The API Band-Aid

Years before the Covid-19 crisis pushed the banking industry headfirst into a digital-forward ecosystem, many financial institutions felt stuck in place. While a few front-runners were making technological headway with modernized, adaptive core technologies — such as Deland, Florida-based Surety Bank, with $183 million in assets — many banks were tied to on-premises, decades-old systems. 

Still today, replacing the core — the backend system that processes all transactions — hasn’t become mainstream as a way to upgrade a bank’s technology. Instead, much of the industry seems to be moving toward a variety of outside solutions. 

And one of the most popular solutions has become application programming interfaces (APIs). In Bank Director’s 2021 Technology Survey, 63% of banks report using APIs.

APIs function as passageways between software systems that facilitate data exchanges; in simpler terms, they allow systems to talk to each other. Layering APIs on top of legacy core systems allow them to interact with disparate third-party technology companies almost instantly, among other capabilities.

Finzly, a London-based alternative core provider, advocates that banks not break their core contracts. The company’s Director of Marketing Suja Ramakrishnan says, “The core has been designed for certain functions. Let’s allow it to do what it is made to do and build a new innovation layer on top of it to let [the bank] do what it wants to do.”

Finzly integrates with a bank’s existing core via API calls. It’s hosted on Amazon Web Services, so no on-site installation is required. Once integration is complete, a bank can access Finzly’s products, as well as ancillary technologies that handle payments, account opening, foreign exchange and commercial business needs. “Alternative cores are breeding grounds for innovation,” Ramakrishnan adds.

U.S. legacy cores aren’t standing on the sidelines, watching foreign fintechs provide the technology their bank clients are asking for.

To retain their customers and poach new ones, some of the leading providers — Jack Henry & Associates, FIS and Fiserv — have all invested in API and similar functional technologies to be included in their technology stacks. Jack Henry’s jXchange, FIS’s Code Connect and Fiserv’s Communicator Advantage are the providers’ way of offering real-time communication capabilities with selected third parties not included in their core contract. 

But these API marketplaces come with a catch.

Tom Grottke, managing director at Crowe LLP, notes that banks can’t self-select the third parties they want to work with and go to market the next day. The providers are the ones to vet, certify and onboard the services they want to offer to their bank clients. “They [legacy core providers] are more open than they have been, they’ve added more functionality … but it’s not an open architectured marketplace,” he explains.

While banks are still wondering how they can add more digital features and services, Grottke says banks have realized that they won’t have to change the core to find those answers. 

There may be many advantages to replacing legacy cores, but it appears that many banks are content in using APIs as a Band-Aid to temporarily fix a longstanding problem. And with core conversion costly, replacing the core could be daunting for many banks. APIs buy a bank more time in figuring out their long-term core strategy.

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.

Marketing Campaigns Go High Tech

For years, community banks had to sit on the sidelines while the biggest banks rolled out sophisticated marketing and revenue-generating programs using artificial intelligence.

That’s no longer the case. There are now plenty of financial technology companies offering turnkey platforms tailored for community banks who can’t afford to hire a team of data analysts or software programmers.

“It’s amazing how far the industry has come in just five years in terms of products, regulatory structure and what banking means to customers,” says Kevin Tweddle, senior executive vice president for the Independent Community Bankers of America. Banks and regulators have gotten quite comfortable doing business with fintechs, choosing from a grocery cart full of options, he says.

One of the best examples of this is Huntsville, Alabama-based DeepTarget, which topped the operations category in Bank Director’s 2021 Best of FinXTech Awards. The category rewards solutions that boost efficiencies and growth.

The finalists and winners recognized in the annual awards are put through their paces in a rigorous process that examines the results generated by the growing technology provider space. For more on the methodology, click here.

DeepTarget’s 3D StoryTeller product delivers customized marketing content using 3D graphics that can be produced by a small bank or credit union without an in-house graphic design staff. Marketing messages resemble the video-rich stories on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, allowing the smallest financial institutions to compete with the biggest companies’ marketing campaigns.

The Ohio Valley Bank Co., the $1 billion bank unit of Ohio Valley Banc Corp. in Gallipolis, Ohio, has been using DeepTarget’s 3D StoryTeller software since October 2020, says Bryna Butler, senior vice president of corporate communications.

The bank used 3D StoryTeller to market an online portal where people could shop for cars and then apply for an auto loan through Ohio Valley Bank. From January to September of last year, that car-buying website generated just four loans. But after Ohio Valley Bank used DeepTarget’s 3D StoryTeller, the site saw a 1,289% increase in traffic. Using 3D StoryTeller translated into loans, too. Ohio Valley Bank generated 72 loans through the Auto Loan Center from October to December of 2020. Butler believes the response would have been even higher if the bank hadn’t been undercut by competitors with lower rates.

3D StoryTeller is a recent addition to DeepTarget’s line up; Ohio Valley Bank has been working with the company for about a decade. DeepTarget uses performance analytics among other options to recommend specific products and services that it believes will cater to each customer’s interests, similar to the way Facebook targets ads based on its knowledge of its users. “It’s not just scheduling ads,” Butler says. DeepTarget reports the return on investment for each campaign to the bank every month, including how many clicks translated into new account openings.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and the bank put its marketing plans on hold, the graphics program easily adjusted to feature messaging on how to use the bank’s digital banking or drive-thru customer service.

Although DeepTarget integrates with several cores, Butler says the software is also core-agnostic, in the sense that she can pull a CSV file on her customers and send that securely to DeepTarget.

Ohio Valley pays a small monthly fee for DeepTarget, but Butler says the software pays for itself every year. Other Best of FinXTech Awards finalists in the operations category include the marketing platform Fintel Connect, which tracks results and connects ad campaigns to social media influencers, and Derivative Path, a cloud-based solution that helps community banks manage derivative programs and foreign exchange transactions.

How Community Banks Compete on Digital Account Openings

In 2019, over half of all checking accounts were opened via digital channels. In 2020, this number rose to two-thirds.

In 2019, megabanks and digital banks were responsible for 55% all checking applications. In the first three months of 2020, this figure reached 63% — and climbed to 69% in the next three months.

Meanwhile, community banks and credit unions accounted for 15% of applications in 2019, and even fewer than that in the six months of 2020. What’s happening here?

It’s a trend: More accounts are being opened online. But digital account openings are only one piece of a steady shift in the financial services industry, one where consumers do more over online and mobile channels. Megabanks and digital banks are riding this wave, using powerful online offerings to draw consumers away from smaller institutions.

Moneycenter banks have strong digital operations that allow them to expand into communities where they may not have a single branch. Digital offerings have also opened the door for new players like online-only challenger banks, big tech companies and fintechs that are successfully luring in younger customers with payments, investing and even cryptocurrency services. Make no mistake: if community banks aren’t already in direct competition with these digital players now, it’s only a matter of time before they are.

Who Are The New Players?

In the past, community banks’ primary competitors were primarily each another or a nearby regional bank. Today, technology is redefining what it means to be a financial institution, and thereby reshaping the competitive landscape.

Big tech heavyweights like Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, Apple, and Amazon.com have become increasingly involved in financial services in recent years. Their efforts are growing in scope: Google, for example, launching Google Plex, which includes a checking account. Most likely, these firms believe that over time, their expertise in the areas of data and software development will yield a natural advantage over incumbent financial institutions.

Online-only startup banks (also known as challenger banks or neobanks) like Chime and Varo Money are also proving to be a legitimate concern. While Varo’s strategy included obtaining a full-fledged banking charter, which it received in July 2020, Chime relies on partner banks to manage their deposits. And just because they’re startups, doesn’t mean they’re small; Chime boasted 12 million users as of the end of 2020 — 4.3 million of whom identified it as their primary bank.

How Community Banks Compete

As the marketplace evolves, so do consumer expectations. With Amazon and other on-demand services at their fingertips, consumers have become accustomed to digital experiences that are fast, seamless, and personalized.

To compete with megabanks, tech companies and challenger banks for digitally-savvy customers, it’s essential that community banks consider the following strategies:

Invest in speed and reliability
Digital banking solutions need to be fast and reliable to satisfy the high standards that consumers have come to expect. This means efficient processes, minimal to no downtime and speedy customer service. Technology that integrates with your core in real time is key to accelerating customer onboarding and boosting overall user experience.

Play to key strengths
Community banks should lean into the areas where they shine by catering to customers’ personalized needs. Banks should also position their products according to market demand and digital best practices, and configure them for strong customer experience and institutional outcomes.

Seek out the right technology partners
The difference between a good and bad technology partnership is significant; banks often end up disappointed with the performance of a digital solution. To avoid this, it’s important to extensively reference-check technology providers and inquire about the actual delivered (and not theoretical) return on investment of a solution.

Building a Digital Transformation Strategy

As digital banking becomes the norm, it has prompted a massive shift in the competitive landscape. Yet with the daunting task of digital transformation ahead of them, what’s the best place for community banks to start?

One impactful area to focus on is digital account opening. In fact, 42% of banks and 35% of credit unions say they are very interested in fintech partnerships that prioritize digital account opening solutions. Partnering with an account opening provider can help small and mid-size financial institutions position themselves favorably as consumers continue to adopt digital banking.

How the Edges of Financial Technology Could Change Regulation

Financial regulation in the United States follows a longstanding pattern: The presidential administration changes, the other political party takes power and the financial regulation pendulum swings. Those working in compliance inevitably need to recalibrate.

President Joe Biden’s messaging so far has aimed to minimize polarization. This bodes well for moving beyond the typical “financial deregulation” versus “more regulation” dynamic. It gives the industry an opportunity to turn our attention towards pulling the overall framework out of an old, slow, manual and paper-based reality. What the U.S. financial regulatory framework really needs are large, fundamental overhauls and modernizations that will support a healthy, ever-changing financial services marketplace — not just through the next presidential administration, but further beyond, through the next several decades.

The incoming leadership could make regulation smarter and more effective with reforms that:

  • Measure success by outcomes and evidence, as opposed to procedural adherence.
  • Leverage technology to streamline compliance for agencies as well as providers.
  • Catch up and keep up with the ongoing advancements in financial technology.

The time for these sorts of changes just so happens to be ripe.

Digital or cryptocurrencies and charters for financial technologies have an awkward fit within the existing regulatory framework. Cannabis, another fringe area of finance, poses extra layers of legal and regulatory challenge, but its status could change on a dime if the new administration resolves the state and federal disconnect. All three of these peripheral business opportunities have gained significant momentum recently and may force regulators to adapt. To support these new use cases, which would otherwise break existing bank infrastructure, technology providers would have to modernize in ways that would benefit financial service compliance across the board.

As the emerging regulatory lineup takes shape from the legacies of the outgoing agency heads, the swing from the past administration to the present may not be all that dramatic. There are strange bedfellows in fintech. In the last six months of Donald Trump’s administration, there was already a balance between Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Brooks was indeed very active in his short tenure. Under him, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued full-service national bank charters for fintech companies, published interpretive letters supporting digital currencies and published a working paper from its chief economist, Chartering the FinTech Future,” that lent support to the use of stablecoins.

In contrast, Mnuchin spent his last month in office encouraging  Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, to issue a controversial proposed rulemaking that would affect crypto wallets and transactions. Critics argue this would make compliance impossible for decentralized technologies.

The Biden administration may have a similar dynamic between these two regulatory roles, albeit less dramatic. The confirmation of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, with her experience and moderate stance, conveys a great deal of stability. Still, she may not champion stablecoins, given her public statements on cryptocurrency.

At writing, Michael Barr is the anticipated pick for comptroller. His extensive and diverse résumé shows a long history of supporting fintech. We anticipate that he would continue the momentum towards modernization that Brooks started.

Gary Gensler, the nominated chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has a great deal of expertise and enthusiasm for digital currencies. Since his tenure as chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during Barack Obama’s administration, he has served on faculty at MIT Sloan School of Management, teaching courses on blockchain, digital currencies and other financial technologies. Chris Brummer, the Biden administration’s anticipated choice for the CFTC, currently serves as faculty director at Georgetown University’s Institute of International Economic Law, has written books on the regulation of financial technologies and founded D.C. Fintech Week to help promote discussion of fintech innovation among policymakers.

When we get to the outer edges of finance — to crypto, charters and cannabis — the divide between political camps starts to disappear. But there’s still quite a bit of rigidity in the traditional financial industry and regulatory framework. Combining the slate of steady, open-minded regulators with the building pressures of technology yields reasonable hope for regulatory overhauls that will pull compliance along into the future.

Using Profitability to Drive Banker Behavior

There used to be a perception that bankers found it tough to innovate because they are largely left-brained, meaning they tend to be more analytical and orderly than creative right brainers. While this may have been true for the founding fathers of this industry, there’s no question that bankers have been forced into creativity to remain competitive.

It could have been happenstance, natural evolution, or the global financial crisis of 2008 — it doesn’t matter. Today’s bankers are both analytical and creative because they have had to find new, more convenient pathways to profitability and use those insights for continuous coaching.

The current economic landscape may require U.S. banks to provision for up to $318 billion in net loan losses from 2020 to 2022, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services estimates. These losses are expected to be booked in several lending categories, mainly driven by the pandemic’s domino effect on small businesses, income inequality and the astounding impact of women leaving the workforce pushing millions into extreme poverty. Additionally, net interest margins are at an all-time low. Deloitte forecasts that U.S. commercial banks won’t see revenues or net income reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022.

In the interim, bankers are still under pressure to perform and increase profitability. Strong performance is possible — economic “doom and gloom” isn’t the whole story. In fact, the second-largest bank in America is projecting loan growth in 2021, of all years, after six years of decline. These industry challenges won’t last forever. so preparation is key. One of the first steps in understanding profitability is establishing if your bank’s business model is transactional, relational or a mix of the two, then answering these questions:

  • How much does a loan pay for the use of funds? How much does a deposit receive for the use of funds?
  • How much does a loan pay for the current period and identified level of credit risk?
  • How much capital does the bank need to assign to the loan or deposit?
  • What are the appropriate fees for accounts and services used by our clients?
  • What expenses are allocated to a product to determine its profitability?

There should never be a question about why loans need to pay for funds. The cash a bank provides for a loan comes from one of three sources: capital investments, debt and borrowing or client deposits.

From there, bankers have shown incredible creativity and innovation in adopting simpler, faster ways to better understand their bank’s profitability, especially through sophisticated technologies that can break down silos by including all clients, products and transactions in a single database. By comparison, legacy databases can leave digital assets languishing in inaccessible and expensive silos. Bankers must view an entire client relationship to most accurately price the relationship.

This requires a mindset shift. Instead of thinking about credit structure — the common approach in the industry – to determine relationship pricing, think instead about the client relationship holistically and leave room to augment as necessary. Pricing models should reflect your bank’s profitability calculations, not adjusted industry average models. And clients will need a primary and secondary owner to break down silos and ensure they receive the best experience.

How does any of this drive optimal banker behavior? A cohesive, structurally sound system that allows bankers to better understand profitability via one source of the truth allows them to review deal performance every six months to improve performance. Further, a centralized database allows C-suite executives to literally see everything, forging connections between their initiatives to banker’s day-to-day actions. It creates an environment where bankers can realize opportunities through execution, accountability and coaching, when necessary.

Designing an Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed

With more businesses choosing fintechs and neo-banks to address their financial needs, banks must innovate quickly and stay up-to-date with the latest business banking trends to get ahead of the competition.

In fact, 62% of businesses say that their business banking accounts offer no more features or benefits than their personal accounts. Fintechs have seized on this opportunity. Banks are struggling to keep up with the more than 140 firms competing to help business customers like yours manage their finances.

Narmi interviewed businesses to identify what their current business banking experience is like, and what additional features they would like to have. To help banks better understand what makes a great business banking experience, we’ve put together Designing a Banking Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed, a free online resource free for bank executives.

A banking platform built with business owners in mind will help them focus on what matters most — running a successful company. In turn, banks will be able to grow accounts, drive business deposits and get ahead of fintech competitors encroaching on their market share.

Understanding How Businesses Bank
No business is the same. Each has different financial needs and a way of operating. Narmi chose to talk with a range of business owners via video chat, including an early-stage startup, a dog-walking service, a bakery, a design agency and a CPA firm.

Each business used a variety of banks, including Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., SVB Financial Group, Bank of America Corp. and more.

A few of the questions we asked:

  1. How is your current business banking experience?
  2. Which tools do you most frequently use to help your business run smoothly?
  3. How often do you log in?
  4. What are the permissions like on your business banking platform?
  5. What features do you wish your business banking platform could provide?

We conducted more than 20 hour-long interviews with the goal of better understanding how business owners use their bank: what they liked and disliked about their banking experience, how they would want to assign access to other employees, and explore possible new features.

We learned that businesses tended to choose a financial institution on three factors: familiarity and ease, an understanding of what they do and competitive loan offers. Business owners shared with us how their experience with the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program factored into their decision about where they currently bank.

They tended to log into their accounts between once a day and once a week and oscillated between their phone and computers; the more transactions they had, the more frequently they checked their accounts. They appreciated when their institution offered a clean and intuitive user experience.

We also uncovered:

  • How do businesses handle their payments.
  • What do businesses think of their current banking features.
  • How do business owners want to manage permissions.

Want to read more? Download a free copy of Designing a Banking Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed.

Banks, Fintechs Uniting for Bottom-Line Wins

Banks have been losing consumer market share to fintechs for more than a decade. But in the middle of a pandemic, their focus has shifted to expediting consumer loan opportunities for balance sheet and bottom line wins. Why?

For one thing, deposit growth is well outpacing loan growth this year, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Quarterly Banking Profile. At the same time, tech companies like Apple and Amazon.com are dipping their big toes into the consumer finance industry. With less of a need to focus on growing bank deposits and an ever-growing list of competitors entering the lending market, banks should take — and are taking — more-calculated risks to maintain their relevance with digitally savvy customers at their points of financial need. To connect with prospective customers where they want to be reached, banks will need to rely on partners that can help them scale their offerings in a fast, frictionless and secure manner.

The easiest way for banks to lower customer acquisition costs and reach more prospective customers with loan opportunities is to use relevant plug-and-play technologies from fintechs. It’s hardly a new concept at this point; most leading banks have already adopted this methodology as the way to unlock more revenue. Per the Global Fintech Report, 94% of financial services companies said they were confident that fintechs would help grow their company’s revenue over the next two years; 95% of technology companies said the same.

The banks struggling to justify the need to partner are missing the big picture: growth opportunities and low-hanging fruit. Take business clients as an example. Far too many banks wait for a business to become frustrated at competitors before competing to win their business. A fintech partnership can help banks go on the offensive and create a strategy that positions businesses as the face of financing by offering point-of-need lending to consumers, driving revenue for the business and improving the bottom line at the bank.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – American industrial and business magnate Henry Ford

Being open-minded about fintech partnerships allows banks to offer valuable and attractive services to business clients and consumers, especially at a time when both are faced with a life-altering pandemic and natural disasters. Consumers need quick access to credit at reasonable rates; in the face of excess liquidity from deposits and a continued low-rate environment, banks should be look to provide better loans for their customers than their online finance competitors.

Banks that choose not to use fintechs partners may find themselves lacking the ability to get embedded into consumer loan deals and unable to offer consumers a frictionless experience during the process. They can’t leverage alternative data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to get a more-accurate portrayal of a consumer’s creditworthiness outside of their FICO credit scores. Accessing value-add technology and creative solutions allows banks to innovate rapidly to improve efficiencies and meet the future needs of businesses and consumers.

Fintechs have demonstrated their ability to meet banks’ third-party standards. Banks sitting on the partnership sidelines are cautioned to set aside their “sword and shield” mentality in favor of an approach that’s more inviting and open to collaborative innovation. Today’s current economic environment can act as a catalyst for this change.

Banks have proven they are capable of being highly responsive to meet business and consumer needs during recent challenges. This is an opportunity for them to think differently and invest in partnerships to quickly offer new experiences as demand for financial products and services increases.

Build Versus Buy Considerations for Data Analytics Projects

It is the age-old question: buy versus build? How do you know which is the best approach for your institution?

For years, bankers have known their data is a significant untapped asset, but lacked the resources or guidance to solve their data challenges. The coronavirus crisis has made it increasingly apparent that outdated methods of distributing reports and information do not work well in a remote work environment.

As a former banker who has made the recent transition to a “software as a service” company, my answer today differs greatly from the one I would have provided five years ago. I’ve grown in my understanding of the benefits, challenges, roadblocks and costs associated with building a data analytics solution.

How will you solve the data conundrum? Some bank leaders are looking to their IT department while other executives are seeking fintech for a solution. If data analytics is on your strategic roadmap, here are some insights that could aid in your decision-making. A good place to start this decision journey is with a business case analysis that considers:

  • What does the bank want to achieve or solve?
  • Who are the users of the information?
  • Who is currently creating reports, charts and graphs in the institution today? Is this a siloed activity?
  • What is the timeline for the project?
  • How much will this initiative cost?
  • How unique are the bank’s needs and issues to solve?

Assessing how much time is spent creating meaningful reports and whether that is the best use of a specific employee’s time is critical to the evaluation. In many cases, highly compensated individuals spend hours creating reports and dashboards, leaving them with little time for analyzing the information and acting on the conclusions from the reports. In institutions where this reporting is done in silos across multiple departments and business units, a single source of truth is often a primary motivator for expanding data capabilities.

Prebuilt tools typically offer banks a faster deployment time, yielding a quicker readiness for use in the bank’s data strategy, along with a lower upfront cost compared to hiring developers. Vendors often employ specialized technical resources, minimizing ongoing system administration and eliminating internal turnover risk that can plague “in house” development. Many of these providers use secure cloud technology that is faster and cheaper, and takes responsibility for integration issues.  

Purchased software is updated regularly with ongoing maintenance, functionality and new features to remain competitive, using feedback and experiences gained from working with institutions of varying size and complexity. Engaging a vendor can also free up the internal team’s resources so they can focus on the data use strategy and analyzing data following implementation. Purchased solutions typically promotes accessibility throughout the institution, allowing for broad usage.

But selecting the criteria is a critical and potentially time-consuming endeavor. Vendors may also offer limited customization options and pose potential for integration issues. Additionally, time-based subscriptions and licenses may experience cost growth over time; pricing based on users could make adoption across the institution more costly, lessening the overall effectiveness.

Building a data analytics tool offers the ability to customize and prioritize development efforts based on a bank’s specific needs; controllable data security, depending on what tools the bank uses for the build and warehousing; and a more readily modifiable budget.

But software development is not your bank’s core business. Building a solution could incur significant upfront and ongoing cost to develop; purchased tools appear to have a large price tag, but building a tool incurs often-overlooked costs like the cost of internal subject matter experts to guide development efforts, ongoing maintenance costs and the unknowns associated with software development. These project may require business intelligence and software development expertise, which can carry turnover risk if institutional knowledge leaves the bank.

Projects of this magnitude require continuous engagement from management subject matter experts. Bankers needed to provide the vision and banking content for the product — diverting management’s focus from other responsibilities. This can have a negative impact on company productivity.

Additionally, “in-house” created tools tend to continue to operate in data silos whereby the tool is accessible only to data team. Ongoing development and releases may be difficult for an internal team to manage, given their limited time and resources along with changing business priorities and staff turnover.

The question remains: Do you have the bandwidth and talent at your bank to take on a build project? These projects typically take longer than expected, experience budget overruns and often do not result in the desired business result. Your bank will need to make the choice that is best for your institution.

Creating the Next Opportunity for Your Bank

Health, social, political and economic stressors around the world are bumping up business uncertainty for banks everywhere.

Some bankers may find a hunker-down posture fits the times. Others are taking a fresh look at opportunities to achieve their business objectives, albeit in a different-than-planned environment. What is your bank trying to accomplish right now? What are you uniquely positioned to achieve now that creates value for your institution, your shareholders and your customers?

The best opportunities on your bank’s list may be straightforward initiatives that may have been difficult to prioritize in a non-crisis environment. This can be a good time for banks to review their suppliers and vendors, their risk management, cybersecurity and compliance plans and protocols.

We’ve seen bank clients of ours with rock-solid foundations find themselves with the ability to leverage these times to pursue growth, to increase their technology offerings and explore niche markets, such as an all-digital delivery of banking services. These institutions are creating their own opportunities.

From straightforward to downright bold opportunities, BankOnIT and our client banks across the United States have observed that skillful execution requires one constant: a solid technology and systems foundation.

Here are a few examples of various objectives that we see our clients pursuing:

Embrace and Excel at Digital Banking
Digital banking, not to be confused with online banking, is more than a trend. Banks with user-friendly digital experiences are meeting the needs of millennials and Generation Z by offering activities that were once only accessible from the banking center. It removes geographical barriers and limitations of the traditional bank, such as operating hours and long lines.

Technological hurdles are grievances of both digital and traditional banks. The simple solution is unrestricted technology capabilities that improve reliability and increase security, especially when introducing features like artificial intelligence and digital banking.

A Growth Plan with The Ability To Compete
Customers’ expectations are shifting; banks need to be technologically nimble in response. With a high-growth plan in place, one BankOnIT client viewed outsourcing the network infrastructure to a partner with industry knowledge as the key to success. The result: opening four bank offices in seven months.

“We have all of the benefits of a large bank infrastructure, and all of the freedom that comes with that, without being a large bank,” said Kim Palmer, chief information officer at St. Louis Bank.

Partnering with Fintechs To Reach Niche Markets
The trick to accessing new markets will vary from bank to bank, but your strategy should start with the network infrastructure technology. This will be the foundation upon which all other technology in the institution is built upon. Cloud computing, for example, provides digital and traditional banks with resources needed to improve scalability, improve efficiency and achieve better results from all the other applications that rely upon the network foundation.   

Banks should look for partners that help them tailor their banking operations to benefit consumers who are conducting business in the virtual world. Technology at the forefront can keep business running smoothly during the global pandemic. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Mi Bank, for example, is able to accommodate customers during the pandemic, just like before.

“We can leverage technology to allow our customers to function as normal as possible,” said Tom Dorr, chief operating officer and CFO. “BankOnIT gives us the flexibility to function remotely without any disruption to our services. Our structure allows us to compete with the bigger institutions without sacrificing our personal service.”

Is your technology reliable, scalable, and capable of sustaining your goals post-pandemic?

A Solid Foundation
Take the opportunity to review your institution’s goals. How do they line up with the opportunities to act in the midst of this unplanned business environment? This may be your opportunity to build a solid technology, systems and compliance foundation. Or, this may be your time to seize the opportunities that are created from turning technology into a source of strength for your institution.