What to Look for in New Cash and Check Automation Technology

Today’s financial institutions are tasked with providing quality customer experiences across a myriad of banking channels. With the increased focus on digital and mobile banking, bankers are looking for ways to automate branch processes for greater cost and time savings.

This need should lead financial institution leaders exploring and implementing cash and check automation solutions. These solutions can improve accuracy, reduce handling time and labor, lower cost, deliver better forecasting and offer better visibility, establish enhanced control with custom reporting and provide greater security and compliance across all locations, making transactions seamless and streamlining the branch experience. However, as bank leaders begin to implement a cash and check automation solution, they must remember how a well-done integration should operate and support the bank in its reporting and measurement functions.

Ask Yourself: Is This the Right Solution?
When a bank installs a new cash or check automation solution, the question that should immediately come to mind for a savvy operations manager is: “How well is this integrated with my current teller software?” Regardless of what the solution is designed to do, the one thing that will make or break its effectiveness is whether it was programmed to leverage all the available functionality and to work seamlessly with the banks’ existing systems.

For some financial institutions, the question might be as simple as: “Is this device and its functionality supported by my software provider?” If not, the bank might be left to choose from a predetermined selection of similar products, which may or may not have the same capabilities and feature sets that they had in mind.

The Difference Between True Automation and Not
A well-supported and properly integrated cash automation solution communicates directly with the teller system. For example, consider a typical $100 request from a teller transaction to a cash recycler, a device responsible for accepting and dispensing cash. Perhaps the default is for the recycler to fulfill that request by dispensing five $20 notes. However, this particular transaction needs $50 bills instead. If your cash automation solution does not directly integrate with the teller system, the teller might have to re-enter the whole transaction manually, including all the different denominations. With a direct integration, the teller system and the recycler can communicate with each other and adjust the rest of the transaction dynamically. If the automation software is performing correctly, there is no separate keying process alongside the teller system into a module; the process is part of the normal routine workflow within the teller environment. This is a subtle improvement emblematic of the countless other things that can be done better when communication is a two-way street.

Automation Fueling Better Reporting and Monitoring
A proper and robust solution must be comprehensive: not just controlling equipment but having the ability to deliver on-demand auditing, from any level of the organization. Whether it is a branch manager checking on a particular teller workstation, or an operations manager looking for macro insights at the regional or enterprise level, that functionality needs to be easily accessible in real time.

The auditing and general visibility requirements denote why a true automation solution adds value. Without seamless native support for different types of recyclers, it’s not uncommon to have to close and relaunch the program any time you need to access a different set of machines. A less polished interface tends to lead to more manual interactions to bridge the gaps, which in turn causes delays or even mistakes.

Cash and check automation are key to streamlining operations in the branch environment. As more resources are expanding to digital and mobile channels, keeping the branch operating more efficiently so that resources can focus on the customer experience, upselling premium services, or so that resources can be moved elsewhere is vital. Thankfully, with the proper cash and check automation solutions, bank leaders can execute on this ideal and continue to improve both the customer experience and employee satisfaction.

The Easiest Way to Launch a Digital Bank

New fintechs are forcing traditional financial institutions to acclimatize to a modern banking environment. Some banks are gearing up to allow these fintechs to hitchhike on their existing bank charters by providing application programming interfaces (APIs) for payments, deposits, compliance and more. Others are launching their own digital brands using their existing licenses.

Either way, the determining factor of the ultimate digital experience for users and consumers is the underlying technology infrastructure. While banks can spawn digital editions from their legacy cores through limited APIs and cobbled-up middleware, the key questions for their future relevance and resilience remain unanswered:

  1. Can traditional banks offer the programmability needed to launch bespoke products and services?
  2. Can they compose products on the fly and offer the speed to market?
  3. Can they remove friction and offer a sleek end-to-end experience?
  4. Can they meet the modern API requirements that developers and fintechs demand from banks?

If the core providers and middleware can’t help, what can banks use to launch a digital bank? The perfect springboard for launching a digital bank may lie in the operating system.

Removing friction at every touchpoint is the overarching theme around most innovation. So when it comes to innovation, why do banks start with the core, which is often the point in their system with the least amount of flexibility and the most friction?

When it comes to launching a digital bank, the perfect place for an institution to start is an operating system that is exclusively designed for composability — that they can build configurable components to create products and services — and the rapid launch of banking products. Built-in engines, or engines that can take care of workflows based on business rules, in the operating system can expedite the launch of financial services products, while APIs and software development kits open up the possibility for custom development and embedded banking.

That means banks can create products designed for the next generation of consumers or for niche communities through the “composability” or “programmability” offered by these operating systems. This can include teen accounts, instant payments for small and medium-sized business customers that can improve their cash flow, foreign exchange for corporate customers with international presence, domestic and international payments to business customers, tailored digital banking experiences; whatever the product, banks can easily compose and create on the fly. What’s more, they also have granular control to customize and control the underlying processes using powerful workflow engines. The operating system also provides access to centralized services like compliance, audit, notifications and reporting that different departments across the bank can access, improving operational efficiency.

Menu-based innovation through operating systems
The rich assortment of microservices apps offered in operating systems can help banks to launch different applications and features like FedNow, RTP and banking as a service(BaaS) on the fly. The process is simple.

The bank fills up a form with basic information and exercises its choice from a menu of microapps compiled for bankers and customers. The menu includes the payment rails and networks the bank needs — ACH, Fedwire, RTP, Swift — along with additional options like foreign exchange, compliance, onboarding and customer experiences like bulk and international payments, to name a few.

The bank submits the form and receives notification that its digital bank has been set up on a modern, scalable and robust cloud infrastructure. The institution also benefits from an array of in-built features like audit, workflows, customer relationship management, administration, dashboards, fees and much more.

Setting up the payment infrastructure for a digital bank can be as easy as ordering a pizza:

  1. Pick from the menu of apps.
  2. Get your new digital brand setup in 10 minutes.
  3. Train employees to use the apps.
  4. Launch banking products to customers.
  5. Onboard fintech partners through For-Benefit-Of Accounts (FBO)/virtual accounts.
  6. Offer APIs to provide banking as a service without the need for middleware.

The pandemic has given new shape and form to financial services; banks need the programmability to play with modular elements offered on powerful operating systems that serve as the bedrock of innovation.

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.

3 Considerations for Your Next Strategic Planning Session

Modernizing a bank’s technology has the potential to improve efficiency, reduce errors and free up resources for further investment. Still, with all those benefits, many banks are still woefully behind where they need to be to compete in today’s digital environment.

According to Cornerstone Advisors’ What’s Going On In Banking 2022 research, just 11% of banks will have launched a digital transformation strategy by the end of 2022. So what’s the holdup? For one thing, transformation is hamstrung by the industry structure that has evolved with banking vendors. Stories of missed deadlines, releases with dingbat issues, integrations that stop working and too few knowledgeable professionals to assist in system implementation and support are commonplace.

A large part of a bank’s future depends on how it hires and develops technical talent, manages fintech partnerships and scrutinizes and optimizes its technology contracts. Here are three key truths for bank officers and directors to consider in advance of their next strategic planning session:

1. There is no university diploma that can be obtained for many areas of the bank.
Our research finds that 63% of financial institution executives cited the ability to attract qualified talent as a top concern this year — up dramatically from just 19% in 2021. But even in the face of an industry shift to digital-first delivery and a need to better automate processes and leverage strong data intelligence, most banks have neither invested enough, nor sufficiently developed, their IT team for the next decade.

Every financial institution has a unique combination of line of business processes, regulatory challenges, and vendors and systems; the  expertise to manage these areas can only be developed internally. Identifying existing skill sets across the organization will be critical, as will providing education and training to employees to help the organization grow.

A good place for directors and executives to start is by developing a clear and comprehensive list of the jobs, skills and knowledge the bank needs to develop across four key areas of the bank: payments, commercial credit, digital marketing and data analytics.

2. Financial institutions and fintechs are on different sides of table.
Over the past decade, there have been profound changes in the relationship between financial technology and financial institutions. “Banking as usual” no longer exists; as much as banks and fintechs want to work at the same table together, they have very different needs, different areas of dissatisfaction with the relationship and are sitting on different sides of that table.

A fintech can create viable software or a platform for the bank to build upon, but the bank needs to have the internal talent to leverage it (see No. 1). A culture of disciplined execution and accountability that ensures the fintech solution will be deployed in a high performance, referenceable way will go a long away in strengthening the partnership.

3. Training and system utilization reviews need to find their way into vendor contracts.
When it comes to software solutions, banks are looking at multimillion-dollar contracts and allocating tens of thousands of dollars in training on top of that. This is not the time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Every organization needs to build a tightly integrated “change team” that can extend, integrate, lightly customize and monitor a growing stack of new, primarily cloud-based, platform solutions. For CFOs and the finance department, this means a punctuated investment in the raw talent to make the bank more self-sufficient from a tech perspective (see No. 1 and 2 above).

One way to launch this effort is with an inventory for executive management that details how many users have gone through which modules of training. This tool can be vitally important, involves only minor add-on costs and can and should be embedded in every vendor contract.

Many financial institutions subject themselves to unfavorable technology contract terms by entering negotiations with too little knowledge of market pricing, letting contracts auto-renew and failing to prioritize contracts that need the most attention. If managed properly, vendor contracts represent a huge opportunity for savings.

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.

Unlocking Banking as a Service for Business Customers

Banking as a service, or BaaS, has become one of the most important strategic imperatives for chief executives across all industries, including banking, technology, manufacturing and retail.

Retail and business customers want integrated experiences in their daily lives, including seamlessly embedded financial experiences into everyday experiences. Paying for a rideshare from an app, financing home improvements when accepting a contractor quote, funding supplier invoices via an accounting package and offering cash management services to fintechs — these are just some examples of how BaaS enables any business to develop new and exciting propositions to customers, with the relevant financial services embedded into the process. The market for embedded finance is expected to reach $7 trillion by 2030, according to the Next-Gen Commercial Banking Tracker, a PYMNTS and FISPAN collaboration. Banks that act fast and secure priority customer context will experience the greatest upside.

Both banks and potential BaaS distributors, such as technology companies, should be looking for ways to capitalize on BaaS opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises and businesses (SMEs). According to research from Accenture, 25% of all SME banking revenue is projected to shift to embedded channels by 2025. SME customers are looking for integrated financial experiences within relevant points of context.

SMEs need a more convenient, transparent method to apply for a loan, given that business owners are often discouraged from exploring financing opportunities. In 2021, 35% of SMEs in the United States needed financing but did not apply for a loan according to the 2022 Report on Employer Firms Based on the Small Business Credit Survey. According to the Fed, SMEs shied away from traditional lending due to the difficult application process, long waits for credit decisions, high interest rates and unfavorable repayment terms, and instead used personal funds, cut staff, reduced hours, and downsized operations.

And while there is unmet demand from SMEs, there is also excess supply. Over the last few years, the loan-to-deposit ratio at U.S. banks fell from 80% to 63%, the Federal Reserve wrote in August 2021. Banks need loan growth to drive profits. Embedding financial services for SME lending is not only important for retaining and growing customer relationships, but also critical to growing and diversifying loan portfolios. The time for banks to act is now, given the current inflection point: BaaS for SMEs is projected to see four-times growth compared to retail and corporate BaaS, according to Finastra’s Banking as a Service: Global Outlook 2022 report.

How to Succeed in Banking as a Service for SMEs
There are three key steps that any institution must take to succeed in BaaS: Understand what use cases will deliver the most value to their customers, select monetization models that deliver capabilities and enable profits and be clear on what is required to take a BaaS solution to market, including partnerships that accelerate delivery.

BaaS providers and distributors should focus on the right use case in their market. Banks and technology companies can drive customer value by embedding loan and credit offers on business management platforms. Customers will benefit from the increased convenience, better terms and shorter application times because the digitized process automates data entry. Banks can acquire customers outside their traditional footprint and reduce both operational costs and risks by accessing financial data. And technology companies can gain a competitive advantage by adding new features valued by their customers.

To enable the right use case, both distributors and providers must also select the right partners — those with the best capabilities that drive value to their customers. For example, a recent collaboration between Finastra and Microsoft allows businesses that use Microsoft Dynamics to access financing offers on the platform.

Banks will also want to focus on white labeling front‑to-back customer journeys and securing access to a marketplace. In BaaS, a marketplace model increases competition and benefits for all providers. Providers should focus on sector‑specific products and services, enhancing data and analytics to enable better risk decisions and specialized digital solutions.

But one thing is clear: Going forward, embedded finance will be a significant opportunity for banks that embrace it.

Does Your Bank Struggle With Analysis Paralysis?

The challenge facing most community financial institutions is not a lack of data.

Institutions send millions of data points through extensive networks and applications to process, transmit and maintain daily operations. But simply having an abundance of data available does not automatically correlate actionable, valuable insights. Often, this inundation of data is the first obstacle that hinders — rather than helps — bankers make smarter decisions and more optimal choices, leading to analysis paralysis.

What is analysis paralysis? Analysis paralysis is the inability of a firm to effectively monetize data or information in a meaningful way that results in action.

The true value is not in having an abundance of data, but the ability to easily turn this cache into actionable insights that drive an institution’s ability to serve its community, streamline operations and ultimately compete with larger institutions and non-bank competitors.

The first step in combatting analysis paralysis is maintaining a single source of truth under a centralized data strategy. Far too often, different departments within the same bank produce conflicting reports with conflicting results — despite relying on the “same” input and data sources. This is a problem for several reasons; most significantly, it limits a banker’s ability to make critical decisions. Establishing a common data repository and defining the data structure and flow with an agreed-upon lexicon is critical to positioning the bank for future success.

The second step is to increase the trust, reliability, and availability of your data. We are all familiar with the saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” This applies to data. Data that is not normalized and is not agreed-upon from an organizational perspective will create issues. If your institution is not scrubbing collected data to make sure it is complete, accurate and, most importantly, useful, it is wasting valuable company resources.

Generally, bad data is considered data that is inaccurate, incomplete, non-conforming, duplicative or the result of poor data input. But this isn’t the complete picture. For example, data that is aggregated or siloed in a way that makes it inaccessible or unusable is also bad data. Likewise, data that fails to garner any meaning or insight into business practices, or is not available in a timely manner, is bad data.

Increasing the access to and availability of data will help banks unlock its benefits. Hidden data is the same as having no data at all.

The last step is to align the bank’s data strategy with its business strategy. Data strategy corresponds with how bank executives will measure and monitor the success of the institution. Good data strategy, paired with business strategy, translates into strong decision-making. Executives that understand the right data to collect, and anticipate future expectations to access and aggregate data in a meaningful way is paramount to achieving enduring success in this “big data” era. For example, the success of an initiative that takes advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive capabilities is contingent upon aligning a bank’s data strategy with its business strategy.

When an organization has access to critical consumer information or insights into market tendencies, it is equipped to make decisions that increase revenue, market share and operational efficiencies. Meaningful data that is presented in a timely and easy-to-digest manner and aligns with the company’s strategy and measurables allows executives to react quickly to changes affecting the organization — rather than waiting until the end of the quarter or the next strategic planning meeting before taking action.

At the end of the day, every institution’s data can tell a very unique story. Do you know what story your data tells about the bank? What does the data say about the future? Banks that are paralyzed by data lose the ability to guide their story, becoming much more reactive than proactive. Ultimately, they may miss out on opportunities that propel the bank forward and position it for future success. Eliminating the paralysis from the analysis ensures data is driving the strategy, and enables banks to guide their story in positive direction.

Breaking the Legacy Mindset

For banks, the status quo can often stymie innovation. Even if executives have the desire to try something new, their institution can be incumbered by entrenched legacy systems.

But taking a chance on something new can open up institutions to the possibility of achieving something bigger. The decision to choose a new path is usually very difficult; loyalty and security can feel hard coded in our DNA. But sometimes it comes to the point where you realize that the thing you are doing over and over is never going to produce a different, game-changing outcome.

The adage of “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” continues to ring true in many ways in the fintech space. It refers to the idea that making a safe bet never got anyone in trouble; choosing the industry’s standard company, product or service had little repercussions for the executives making the decisions — even if there were newer, cheaper or better options. It was safe, the company was reliable and little happened in the way of bucking the status quo.

The payments industry has a number of parallels from which we can draw. The electronic payment ecosystem is more than 40 years old; while there has been innovation, it has not been at the same pace as the rest of the technology industry. Some bankers may remember “knuckle busters” and the carbon paper of old. Although banking have since shed those physical devices, the core processing behind the electronic payments system largely remains the same.

These legacy systems mean the payments industry traditionally has had extremely high barriers to entry. This is due to a number of factors, including increasing risk and regulatory compliance needs, high capital investments, a technology environment that is difficult to penetrate and complex integration webs between multiple partners. This unique environment increases the stickiness of mature offerings and creates a complex set of products and long-standing relationships that make it difficult for new products or providers to break through.

The industry’s fragmentation is also a blessing and a curse. While fragmentation gives institutions and consumers choices in the market, it hinders new companies from emerging. This makes it challenging for companies to gain traction or disrupt existing solutions with new and creative ways to solve problems and address needs. Breaking into the market is still only step one. Convincing banks that you can simplify their processes and scale your solutions is an ongoing challenge that smaller fintechs must overcome to truly participate — and potentially disrupt — the industry. The combination of these factors fuels a deep resistance to change in the banking industry.

Fintechs aren’t legacy companies — and that is a good thing. Implementations don’t need to take months, they can be done in weeks. Customer service isn’t challenging when communication happens openly and quickly. Enhancements are affordable, and newer platforms offer nimbleness and openness.

In order to succeed, fintechs must find ways to innovate within the gray space. This could look like any number of things: taking advantage of mandates that create new opportunities, stretching systems and capability gaps to explore new norms, or venturing out into entirely uncharted territory. And banks do not have to fit into the same familiar patterns; changing one piece of the puzzle does not always have to be a massive undertaking.

What within your bank’s walls just “works”? What system or processes have been on autopilot that could chart a new path? What external services are your customers using that the bank could bring in-house if executives thought outside the box? Fintech can complement the bank, if you select the right partner that expands your ecosystem. Fintech can change user experiences — simplifying them to deliver a truly different outcome altogether.

Take a chance on fintech. It will be epic.

Recapturing the Data That Creates Valuable Customer Interactions

Before the end of 2021, regulators announced that JPMorgan Chase & Co. had agreed to pay $200 million in fines for “widespread” recordkeeping failures. For years, firm employees used their personal devices and accounts to communicate about business with their customers; the bank did not have records of these exchanges. While $200 million is a large fine by any account, does the settlement capture the true cost of being unsure about where firm data resides?

In 2006, Clive Humby coined the phrased “data is the new oil.” Since then, big tech and fintech companies have invested heavily in making it convenient for consumers to share their needs and wants through any channel, anytime — all while generating and accumulating tremendous data sets makes deep customer segmentation and target-of-one advertising possible.

Historically, banks fostered personal relationships with customers through physical conversations in branches. While these interactions were often triggered by a practical need, the accumulated knowledge bankers’ had about their customers, and their subsequent ability to capitalize on the power of small talk, allowed them to identify unmet customer needs with products and services and drive deeper relationships. Fast forward to the present day: Customer visits to branches have dropped to unprecedented levels as they embrace digital banking as their primary way of managing their finances.

But managing personal finances is different from banking. While most bank interactions revolve around checking balances, depositing checks and paying people and bills, the valuable interactions involve open-ended conversations about the desire to be able to buy a first home, planning for retirement or education, and funding large purchases like cars. These needs have not gone away — but the way consumers want to engage with their institution has completely transformed.

Consumers want to engage their banker through channels that are convenient to them, and this includes mobile messaging, SMS, Facebook messenger and WhatsApp. JPMorgan’s bankers may not have been trying to circumvent securities regulations in engaging with customers on their terms. Failing to meet your customers where they are frustrates both customers and bankers. Failing to embrace these digital channels leads to less valuable data the bank can use.

Banking platforms — like digital, payment and core banking — can capture data that provides insight into consumers’ saving and spending behavior, but fails to capture latent needs. Institutions that make it more convenient for customers to ask their personal banker something than Googling it opens up an entirely new data source. Allowing customers to ask open-ended questions augments transactional insight with unprecedented data on forward-looking needs.

In a recent case study, First National Bank of Omaha identified that 65% of customers expressed interest in exploring new products and services: 15% for credit cards, 12% for home loans, 9% for investments, and 7% for auto loans.

If “data is the new oil,” the real value lies is in the finished product, not the raw state. While data is exciting, the true value is in deriving insights. Analyzing conversational data can provide great insight. And banks can unlock even greater value when they analyze unprocessed conversational data in the context of other customer behavior, like spending patterns, propensity to use other engagement channels and socio-demographic changes.

At present, most of this data is owned and guarded by financial processors and is not readily available for banks to access and analyze. As banks extend their digital engagement model, it is imperative they own and can access their data and insights. And as banks increasingly see the benefits of allowing customers to engage with their banker in the same way they talk to their friends, key considerations should include:

  • Conversation aggregation. Is a customer’s conversation with multiple bankers aggregated to a single thread, avoiding data lost through channel switching?
  • Are conversations across channels retained within a dedicated and secure environment?
  • Can conversations transition from one relationship banker to another, avoiding the downfall of employee attrition?
  • Are suitable tools powered by artificial intelligence and other capabilities in place to ensure a real-time view of trending topics and requests?
  • Data access. Is raw conversational data readily available to the bank?

Engaging customers through digital channels presents an exciting opportunity for banks. No longer will data live within the mind of the banker: rather, insight that are derived from both individual and aggregate analysis can become a key driver for both strategic and tactical decisioning.

The Future-Proof Response to Rising Interest Rates

After years of low interest rates, they are on the rise — potentially increasing at a faster rate than the industry has seen in a decade. What can banks do about it?

This environment is in sharp contrast to the situation financial institutions faced as recently as 2019, when banks faced difficulties in raising core deposits. The pandemic changed all that. Almost overnight, loan applications declined precipitously, and businesses drew down their credit lines. At the same time, state and federal stimulus programs boosted deposit and savings rates, causing a severe whipsaw in loan-to-deposit ratios. The personal savings rate — that is, the household share of unspent personal income — peaked at 34% in April 2020, according to research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. To put that in context, the peak savings rate in the 50 years preceding the pandemic was 17.7%.

These trends became even more pronounced with each new round of stimulus payments. The Dallas Fed reports that the share of stimulus recipients saving their payments doubled from 12.5% in the first round to 25% in the third round. The rise in consumers using funds to pay down debt was even more drastic, increasing from 14.6% in round one to 52.3% in round three. Meanwhile, as stock prices remained volatile, the relative safety of bank deposits became more attractive for many consumers — boosting community bank deposit rates.

Now, of course, it’s changing all over again.

“Consumer spending is on the rise, and we’ve seen a decrease in federal stimulus. There’s less cash coming into banks than before,” observes MANTL CRO Mike Bosserman. “We also expect to see an increase in lending activities, which means that banks will need more deposits to fund those loans. And with interest rates going up, other asset classes will become more interesting. Rising interest rates also tend to have an inverse impact on the value of stocks, which increases the expected return on those investments. In the next few months, I would expect to see a shift from cash to higher-earning asset classes — and that will significantly impact growth.

These trends are unfolding in a truly unprecedented competitive landscape. Community banks are have a serious technology disadvantage in comparison to money-center banks, challenger banks and fintechs, says Bosserman. The result is that the number of checking accounts opened by community institutions has been declining for years.

Over the past 25 years, money-center banks have increased their market share at the expense of community financial institutions. The top 15 banks control 56.2% of the overall marketshare, up from 40% roughly 25 years ago. And the rise of new players such as fintechs and neobanks has driven competition to never-before-seen levels.

For many community banks, this is an existential threat. Community banks are critical to maintaining competition and equity in the U.S. financial system. But their role is often overlooked in an industry that is constantly evolving and focused on bigger, faster and shinier features. The average American adult prefers to open their accounts digitally. Institutions that lack the tools to power that experience will have a difficult future — regardless of where interest rates are. For institutions that have fallen behind the digital transformation curve, the opportunity cost of not modernizing is now a matter of survival.

The key to survival will be changing how these institutions think about technology investments.

“Technology isn’t a cost center,” insists Christian Ruppe, vice president of digital banking at the $1.2 billion Horicon Bank. “It’s a profit center. As soon as you start thinking of your digital investments like that — as soon as you change that conversation — then investing a little more in better technology makes a ton of sense.”

The right technology in place allows banks to regain their competitive advantage, says Bosserman. Banks can pivot as a response to events in the macro environment, turning on the tap during a liquidity crunch, then turn it down when deposits become a lower priority. The bottom line for community institutions is that in a rapidly changing landscape, technology is key to fostering the resilience that allows them to embrace the future with confidence.

“That kind of agility will be critical to future-proofing your institution,” he says.