Eyes Wide Open: Building Fintech Partnerships That Work

With rising cost of funds and increased operating costs exerting new pressures on banks’ mortgage, consumer and commercial lending businesses, management teams are sharpening their focus on low-cost funding and noninterest revenue streams. These include debit card interchange fees, treasury management services, banking as a service (BaaS) revenue sharing and fees for commercial depository services, such as wire transfers and automated clearinghouse (ACH) transactions. Often, however, the revenue streams of some businesses barely offset the associated costs. Most depository service fees, for example, typically are offered as a modest convenience fee rather than a source of profitability. Moreover, noninterest income can be subject to disruption.

Responding to both competitive pressures and signals of increased regulatory scrutiny, many banks are eliminating or further reducing overdraft and nonsufficient fund (NSF) fees, which in some cases make up a substantial portion of their fee income. While some banks offset the loss of NSF fees with higher monthly service charges or other account maintenance fees, others opt for more customer-friendly alternatives, such as optional overdraft protection using automatic transfers from a linked account.

In rethinking overdraft strategies, a more innovative response might be to replace punitive NSF fees with a more positive buy now, pay later (BNPL) program that allows qualified customers to make purchases that exceed their account balances, using a short-term extended payment option for a nominal fee.

Partnering with a fintech can provide a bank quick access to the technology it needs to implement such a strategy. It also can open up other potential revenue streams. Unfortunately, a deeper dive into the terms of a fintech relationship sometimes reveals that the bank’s reward is not always commensurate with the associated risks.

Risky Business
As the banking industry adapts to new economic and competitive pressures, a growing number of organizations are turning to bank-fintech partnerships and various BaaS offerings to help improve financial performance, access new markets, and offset diminishing returns from traditional deposit and lending activities. In many instances, however, these new relationships are not producing the financial results banks had hoped to achieve.

And as bank leaders develop a better understanding of the opportunities, risks, and nuances of fintech relationships, some discover they are not as well-prepared for the relationship as they thought. This is particularly true for BaaS platforms and targeted online service offerings, in which banks either install fintech-developed software and customer interfaces or allow fintech partners to interact directly with the bank’s customers.

Often, the fintech partner commands a large share of the income stream — or the bank might receive no share in the income at all — despite, as a chartered institution, bearing an inordinate share of the risks in terms of regulatory compliance, security, privacy, and transaction costs. Traditionally, banks have sought to offset this imbalance through earnings on the fintech-related account balances, overlooking the fact that deposits obtained through fintechs are not yet fully equivalent to a bank’s core deposits.

Moreover, when funds from fintech depository accounts appear on the balance sheet, the bank’s growing assets can put stress on its capital ratio. Unless the bank receives adequate income from the relationship, it could find it must raise additional capital, which is often an expensive undertaking.

Such risks do not mean fintech partnerships should be avoided. On the contrary, they can offer many benefits. But as existing fintech contracts come up for renewal and as banks consider future opportunities, they should enter such relationships cautiously, with an eye toward unexpected consequences.

Among other precautions, banks should be wary of exclusivity clauses. Most fintechs understandably want the option to work with multiple banks on various products. Banks should expect comparable rights and should not lock themselves into a one-way arrangement that limits their ability to work with other fintechs or market new services of their own. It also is wise to opt for shorter contract terms that allow the bank to re-evaluate and renegotiate terms early in the relationship. The contract also should clarify the rights each party has to customer relationships and accounts upon contractual termination.

Above all, management should confirm that the bank’s share of future revenue streams will be commensurate with the associated risks and costs to adequately offset the potential capital pressures the relationship might trigger.

The rewards of a fintech collaboration can be substantial, provided everyone enters the relationship with eyes wide open.

How Technology Fosters Economic Opportunity and Success

Is your bank promoting financial literacy and wellness within the communities you serve?

The answer to that question may be the key to your bank’s future. For many community financial institutions, promoting financial wellness among historically underserved populations is directly linked to fostering resilience for individuals, institutions and communities.

Consider this: 7 million households in the United States didn’t have a bank account in 2019, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; and up to 20 million others are underserved by the current financial system. Inequities persist along racial, geographical and urban lines, indicating an opportunity for local institutions to make an impact.

Many have already stepped up. According to the Banking Impact Report, which was conducted by Wakefield Research and commissioned by MANTL, 55% of consumers said that community financial institutions are more adept at providing access to underrepresented communities than neobanks, regional banks or megabanks. In the same study, nearly all executives at community institutions reported providing a loan to a small business owner who had been denied by a larger bank. And 90% said that their institution either implemented or planned to implement a formal program for financial inclusion of underserved groups.

Technology like online account origination can play a critical role in bringing these initiatives to life. Many forward-thinking institutions are actively creating tools and programs to turn access into opportunity — helping even their most vulnerable customers participate more meaningfully in the local economy.

One institution, 115-year-old Midwest BankCentre based in St. Louis, is all-in when it comes to inclusion. The bank partnered with MANTL to launch online deposit origination and provide customers with convenient access to market-leading financial products at competitive rates.

Midwest BankCentre has also committed $200 million to fostering community and economic development through 2025, with a focus on nonprofits, faith-based institutions, community development projects and small businesses for the benefit ofr historically disinvested communities. The bank offers free online financial education to teach customers about money basics, loans and payments, buying a home and paying for college, among others.

Midwest BankCentre executives estimate that $95 out of every $100 deposited locally stays in the St. Louis region; these dollars circulate six times throughout the regional economy.

In a study conducted in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that Midwest Bank Centre’s financial education classes created an additional $7.1 million in accumulated wealth in local communities while providing critical knowledge for household financial stability.

“When you work with a community banker, you are working with a neighbor, friend, or the person sitting next to you at your place of worship,” says Danielle Bateman Girondo, executive vice president of marketing at Midwest BankCentre. “Our customers often become our friends, and there’s a genuine sense of trust and mutual respect. Put simply, it’s difficult to have that type of relationship, flexibility, or vested interest at a big national bank.”

What about first-time entrepreneurs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 33% of small businesses fail within 2 years. By year 10, 66.3% have failed.

Helping first-time entrepreneurs benefits everyone. Banks would gather more deposits and make more loans. Communities would flourish as more dollars circulate in the local economy. And individuals with more paths to economic independence would prosper.

For Midwest BankCentre, one part of the solution was to launch a Small Business Academy in March 2021, which provides practical education to help small businesses access capital to grow and scale.

The program was initially launched with 19 small businesses participating in the bank’s partnership with Ameren Corp., the region’s energy utility, with a particular focus on the utility’s diverse suppliers. And 14 small business owners and influencers participated in the bank’s partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro St. Louis. Midwest BankCentre teaches small businesses how to “think like a banker” to gain easier access to capital by understanding their financial statements and the key ratios.

Efforts like these might explain why, according to the Banking Impact Report, 69% of Hispanic small business owners and 77% of non-white small business owners believe it’s important that their bank supports underserved communities. Accordingly, non-white small businesses are significantly more likely to open a new account at a community bank or credit union: 70%, compared to 47% of white small businesses.

This can be a clear differentiator for a community bank: a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

For today’s community banks, economic empowerment isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s a force multiplier. With the right strategies in place, it can be a winning proposition for the communities and markets within your institution’s sphere of influence.

Creating a Winning Scenario With Collaborative Banking

The banking industry is at a critical crossroads.

As banks face compounding competition, skyrocketing customer expectations and the pressure to keep up with new technologies, they must determine the best path forward. While some have turned to banking as a service and others to open banking as ways to innovate, both options can cause friction. Banking as a service requires banks to put their charters on the line for their financial technology partners, and open banking pits banks and fintechs against each other in competition for customers’ loans and deposits.

Instead, many are starting to consider a new route, one that benefits all parties involved: banks, fintechs and customers. Collaborative banking allows institutions to connect with customer-facing fintechs in a secure, compliant marketplace. This model allows banks and fintechs to finally join forces, sharing revenue and business opportunities — all for the good of the customer.

Collaborative banking removes the regulatory risk traditionally associated with bank-fintech partnerships. The digital rails connecting banks to the marketplace anonymize and tokenize customer data, so that no personally identifiable information data is shared with fintechs. Banks can offer their customers access to technology they want, without having to go through vendor evaluations, one-to-one fintech integrations and rigorous vendor due diligence.

Consider the time and money it can take for banks to turn on just one fintech today: an average of 6 months to a year and up to $1 million. A collaborative banking framework allows quick, more affordable introduction of unlimited fintech partnerships without the liability and risk, enabling banks to strategically balance their portfolios and grow.

Banks enabling safe, private fintech partnerships will be especially important as consumers increasingly demand more control over their data. There is a need for greater control in financial services, granting consumers stronger authority over which firms can access their data and under which conditions. Plus, delivering access to a wider range of features and functionality empowers consumers and businesses to strengthen their financial wellness. Collaborative banking proactively enhances consumer choice, which ultimately strengthens relationships and creates loyalty.

The model also allows for banks to offer one-to-one personalization at scale. Currently, most institutions do not have an effective way to accurately personalize experiences for each customer they serve. People are simply too nuanced for one app to fit all. With collaborative banking, customers can go into the marketplace and download the niche apps they want. Whether this means apps for the gig economy or for teenagers to safely build credit, each consumer or business can easily download and leverage the new technology that works for them. Banks have an opportunity to sit at the center of customer financial empowerment, providing the trust, support, local presence and technology that meets customers’ specific needs, but without opening up their customers to third-party data monetization.

While many banks continue attempting to figure out how to make inherently flawed models, such as banking as a service and open banking, work, there is another way to future-proof institutions while creating opportunities for both banks and fintechs. Collaborative banking requires a notable shift in thinking, but it offers a win-win-win scenario for banks, fintechs and customers alike. It paves the way for industry growth, stronger partnerships and more control and choice for consumers and businesses.

How to Find the Right Title Service Provider

In a highly competitive market, bank title service providers can have a tangible impact on business outcomes. Below are several considerations for selecting a title provider who can help institutions navigate today’s challenging market.

Stability
It’s important to know that the title provider your bank selects remains consistent, whether the market is up or down. Decades of experience, minimal claims and strong financial backing all contribute to the stability of a settlement service provider. “There’s an element of risk lenders can avoid by working with a title partner that has a history of producing instant title with minimal claims. How long have they been doing it?” says Jim Gladden, senior vice president of origination strategy at ServiceLink. “What does their track record look like?”

Service
Each file matters. After all, a home is likely your borrower’s biggest investment; making sure a purchase, refinance or home equity transaction goes smoothly is critical. For that reason, it’s important to ensure that title service providers take the unique needs of the bank’s team and borrowers into account, and prioritizes each transaction.

One way to do that is to work with a firm that dedicates individuals to working with the same lenders and loan officers, so they can understand the unique expectations each of them has, according to Kristy Folino, senior vice president of origination services at ServiceLink.

Prioritizing the Borrower Experience
The real estate lending industry is increasingly competitive; attracting and retaining borrowers is critical. Investigate how different title providers think about your borrowers, and whether their service ethos and technology prioritize the borrower throughout the transaction.

Check out the 2022 ServiceLink State of Homebuying Report to learn more about today’s borrowers. Dave Steinmetz, president of origination services at ServiceLink, says the study suggests a growing number of buyers embrace technology.

“Many are open to new pathways to achieve homeownership. This indicates there is an opportunity for lenders to provide more targeted resources and guidance to buyers throughout their home buying journey.”

Operational Efficiency
In leaner times, banks need to maximize margins on each transaction. Consider where your title service provider has automated their processes, and how that shows up in your bottom line. For example, instant title technology speeds decisioning and enables shorter rate lock periods by quickly clearing the way to the closing table. In fact, many lenders are surprised at how many of their loans qualify for fast-tracking through the instant title process.

Integrating technology and approaches like instant title into your processes could allow you to improve your workflows. Using instant title complexity decisions can help prioritize clear-to-close files, getting them to the closing table faster.

Scalability
In the past few years, the mortgage industry has seen how quickly volumes can change. In this volatile environment, it’s critical to partner with settlement service providers who can flex up or down with their financial institution partner as the market necessitates. The size of a provider’s signing agent panel impacts their scalability — as does their ability to allocate vendors to your operations at critical times, like month’s end.

Geographic Footprint
Being able to use one provider for transactions in all 50 states can simplify bank operations. Partnering with a title service provider with national scope ensures that a bank and its borrowers have a consistent experience, wherever they’re located. Gladden pointed out that national coverage is especially important for lenders with portfolios that are geographically diverse.

Security
Strict adherence to local, state and federal guidelines is critical to ensuring compliant transactions. Security around data must be airtight to protect lenders and their customers from potential breaches or other security incidents.

“Each title provider uses a platform that is aggregating both public and nonpublic consumer information. It’s important to know how that information is protected,” says Gladden.

Data quality
It’s important to look at the sources of title service providers’ data. While speed is essential, assurances from your title providers about data quality is paramount, particularly when it comes to instant title.

“The product is only as good as the data source, so the quality and depth of the data is the biggest factor to look out for. Instant title providers may all be racing toward the same goal, but the methodologies we’re using to get there — whether technologies, processes or the decisions we’re making — differ significantly,” says Sandeepa Sasimohan, vice president of title automation at ServiceLink.

Breadth of product offering
When you’re considering adding to your slate of providers, consider what value can be gained by onboarding a particular vendor. Banks that partner with organizations that offer a comprehensive suite of services — including uninsured and insured title products, flood and valuations — can benefit from increased efficiencies.

These considerations ladder up to one critical theme: partnership. Your title service provider should be a strategic ally who works alongside you to navigate market conditions.

Insights Report: Technology Tools Enhance Financial Wellness

https://www.bankdirector.com/wp-content/uploads/Insights-FIS-Digital.pdfIn a March 2022 survey, Morning Consult found that just 23% of U.S. adults could handle a major, unexpected expense. At a time when Americans are worried about rising prices for everything from cars to gas to groceries in today’s inflationary environment, lower-income individuals who earn less than $50,000 annually feel this financial anxiety most deeply. Yet, even people in higher income brackets are worried: Only 47% of those earning $100,000 or more believe they could handle such an expense, according to the market research firm.

Financial wellness is often conflated with financial inclusion. These informative tools can play an important role in helping lower-income customers, but everyone needs a trusted advisor to meet their financial goals, whether that’s saving for retirement, eliminating debt or creating an emergency fund.

Americans may be struggling but they trust their banks, according to Morning Consult, which recommends financial institutions acknowledge financial stress, demonstrate empathy and provide “actionable guidance” for their customers.

The rapid digital acceleration occurring in financial services today has changed how banks maintain and build customer relationships, as well as deliver advice. “Banking relationships have become digital relationships,” says Maria Schuld, division executive, Americas Banking Solutions at FIS.

Financial education isn’t new to the industry, and personal financial management tools have been around for years. But technologies like artificial intelligence can help institutions deliver more meaningful insights to their customers. What’s more, younger consumers have a greater need for financial advice; a recent online WalletHub survey of 350 respondents found that young people are three times more likely to seek a complete view of their financial health, compared to consumers aged 60 or more. Being Gen Z’s first bank could lead to larger relationships as their lives change. “Once you establish that relationship early on,” says Schuld, “you have a very strong chance of being able to retain that relationship as their financial needs grow.”

To download the report, sponsored by FIS, click here.

FinXTech’s Need to Know: Construction Lending

Demand for housing hit a high unlike any other during the pandemic. While demand grew, the number of acquisition, development and construction (ADC) loans in bank portfolios grew parallel alongside it. Construction and development loans at community banks increased 21.2% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Quarterly Banking Profile.

As a subset of the commercial real estate (CRE) lending space, banks are accustomed to the timely process that construction lending requires. But are banks prepared for the influx of risk that can accompany this growth?

Mitigating construction risk is a bit like attempting to predict the future: Banks not only have to evaluate creditworthiness, but they also have to predict what the project will be worth upon completion. With another interest rate hike expected later this month, being able to accurately price projects is becoming more complicated — and more vital.

Here are three ways financial technology companies can help banks in their attempt to fund more ADC projects.

Software can automate the drawing process. Construction lending features the unique ability for builders to “draw” cash from their loan throughout the project. Spacing out the draw schedule protects banks from losing large amounts of money on projects that go cold, and also allows proper due diligence and inspection to be on rotation.

CoFi — formerly eDraw — specifically focuses on this process. Bank associates access all budgets, invoices, approvals and construction draw records in one web-based system. The bank’s borrowers and builders also can access the software through customer-facing accounts. A builder requests funds by uploading invoices, and CoFi then notifies the bank that their approval is required for the funds to be disbursed.

Once the bank approves the disbursement, the borrower is notified. Banks can also dispatch inspectors to the property using CoFi. After confirming that construction progress is in line with the draw requests, the inspector can upload their report directly into CoFi. With all of the proper approvals in place, the bank can release funds for the payment request. All actions and approvals are tracked in a detailed, electronic audit trail.

CoFi also has a construction loan marketplace banks can plug into.

Multiple parties and industries can collaborate in real time through web-based solutions Nashville-based Built Technologies operates as a construction administration portal, coordinating interactions and transactions between the bank, the borrower, the contractor, third-party inspectors and even title companies in one location. 

Legacy core banking technology wasn’t designed to completely support construction loans, which moved the tracking of these types of loans into spreadsheets. Built’s portal eliminates the need for these one-way spreadsheets. The moment a construction loan is closed, instead of a banker creating a spreadsheet with a specific draw budget, they can design one digitally in Built and reconcile it throughout the duration of the project.

Builders can even request draws from their loan through their phones, using Built’s mobile interface. 

Fintechs can better monitor portfolios, identify errors and alert banks of risk areas, compared to manual review only. ADC loans are fraught with intricate details, including valuations that fluctuate with the market — details that can’t always be caught with human eyes.

Rabbet uses machine learning and optical character recognition (OCR) when reviewing documents or information that is inputted to its platform, the Contextualized Construction Draw format (CCDF). It also continually monitors and flags high-risk situations or details for borrowers, including overdrawn budgets, liens or approvals. Any involved party — developer, builder or bank — can input budget line items into the platform. Rabbet then links relevant supporting documents or important metrics to that item, which is information that is typically difficult for lenders to track and verify.

Storing loan calculations and documents in one place can translate to faster confirmations for borrowers and easier reconciliation, reporting and auditing for the bank.

In July 2022, Built announced the release of its own contractor and project monitoring solution, Project Pro. The technology helps banks keep track of funds, identify risk areas such as missing liens or late payments, and stay on top of compliance requirements.

Banks with a heavy percentage of construction loans on their balance sheet need to keep notice of all elements attached to them, especially in a rapidly changing economic environment. Technology can alleviate some of that burden.

CoFi, Built Technologies and Rabbet are all vetted companies for FinXTech Connect, a curated directory of technology companies who strategically partner with financial institutions of all sizes. For more information about how to gain access to the directory, please email finxtech@bankdirector.com.

7 Indicators of a Successful Digital Account Opening Strategy

How good is your bank’s online account opening process?

Many banks don’t know where to begin looking for the answer to that question and struggle to make impactful investments to improve their digital growth. Assessing the robustness of the bank’s online account opening strategy and reporting capabilities is a crucial first step toward improving and strengthening the experience. To get a pulse on the institution’s ability to effectively open accounts digitally, we suggest starting with a simple checklist of questions.

These key indicators can provide better transparency into the health of the online account opening process, clarity around where the bank is excelling, and insight into the areas that need development.

Signs of healthy digital account opening:

1. Visitor-to-Applicant Conversion
The ratio of visits to applications started measures the bank’s ability to make a good first impression with customers. If your bank experiences a high volume of traffic but a low rate of applications, something is making your institution unappealing.

Your focus should shift to conversion. Look at the account opening site through the eyes of a potential new customer to identify areas that are confusing or distract from starting an application. Counting the number of clicks it takes to start an online application is a quick way to evaluate your marketing site’s ability to convert visitors.

2. Application Start-to-Completion
On average, 51% of all online applications for deposit accounts are abandoned before completion. It’s key to have a frictionless digital account opening process and ensure that the mobile option is as equally accessible and intuitive as its web counterpart.

If your institution is seeing high abandonment rates, something is happening to turn enthusiasm into discouragement. Identifying pain points will reveal necessary user flow improvements that can make the overall experience faster and more satisfying, which should translate into a greater percentage of completed applications.

3. Resume Rate on Abandoned Applications
The probability that a customer will restart an online application they’ve abandoned drastically decreases as more time passes. You can assess potential customers’ excitement about opening accounts by measuring how many resume where they left off, and the amount of time they take between sessions.

Providing a quick and intuitive experience that eliminates the friction that causes applicants to leave an application means less effort trying to get them to come back. Consider implementing automated reminders similar to the approach e-commerce brands take with abandoned shopping carts in cases where applications are left unfinished.

4. Total Time to Completion
The more time a person has to take to open an account, the more likely they’ll give up. This is something many banks still struggle with: 80% of banks say it takes longer than five minutes to open an account online, and nearly 30% take longer than 10 minutes. At these lengths, the potential for abandonment is very high.

A simple way to see how customers experience your digital application process is to measure the amount of time it takes, including multi-session openings, to open an account, and then working to reduce that time by streamlining the process.

5. Percent of Funded Accounts
A key predictive factor for how active a new customer will be when opening their new account is whether they choose to initially fund their account or not. It’s imperative that financial institutions offer initial funding options that are stress-free and take minimal steps.

For example, requiring that customers verify accounts through trial deposits to link external accounts is a time-consuming process involving multiple steps that are likely to deter people from funding their accounts. Offering fast and secure methods of funding, like instant account authentication, improves the funding experience and the likelihood that new users will stay active.

6. Percent of Auto-Opened Accounts
Manual intervention from a customer service rep to verify and open accounts is time-consuming and expensive. Even with some automation, an overzealous flagging process can create bottlenecks that forces applicants wait longer and bogs down back-office teams with manual review.

Financial institutions should look at the amount of manual review their accounts need, how much time is spent on flagged applications, and the number of bad actor accounts actually being filtered out. Ideally, new online accounts should be automatically opened on the core without any manual intervention—something that banks can accomplish using powerful non-document based verification methods.

7. Fraud Rate Over Time
A high percentage of opened accounts displaying alarming behavior means there may be a weakness in your account opening process that fraudsters are exploiting. To assess your bank’s ability to catch fraud, measure how many approved accounts turn out to be fraudulent and how long it takes for those accounts to start behaving badly.

The most important thing for financial institutions to do is to make sure they can detect fraudulent activity early. Using multiple verification processes is a great way to filter out fraudulent account applications at the outset and avoid headaches and losses later.

The Battle for the Small Business Customer

Increasingly, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are looking for digital banking and financial solutions to address specific needs and provide the experience they expect.

The preference for digital has allowed fintechs and big tech firms to compete with financial institutions for these relationships. While the broadened competitive landscape creates new challenges, this migration to digital channels creates new opportunities for banks of all sizes to compete and win in the SMB market. But first, banks need to think differently and redefine what’s possible.

Many banks have a one-size-fits-all approach to SMB banking. This approach is based on the shaky premise that what SMBs need are consumer banking products with slight variations. This leaves SMBs with two choices: Leverage the bank’s existing online retail banking products — an option that is easy to understand and use, but lacks the specific financial solutions they need — or use the bank’s more-complex digital commercial banking products. The impersonal experience most SMBs experience as a result of this approach can leave them feeling unsatisfied and underappreciated. But banks can capitalize on this underserved market by combining modern technology with a targeted segmentation strategy.

Businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up over 98% of American businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2021 Small Business Profile. About half of SMBs feel their primary financial institution doesn’t understand their needs, according to Aite’s 2021 study, “Delivering the Experience Small Businesses Expect.”

Banks need to deliver more tailored solutions and experiences to differentiate themselves from competitors. To start, they should ask and honestly answer some key questions:

  • In what target markets (size, industry and location) can we compete and win?
  • What are the needs of the businesses in these target markets, beyond traditional banking?
  • What partners will we need to meet the needs of these account holders?

The answers start with the bank’s business strategy — not its technology strategy. Banks need to think in terms of outcomes first before creating the technology strategy that will help them achieve those outcomes.

SMBs Want Experiences Built for Them
User experience matters to SMBs; winning their business depends on providing fast, user-friendly, tailored experiences. They increasingly expect a single view of both their business and personal relationships with the bank.

But using nonbank firms has increased complexity for these SMBs. Banks have an opportunity to aggregate these relationships and provide a comprehensive set of solutions through fintech partnerships. They can tailor digital experiences that address the needs of each of their SMB by integrating their banking solutions with their fintech partner solutions.

Taking a customer-centric approach that pairs account capabilities to business needs allows banks to make their SMB customers feel appreciated, increasing loyalty. For example, a dentist practice may need products and services focused on managing cash flow, accessing credit and wealth management options. Gig economy participants can be focused on payments and nontraditional services through the fintech marketplace, such as bookkeeping or time tracking and scheduling.

The current leading digital services providers enjoy strong customer loyalty because they’ve created positive experiences and value for each customer. SMBs are leaving banks — or are deeply considering switching banks — because of these institutions’ inability to provide what they want: banking experiences and solutions that help them run their businesses more effectively.

SMBs need a compelling business case when selecting a bank; the bank must convince these businesses that it’s prepared to do what’s needed to meet their growing and evolving financial requirements. Banks that fail to focus on broadening partnerships and delivering a wider range of financial solutions through an extensible digital platform may have difficulty retaining existing business customers or attracting future new ones. As a result, these institutions may also find themselves with a higher-than-average percentage of less-valuable customers.

Conversely, those banks that offer solutions SMBs need, in an experience they expect, will emerge as leaders in the space. Banks need to understand the targeted segments where they can compete and win — and then deliver with a fast, easy, relevant, end-to-end digital experience. We’ve written an e-book, “The Battle for the Small Business Customer,” that offers an in-depth look at the factors shaping SMB banking today and ways banks can deliver a compelling business case.

Banks that can do this will be able to grow market share in the SMB market; banks that don’t can expect shrinking revenue and profitability. The time is now to redefine what’s possible in the SMB market.

Leveraging Embedded Fintech for Small Businesses

Small businesses are increasingly looking for more sophisticated financial solutions, like digital payments. Yet, many community banks haven’t adapted their products and services to meet these demands. Banks that don’t address their small business clients’ pain points ultimately risk losing those customers to other financial providers. Derik Sutton, vice president at Autobooks, describes how community banks can bridge that gap with embedded fintech.  

  • How Small Business Needs are Changing
  • Confronting Competition 
  • First Steps to Embedded Fintech 

Autobooks’ cloud-based platform is built on Microsoft Azure.  

Crafting a Modern Customer Service Strategy

Customers increasingly demand immediacy and accountability in their service interactions, whether that means ordering a pair of shoes from Amazon.com or a pizza from Domino’s Pizza.

Financial institutions are not immune to this standard; as customer expectations evolve, so too must banks’ approach to customer service. To retain relevance and customer loyalty, bank executives must prioritize the digitalization and personalization of customer service. If institutions are not working towards this transformation, they’re already behind.

Leveraging capabilities like digital customer service can enhance the customer and employee experience while diminishing the risk of complacency — strengthening a bank’s overall competitive position.

Many banks still employ a phone-centric approach to customer support, which can be inefficient and cumbersome for all involved. Even though bank transactions are frequently initiated or occur on digital devices, customers are often required to dial into a contact center when they encounter issues or have questions. Recent research from Bankmycell found 81% of millennials experience anxiety when making a phone call. But this dislike for phone calls isn’t unique to younger generations; a study by Provision Living found that baby boomers made even fewer phone calls than millennials do on their smartphones.

The customer service bar is set by the likes of Apple, Netflix and Meta Platform’s Facebook: companies that facilitate seamless, uninterrupted interactions with as little friction as possible. It’s time for bankers to be able to meet customers in the digital domain and empower them with choice on how to communicate, whether it’s through chat, video or voice. Such an approach boosts the customer experience and fosters long-term loyalty.

Digital customer service can improve the employee experience as well. The customer service agent role has traditionally been one of low satisfaction and high churn, which is especially concerning as the country continues to experience the Great Resignation. Digital customer service allows frontline agents to join a digital interaction in progress on the customer’s own screen, eliminating the risk of miscommunication and expediting resolution time. Such technology even allows agents to guide customers in how to solve the issue themselves next time. As a result, agents shift from customer care representatives to become a teacher or coach, instilling confidence in users to solve future issues through digital self-service. Digitalized customer service and a seamless on-screen experience allows agents to complete tasks with greater speed and efficiency — while making the role itself more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Complacency is both a common barrier and a looming threat for bank executives; many keep legacy processes and strategies in place because of comfort and fear of change. But the failure to innovate can be a death knell for banks when it comes to keeping up with competitors. And technology continues to shorten the innovation cycle — making complacency that much more dangerous.

Financial institutions are at the vanguard of innovation in the consumer-driven market; experiences are the key differentiator. Customer service, and how customer-facing employees work, are experiencing dramatic digital transformation. As a result, financial institutions must examine, reconsider and frequently adapt to new technologies as they emerge.

The banks that recognize the urgency of modernizing customer service and act accordingly will benefit from a competitive advantage for years to come. Those that fail to act risk falling behind competitors and face significant customer attrition.