer.

Companies should think strategically about which tech functions will be a competitive asset in the marketplace. Many banks have an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, for instance, to respond to customer questions without involving a live customer service agent. But that doesn’t mean all those chatbots provide a good customer experience; plenty of banks likely implemented them simply because they saw their competitors doing the same. Leadership teams should think holistically about the best ways to engage with customers when rolling out new technologies.

4. Assess when it makes sense to partner. Banks need to determine whether the current state of their financial stack allows them to partner with fintechs, and should assess scenarios where it might make sense — financially and strategically — to enter into such partnerships. The specialization of fintech companies means they can often put greater resources into streamlining and perfecting a specific function, which can greatly enhance the customer experience if a bank can adopt that function.

The relationship between a bank and fintech can also be symbiotic: fintech companies can benefit from having a trusted bank partner use its expertise to navigate a highly regulated environment.

Offering financial products and services that meet the needs of today’s younger generations is an ever-evolving effort, especially as companies in other sectors outside of banking raise the bar for expectations around tailored products and services. A focus on the key areas outlined above can help banks in their efforts to win these customers over.

How Fintechs Can Help Advance Financial Inclusion

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic swiftly shut down the U.S. economy. Demand for manufactured goods stagnated while restaurant activity fell to zero. The number of unbanked and underbanked persons looked likely to increase, after years of decline. However, federal legislation has created incentives for community banks to help those struggling financially. Fintechs can also play an important role.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone — but not all equally. Although the number of American households with bank accounts grew to a record 95% in 2019 according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s “How America Banks” survey, the crisis is still likely to contribute to an increase in unbanked as unemployment remains high. Why should banks take action now?

Financial inclusion is critical — not just for those individuals involved, but for the wider economy. The Financial Health Network estimates that 167 million America adults are not “financially healthy,” while the FDIC reports that 85 million Americans are either unbanked or “underbanked” and aren’t able to access the traditional services of a financial institution.

It can be expensive to be outside of the financial services space: up to 10% of the income of the unbanked and underbanked is spent on interest and fees. This makes it difficult to set aside money for future spending or an unforeseen contingency. Having an emergency fund is a cornerstone of financial health, and a way for individuals to avoid high fees and interest rates of payday loans.

Promoting financial inclusion allows a bank to cultivate a market that might ultimately need more advanced financial products, enhance its Community Reinvestment Act standing and stimulate the community. Financial inclusion is a worthy goal for all banks, one that the government is also incentivizing.

Recent Government Action Creates Opportunity
Recent federal legislation has created opportunities for banks to help individuals and small businesses in economically challenged areas. The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes $3 billion in funding directed to Community Development Financial Institutions. CDFIs are financial institutions that share a common goal of expanding economic access to financial products and services for resident and businesses.

Approximately $200 million of this funding is available to all financial institutions — institutions do need not to be currently designated as a CDFI to obtain this portion of the funding. These funds offer a way to promoting financial inclusion, with government backing of your institution’s assistance efforts.

Charting a Path Toward Inclusion
The path to building a financially inclusive world involves a concerted effort to address many historic and systemic issues. There’s no simple guidebook, but having the right technology is a good first step.

Banks and fintechs should revisit their product roadmaps and reassess their innovation strategies to ensure they use technologies that can empower all Americans with access to financial services. For example, providing financial advice and education can extend a bank’s role as a trusted advisor, while helping the underbanked improve their banking aptitude and proficiency.

At FIS, we plan to continue supporting standards that advance financial inclusion, provide relevant inclusion research and help educate our partners on inclusion opportunities. FIS actively supports the Bank On effort to ensure Americans have access to safe, affordable bank or credit union accounts. The Bank On program, Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, certifies public-private partnership accounts that drive financial inclusion. Banks and fintechs should continue joining these efforts and help identify new features and capabilities that can provide affordable access to financial services.

Understanding the Needs of the Underbanked
Recent research we’ve conducted highlights the extent of the financial inclusion challenge. The key findings suggest that the underbanked population require a nuanced approach to address specific concerns:

  • Time: Customers would like to decrease time spent on, or increase efficiency of, engaging with their personal finances.
  • Trust: Consumers trust banks to secure their money, but are less inclined to trust them with their financial health.
  • Literacy: Respondents often use their institution’s digital tools and rarely use third-party finance apps, such as Intuit’s Mint and Acorns.
  • Guidance: The underbanked desire financial guidance to help them reach their goals.

Financial institutions must address both the transactional and emotional needs of the underbanked to accommodate the distinct characteristics of these consumers. Other potential banking product categories that can help to serve the underbanked include: financial services education programs, financial wellness services and apps and digital-only banking offerings.

FIS is committed to promoting financial inclusion. We will continue evaluating the role of technology in promoting financial inclusion and track government initiatives that drive financial inclusion to keep clients informed on any new developments.

Reimagining Small Business Checking

If you could start your own bank and design it from the ground up, what would it look like?

And if you’re a business banker with a focus on small business clients, how would your reimagined bank, and its core product offerings, differ from your current ones?

This is the challenge plaguing banks today. For the most part, business banking products have become a commodity — it’s virtually impossible to differentiate your bank’s offerings from the ones being sold by your competitor down the street. For that matter, it may be hard to draw meaningful differences between your various accounts, such as with your retail and commercial offerings. That’s one reason why 27% of business owners rely solely on a personal account. And it’s also why only 38% of small to medium business owners believe that business banking services offer extra benefits compared to their personal account.

One way for banks to break out of this current dilemma may be to shift their focus. This approach is already working for fintech challengers. Instead of focusing solely on transactional products or in-person services, they worked on understanding customer workflows and solving digital pain points. In the process, they have captured the imagination and the pocketbooks of small business owners.

If your bank has prioritized small business customers, or plans to, the best way to make this shift is by focusing on the business owner. Start with this simple question: What do you need from your bank to make meaningful progress with your business?

Their response likely won’t have anything to do with your existing products or services. Instead, they may share a problem or pain point: I need help tracking which customers have paid me and which have not.

There’s no mention of products or account features like fees, balance requirements and e-statements. A response like this reminds us of the quote popularized by Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

In our case, it goes something like this: Business owners don’t want a list of transactional ranges, fees or digital banking tools. They want to know if their bank can help them better track and accept customer payments, so they can maximize their time running their business.

Increasingly, the process of accepting payments is moving from in person to online. But when small business owners turn to their financial institution for assistance, the bank lacks a simple solution to meet this fundamental need.

This leaves the business owner with four options for moving forward — options that require either minimal involvement or no involvement from a bank.

  1. If a small business decides that it’s not worth dealing with cards, they can simplify their receivables by only accepting cash and checks, closing themselves off to customers who prefer to pay in other ways.
  2. If a small business decides to accept credit cards, it can accommodate more paying customers, but must now track payments across bank statements (for checks) and external payment tools (for credit cards).
  3. If a small business relies on external invoicing or accounting tools, it can invoice and accept digital payments, but must now track payments across multiple platforms and reconcile those funds back to its bank account.
  4. If a small business consolidates all of its financial needs with one provider like a fintech challenger, they can resolve the complexity of dealing with multiple tools and/or platforms but lose out on the expertise and high-touch support of a business banker.

The two middle options involve a bank at the outset but can often lead to reduced deposits over the long term. Over time, fintech challengers may disintermediate banks by offering similar, competing products like integrated deposit accounts. The fourth option, born out of frustration, removes the bank entirely from the relationship.

Clearly, no option listed above is ideal. Nevertheless, it is still possible to help the business owner make progress with accepting digital payments. And, even better, there is an emerging  solution for small business owners that may lie with your most straightforward business product: your small business checking account. Watch out for part two to learn more.

2020’s Growth All-Stars

Low interest rates pressured net interest margins in 2020, but they also produced outsized growth for banks with a strong focus on mortgage lending.

“From a nominal — that is, not inflation-adjusted perspective — [2020] was the biggest year in the history of the [mortgage] industry, and it was driven heavily by the fact that mortgage rates fell to 2.5%” for customers with good credit history, says Douglas Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. Single-family mortgage originations totaled $4.54 trillion, he says. Almost two-thirds were mortgage refinancing loans; the remaining loans were used for purchases. His tally represents an estimate — the U.S. government doesn’t calculate total mortgage loan volume.

But Duncan’s estimation is reflected in the countless press releases I’ve read from banks boasting record mortgage volume — and revenues — over the past few months. And mortgages are a major factor that fueled 2020 growth for the fastest-growing banks.

Using data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Bank Director analyzed year-over-year growth in pre-provision net revenue (PPNR) at public and private banks above $1 billion in assets to identify the banks that have grown most quickly during the pandemic. We also included return on average assets, calculated as a three-year average for 2018, 2019 and 2020, to reward consistent profitability in addition to growth. The analysis ranked both factors, and the numeric ranks were then averaged to create a final score. The banks with the highest growth and profitability had the lowest final scores, meaning they ranked among the best in the country.

Among the best was eighth-ranked $2.4 billion Leader Bank. President Jay Tuli credits low interest rates with driving outsized growth at the Arlington, Massachusetts-based bank. Its sizable mortgage operation helped it to take advantage of demand in its market, roughly doubling mortgage volume in 2020 compared to the previous year, says Tuli.

With rates coming down during Covid, there was a big surge in mortgage demand for refinances,” explains Tuli. Most of those mortgage loans were sold on the secondary market. “That produced a substantial increase in profitability.”

Mortgage lending also significantly lifted revenues at Kansas City, Missouri-based NBKC Bank, according to its chief financial officer, Eric Garretson.

The $1.2 billion bank topped our ranking, and it’s one of the two banks in this analysis that have become specialists of sorts in banking-as-a-service (BaaS). The other is Celtic Bank Corp., which is also a Small Business Administration lender that funded more than 99,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans.

NBKC’s BaaS program grew in 2020, says Garretson, though “this was dwarfed by the increase in revenue from mortgage lending.” Right now, NBKC focuses on deposit accounts, allowing partner fintechs to offer these accounts under their own brand, issue debit cards and deliver similar banking services. Lending products are being considered but aren’t currently offered, says Garretson.

As the financial technology space continues to grow, the opportunities should increase for banks seeking to partner with fintech companies, says Alex Johnson, director of fintech research at Cornerstone Advisors. Banks like NBKC and Celtic Bank Corp. have developed the expertise and skills needed to partner with these companies. They also have a technology infrastructure that’s fintech friendly, he explains, allowing for easy integration via standard, defined application programming interfaces (APIs) and a microservices architecture that’s more modular and decentralized. Put simply — a good BaaS bank will have the same tech capabilities as its fintech client.

“There’s a very clear model for how to do this, and there’s growing demand,” says Johnson. “One thing that tends to characterize banks that do well in the banking-as-a-service space are the ones that build a specialization in a particular area.” These banks have a track record for building these products, along with the requisite processes and contracts.

“When a company comes to them, it’s as easy [a process] as it could possibly be,” says Johnson. “The more of that work they do, the more that ripples back through the fintech ecosystem. So, when new fintech companies are founded, [and venture capitalists] are advising them on where to go — they tend to point to the banking-as-a-service partners that will work well.”

Top 10 Fastest-Growing Banks

Bank Name/Headquarters Total Assets (millions) ROAA
3-year avg.
PPNR growth YoY Score
NBKC Bank
Kansas City, MO
$1,207.5 7.93% 67.52% 14.67
Plains Commerce Bank
Hoven, SD
$1,129.9 3.97% 86.75% 15.33
The Federal Savings Bank
Chicago, IL
$1,076.2 7.66% 60.37% 19.67
Northpointe Bank
Grand Rapids, MI
$3,685.5 2.58% 73.24% 25.00
Celtic Bank Corp.
Salt Lake City, UT
$4,704.8 4.22% 55.87% 28.00
Union Savings Bank
Cincinnati, OH
$3,586.3 2.75% 56.76% 29.67
North American Savings Bank, F.S.B.
Kansas City, MO
$2,470.9 2.71% 58.57% 30.67
Leader Bank, N.A. $2,419.6 2.46% 61.63% 32.67
Waterstone Financial
Wauwatosa, WI
$2,198.0 2.41% 59.23% 38.00
BNC National Bank
Glendale, AZ
$1,225.7 2.13% 71.44% 39.33

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence. Total assets reflect first quarter 2021 data. Average three-year return on average assets reflects year-end data for 2018, 2019 and 2020 for the largest reporting entity. Year-over-year pre-provision net revenue (PPNR) growth reflects year-end data for 2019 and 2020. Bank Director’s analysis of the fastest-growing banks ranked PPNR growth and average ROAA at banks above $1 billion in assets; scoring reflects an average of these ranks.