The “But” in the Conversation Among Bank Boards, CEOs


strategy-9-13-18.pngJamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., has now been infamously linked to his declaration that the “golden age of banking” is upon us, though bankers and directors often follow that celebratory tone with a caveat, whether they’re speaking about technology, growth or governance topics.

This dynamic became clear at Bank Director’s 2018 Bank Board Training Forum, held Sept. 10-11 at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, where nearly 200 directors, chairmen, lead directors and chief executives discussed how the favorable economy has also added pressure and challenge in a range of areas on the priority lists for bank boards, including governance, technology, risk and, of course, growth.

It is clear that a strong economy has kicked earnings into high gear, which draws headlines when buybacks or 30-percent growth in earnings per share is announced on quarterly earnings calls. But at the same time, transition and new challenges are presenting themselves in front of bank leaders regardless of size, location or whether the company is public or private. The industry is shifting, and so does the conversation when bankers and directors discuss anything from growth strategies to technology.

Banks must embrace and leverage the capability of technological advancements, but…
The cost and risk associated with such integrations are, and will remain, a challenge.

In a closing panel of three successful chief executive officers, Scott Dueser, CEO of First Financial Bankshares in Abilene, Texas, Dorothy Savarese, CEO of The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank in Southeastern Massachusetts, and Dave Mansfield, CEO of The Provident Bank in Amesbury, Massachusetts, all said cybersecurity and technological improvements are top-of-mind for their companies, but finding a balance between convenience and value are challenging.

“We’re using technology to enhance—take away the menial tasks. We have to deliver value. We’re not going to do that with just technology,” Mansfield says.

Fintech disruption will continue, but…
“This is not a time to be scared,” says Ed Kelley, vice president of sales for TransCard Payments, LLC, who, along with Ahron Oddman, area vice president at nCino, Inc., billed themselves as “the face of fintech” to the audience.

Payments and small-business lending, which Oddman discussed, highlight two areas where the agility of fintechs enables them to attract more business. Kelley noted that while a challenge, “there’s also a good bit of opportunity” to partner with fintechs to be competitive.

“In order to be competitive, you have to spend money. And in order to spend money, you have to be competitive,” Kelley says, noting the paradox.

Competition among community banks is intense, but…
It’s not seen as coming from the major financial institutions despite their ability to attract low-cost deposits.

Most bankers suggest their competition remains other community banks, credit unions and fintechs, not the largest institutions. Joe Bower, CEO of CNB Bank, a $3 billion bank based in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, says those large institutions “are actually really good for us,” because they often have little interest in the tier of commercial customers a bank similar to his would have, and instead are interested in large-scale commercial real estate clients.

Regulations are beginning to relax, but…
The pressure on sound governance is increasing, both in oversight of bank management and internal governance.

Board refreshment is drawing greater scrutiny as the average age of directors is increasing, according to Alan Kaplan, founder and CEO of Kaplan Partners, a sign that refreshment and diversity remain tough topics for many boards.

A show of hands among attendees indicated that while evaluation is consistent, peer evaluation is less common, though proxy advisory firms like ISS and Glass Lewis are ramping up pressure on boards to evaluate their performance with greater frequency.

Regulators are also placing greater scrutiny on board oversight, highlighted by “direct finger pointing” at the board of Wells Fargo & Co. by the Federal Reserve and legal actions against loan committees in the wake of the financial crisis.

M&A is increasing in number and “red hot,” but…
Traditionally hot metropolitan markets are becoming scarcer in terms of potential targets, and some banks are considering alternatives to traditional deals.

Jonathan Hightower, an M&A attorney in Atlanta with Bryan Cave, points to WSFS Financial Corp.’s $1.5-billion deal to acquire Beneficial Bancorp Inc., which will result in the new $13 billion bank pouring investments into technology.

Despite an active market, Hightower says boards should carefully vet any potential deal, because “if it doesn’t offer opportunity for growth, what’s the point.” Hightower also notes that banks should consider alternative growth strategies, like an initial public offering, that can provide a different path to raise large amounts of capital.

The financial crisis is firmly in the rearview mirror, and the industry is the healthiest it has been in almost a generation by many metrics. But that should not stop banks from planning for the next downturn, or how they can maintain a competitive advantage against their peers.

“This is the way we compete, we think about these things futuristically,” said Jennifer Burke, a partner with Crowe LLC.

What Banks Need to Know About Fintech Partnerships


The idea that banks and fintechs need to compete with each other is unfounded and restrictive to both parties.

Both fintechs and banks have a lot to gain by collaborating, and very little to lose. For fintechs, the most widely cited reasons for partnering with banks, according to Capgemini, include enhanced visibility by partnering with established brand names, achieving economies of scale and gaining customer trust.

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For banks, the benefits are much more tangible, and their impact on the bottom line can be immediate.

The European Business Review explained it well: “By tapping into expertise, traditional banks stand to move much more swiftly and effectively than they otherwise could to introduce new products, streamline processes, enhance customer experience, and increase revenues.”

Looking at increased revenues, Accenture claims banks can potentially gain three to five percent by partnering with fintechs, with gains coming from enhanced customer acquisition, more fee-based revenue, better pricing accuracy, and a lower cost of risk.

When approaching a partnership with a fintech, there are a few things banks should be cognizant of in order to ensure success:

1.  Serve your customers first
First and foremost, your customers should be at the center of everything you do, including your partnerships with fintechs. How well you are serving your customers dictates your success more than anything else, and every fintech partnership represents an opportunity to further build and solidify customer loyalty.

For this reason, it’s important to partner with fintechs that will address customer pain points the most effectively. There are a lot of fintechs for banks to choose from in the process of finding partners, and the degree to which a partnership with a fintech will improve the life of customers should weigh in heaviest in your decision making.

2.  Think holistically about your partnership
If you want your partnership with a fintech to be a success, you need to think deeper than your initial partnership agreement. Especially in sell-through partner channels, setting time aside to have your sales and support teams familiarize themselves with the typical FAQs and support procedures will ensure your go-to-market strategies are aligned, and you are promoting the product or service as effectively as possible in the smallest amount of time.

3.  Ongoing collaboration is necessary for success
The nature of your fintech partner’s business is bound to change and evolve. For this reason, it is essential to keep up with the best ways to sell their product or service to your customers.

Many fintechs host training and workshops for the banks they partner with, and offer marketing resources to help banks promote the value of their service. Take advantage of these things to ensure you are getting the most out of your partnerships.

Accounts Payable (AP) Automation is one example of a way a fintech partnership can become a strategic advantage for a bank.

MineralTree has seen banks build customer loyalty while simultaneously driving interchange revenue due to a few core changes, which include:

  1. The private-labeled solution streamlines a workflow for bank customers that has traditionally been very manual, paper-based, and filled with frustration.
  2. The updated workflow simplifies the process for bank customers to pay vendors through the commercial card program run by their banks.
  3. Banks are able to integrate with their customer’s business at a deeper level by addressing pain within the operations of their customers’ businesses.

Also, with AP Automation still approaching a tipping point in adoption, banks have an opportunity to drastically differentiate themselves by offering a solution that is truly disruptive.

Regardless of which types of services or products you believe can bring value to your customers, the opportunity to partner with fintechs makes the process of introducing them and quickly realizing their benefits much easier.

Have MVB and BillGO Reached True Financial Symbiosis?


payments-7-18-18.pngSometimes a fintech partnership doesn’t result in a new product or service for the bank but can still result in new opportunities for both organizations. The relationship between BillGO, a real-time payments provider based in Fort Collins, Colorado, and MVB Financial Corp., a $1.6 billion asset financial holding company headquartered in Fairmont, West Virginia, isn’t your typical partnership story. Instead, it’s an example of true symbiosis between a bank and a fintech firm, with MVB gaining deposits and fee income while helping BillGO scale its real-time payments solution to more than 5,000 banks and credit unions. Less than a year ago, the company worked with just 200 institutions. It plans to go live with another 3,000 in the next few months.

The two companies were recognized as finalists for the Best of FinXTech Partnership at Bank Director’s 2018 Best of FinXTech Awards.

MVB supports BillGO’s growth in a number of ways. The bank processes its payments, resulting in fee income for MVB. The bank also holds deposits for the company and its B2B clients in connection with their transactions. And the bank’s compliance expertise is another key benefit. “We keep them out of trouble, so to speak,” says MVB CEO Larry Mazza.

This growing understanding of the fintech industry’s needs, gained in part due to its relationship with BillGO, is quietly turning MVB into a bank of choice for fintech firms.

“We’re meeting other, more mature fintech companies that allow us to help them in different ways,” Mazza says. “It’s really started to be very positive for us, in learning fintech [and] in profitability, deposits as well as fee income.”

“They don’t really advertise it, but they do have a specialty with fintech because of their compliance [expertise], because of their ability with payments and their ability with partnerships to deliver some unique offerings that fintech companies can’t normally do by themselves,” says BillGO CEO Dan Holt.

Before partnering with MVB, BillGO worked with a larger bank, but Holt says MVB is a Goldilocks-style bank for the company: Big enough to help the company scale, but small enough to make decisions quickly and develop an in-depth relationship with his company. Holt adds that his company has access to MVB’s executive team, unlike his previous banking provider.

And MVB is an investor in BillGO. “I felt this would be a really good [way] for us to start the process of investing in fintech,” says Mazza. “Once you invest money in it, it definitely piques your interest.” He describes the bank as an active investor, and Mazza has served on the company’s board since January 2017.

This expertise has been invaluable for BillGO, given Mazza’s financial background and his ability to shed light on the needs of the banking industry, says Holt.

Just as the BillGO relationship is a strong reputation-builder for MVB with other fintech firms, Holt says that MVB’s investment in BillGO speaks volumes about his company’s reputation to potential bank clients. New customers feel more comfortable knowing a traditional financial institution is an investor and has completed the associated due diligence.

Holt joined the MVB board late last year as an extension of the partnership between the two organizations, and Mazza says his background has been highly beneficial to the bank. “[Holt] has intimate knowledge into the industry and payment processing,” says Mazza, and his expertise enhances board discussions about technology trends and opportunities. “Our board members could see the difference.”

Many bank boards struggle to add tech-savvy directors, with 44 percent of bank directors and executives in Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey citing this as a key challenge.

“Banks are more traditional. They really honor regulation,” says Mazza. “It’s our lifeblood, and we have taken regulation extremely seriously. We see regulation as a competitive advantage, if we do it right.” But partnering with BillGO, and adding Holt to the board, is helping MVB think like a startup as well. “That has changed our lives,” he says. “BillGO has helped us think more innovatively [and be] more forward-thinking.”

Ensuring a Safe & Sound Banking System



One of the principal jobs of the Comptroller of the Currency—if not the principal job—is to ensure the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system. After nine years of economic growth, are regulators looking ahead for a potential downturn? In this conversation at Bank Director’s Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference, former Comptroller of the Currency Tom Curry shares his thoughts and advice on a variety of issues with Bank Director Editor in Chief Jack Milligan.

Highlights from this video:

  • Risks in the Banking System Today
  • Preparing for a Potential Economic Downturn
  • What’s Changing with Regulatory Relief
  • Developing a Good Regulatory Relationship
  • The Impact of Regtech and Fintech

When is the Ideal Time to Engage a Fintech Partner?


fintech-6-5-18.pngFintech startups excel at giving birth to new ideas—ideas that do not get shut down by IT departments worried about security or compliance, or legal departments worried about a lack of regulatory guidance, or finance departments worried about high costs and likelihood of failure. We use fintech startups and possibly your bank uses them, too.

When we started up our firm 16 years ago, you could count the number of banks “potentially interested” in our prospective service on two hands and the word “fintech” had not yet entered the lexicon. Today our company serves thousands of banks and processes billions of dollars in deposits every week.

We have found through experience that fintechs have a particular kind of life cycle, which is really a continuum, but which, for discussion’s sake, can be broken down into four stages: the Garage, Initial Growth, Rapid Growth, and Maturity. How a bank interacts with a fintech in each of these stages can help it to manage the level of risk it wants to bear, how much work it will have to expend, and how much value it might realize from that engagement. The big question, then, is when to engage.

Stage One: The Garage
This is the proof-of-concept stage. The reward for working with a garage stage company is potentially enormous. However, the overwhelming number of garage stage fintechs fail. Banks probably do not want to consider engagement at this stage unless the bank has a) an extremely experienced CIO, b) a robust risk-management system, and c) access to experienced legal talent. Also, most garage stage fintechs lack a culture of regulatory compliance, and they may also lack a secure environment around systems and data.

Stage Two: Initial Growth
Initial Growth stage fintechs are beginning to grow and acquire customers. They usually have compliance systems in place (although they are often weak and almost certainly lack adequate testing). Most of these companies will also have SOC reports. Do not think, however, that this means the fintech is necessarily buttoned up. Such reports merely help you perform your own due diligence, which will necessarily dig much deeper. But if your bank has the right skills, including the strong CIO, risk-management and legal expertise mentioned above, the initial growth stage can also be a very rewarding point to get involved with a fintech.

Stage Three: Rapid Growth
These firms are moving swiftly but are still short of sustained profitability. On the other hand, they can offer great competitive advantages for early bank adopters. The bank benefits from the experiences of earlier customers while avoiding most of the risks of working with earlier stage companies. A key benefit of working with these more mature types of fintechs is the likely presence of a formal cybersecurity program that incorporates recurring network penetration tests, vulnerability management and whitehat hacking.

Stage Four: Maturity
The mature fintech is a consistently profitable business that may have been around for a decade or more and has top people, products and processes. Security is a top priority at these institutions with most participating in the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center and the FBI’s InfraGard Program. There is much less risk working with a mature fintech than with younger companies. One possible downside to working with a mature fintech is that they can only seem truly interested in their clients’ challenges at contract renewal time.

So there is no easy answer to the question of when to engage. Fintech companies at every stage have much to offer. Whether a relationship with a particular firm is right for your bank depends on its capabilities and risk tolerances—and what you are looking for in a partner. The best course in all cases is to perform deep due diligence on any potential fintech partner and check its references with other bank customers.

Five Benefits to Automating the Credit Process


automation-5-29-18.pngAutomation is a common buzzword these days in the financial services industry. What does it really mean for your business, and how far can you take automation through your credit origination process?

We have compiled the top five benefits of applying automation throughout your credit process.

  1. Reduce back and forth client interactions
    Instead of scanning, emailing, and faxing financial information and supporting documentation, customer-facing interactive portals and APIs can facilitate digital capture of required information.
  2. Eliminate unnecessary manual work
    By leveraging a portal that connects to the borrower’s financial accounting package, and has the technology to read tax forms digitally, you can reduce the amount of unnecessary manual data entry.
  3. Make quicker and smarter decisions
    Through the application of innovative machine-learning technology, the time required to generate financial spreads can be significantly reduced.
  4. Maintain high-quality data accuracy and governance
    Data integrity can potentially be compromised when several systems are used to store the same information. Turn-key integration between your customer engagement portal and loan origination system helps to keep all your data within one system.
  5. Gain a complete view of your portfolio
    With improved accuracy and quick access to available data comes better and faster insights into your portfolio. By reducing the need to consolidate and reconcile data from multiple sources, problems within your portfolio can be addressed in real time.

In a recent whitepaper, Maximize Efficiency: How Automation Can Improve Your Loan Origination Process, Moody’s Analytics explores these benefits and specific use cases for automation throughout key stages of the credit process.

Moody’s Analytics has also produced a video from a recent webinar related to this topic, which you can review here.

Citizens Bank and Fundation Mobilize Credit Delivery


partnership-5-16-18.pngWhile Citizens Bank and Fundation are certainly not the first bank and fintech company to work collaboratively together, theirs is unlike any other, both parties say, because of the relationship that exists between the two organizations.

Providence, Rhode Island-based Citizens, a top-20 U.S. bank at $152 billion in assets, partnered with Fundation, a fintech firm in Reston, Virginia that focuses on credit delivery to improve the efficiency and turnaround time for small business loans under $150,000.

Fundation’s technology serves as the entire front end, essentially a white-labeled online application, for Citizens’ commercial lending line of products, providing a technology platform that includes underwriting, closing and engagement tools, and features a decision engine that, based on certain criteria, determines “up front” which loan goes to Citizens and which to Fundation, according to Jack Murphy, president of the business banking division at Citizens.

“What makes the partnership unique is there’s a fair amount of folks in this space who outsource this type of lending to the partner,” Murphy said. Instead, the application process is integrated into Citizens’ own digital platform, a top priority for the bank, Murphy said.

“We wanted to integrate (it) into our technology.”

Citizens and Fundation won Bank Director’s Best of FinXTech Partnership award, presented May 10 at the FinXTech Annual Summit, held at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The platform allows for an entirely electronic application process, and enables Citizens’ lending team to physically go to and visit its small business customers to start or complete that application. Customers can also begin the application process in a branch, and finish at home, “or in their car,” Murphy joked, though he doesn’t advocate driving and applying for a commercial loan at the same time.

“It’s really become the front-end to our core underwriting system,” Murphy said.

Fundation has multiple bank clients, but its credit delivery platform uses data and a decision engine to automate much of the decision-making framework that many banks have and still use when reviewing applications. It also simplifies the compliance assessment, including the Customer Due Diligence (CDD) final rule that was developed just two years ago and became effective in May 2018.

There is automated scoring in approving small loans, allowing Citizens to focus its human capital on other strategies, like bigger, more intensive applications and projects that need more careful review while also reducing paperwork that can be cumbersome. It also has in some ways upended the entire underwriting process—they use bank statements instead of financial statements as part of the application process, and the technology determines which loan goes to the bank and which goes to the partner automatically up front.

The technology has only been available to all customers since the end of March 2018, but getting to that point involved months of due diligence, whittling down a list of nearly two dozen other firms before ultimately selecting Fundation.
“We took about a year to research who might be the best partner for us,” Murphy said, noting that it all began with the goal of improving the customer experience through a digital platform.

The board considered whether to buy, build or partner with a fintech, but ultimately there was only one choice.
“The fintechs have not had the balance sheets or cost of funds or the customer bases that the banks have, so partnership is really the best way for the two companies to business,” Murphy said.

Culture and cohesion between the two companies was half the driving force behind the decision to choose Fundation, Murphy said, in a crowded and competitive fintech market. Murphy said they wanted to partner with somebody who was “not just a tech company,” but a “partner that has a similar vision.”

Like other banks, Citizens has several relationships with fintech companies which provide other services, like SigFig, for instance, a tech-based personal investment platform. But Fundation offered something that was new to the bank, and has in just a short time already proven its worth.

It’s shortened the time from application to credit delivery to as little as three days, which in previous generations could have taken weeks, and generated “many multiples” of increased demand since a series of pilots with the software last fall.

The transformation of this credit delivery, he said, is far more than what some banks have done, which Murphy described rudimentarily as simply taking a paper-based loan application and converting it to an online webform.
“That’s not digital,” Murphy said. “Digital is literally the entire experience being electronic.”

Citizens wanted to make its application process fully digital, Murphy said, which has reduced costs and improved efficiency for the bank. And that result has not only transformed the bank’s commercial lending process, but how it strategizes its future.

“This is for us, I would say step one in a journey of multiple products and multiple ways of making it easier to do business with the bank, not vice versa,” Murphy said.

When It Comes to Fintech Partnerships, Look Before You Leap


fintech-5-12-18.pngAt the risk of oversimplification, there are essentially three categories of innovation in banking. There is a small but growing number of banks that have positioned themselves as early adopters of new technology. There are also fast followers, which are not the first banks to try a new technology but don’t lag far behind. Then there are the late adopters.

The digital economy is moving so fast that no bank today can afford to be in the final category. Being an early adopter is probably too risky for many institutions, but at the very least they need to be fast followers or risk getting left behind as the pace of the industry’s digitalization begins to accelerate.

How and when to successfully engage with a fintech company was a recurrent theme at Bank Director’s 2018 FinXTech Annual Summit, held May 10-11 at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Deciding to work with a fintech company on the development of a new consumer banking app or the automation of an internal process like small business lending is more than just another vendor relationship. Typically, these are highly collaborative partnerships where the fintech will be given at least some access to the bank’s systems and operations—and could be a risk to the bank if all does not go well.

The first piece of advice for any bank contemplating this kind of engagement is to perform a thorough due diligence of your intended partner. As highly regulated entities, banks need to make sure that any third-party service or product provider they work with have security and compliance processes in place that will satisfy the bank’s regulators. And the younger the fintech company, the less likely they have a compliance environment that most banks would (or should) be comfortable with.

Mark P. Jacobsen, president and chief executive officer at Arlington, Virginia-based Promontory Interfinancial Network, cautioned during a presentation that banks should not consider working with an early-stage fintech unless they have “an extremely experienced CIO, a very robust risk management system and access to very experienced legal talent.” It also makes sense for banks, to check a fintech’s references before finalizing its selection. “There are so many new things out there that it’s important to get that outside validation,” said Adom Greenland, senior vice president and chief operating officer at ChoiceOne Financial Services, a $622 million asset bank headquartered in Sparta, Michigan.

Cultural difference was also a recurrent theme at the Summit. Banks with a culture of innovation are more likely to be early adopters or, at the very least, fast followers. “Culture is a huge barrier to innovation,” said Bill McNulty, operating partner at Capital One Growth Ventures, a unit of Capital One Financial Corp., during a presentation on some of the common obstacles to innovation. “And culture always starts with people.”

McNulty said while he senses the urgency around innovation in banking is beginning to change, he knows of large fintech players that originally wanted to partner with banks, but have grown frustrated with the conservative culture at many institutions. “They decided it is too hard and takes too long and they would do it themselves,” he said. “If we don’t address culture, the best fintechs will do it themselves. Some of these companies will build [their own] banks.”

Bank Director announced the winners for its 2018 Annual Best of FinXTech Awards on May 10, choosing from among 10 finalists across three award categories, and while big banks were represented among the finalists—including U.S. Bancorp, Citizens Financial Corp., Pinnacle Financial Partners and USAA—two of the winners were community banks. And that fact underlines an important point when talking about innovation in banking. Small banks can play this game just as well and maybe even better than their larger peers.

Defining, Adopting and Executing on Fintech


fintech-9-5-17.pngFintech has become a convenient (and amorphous) term applied to virtually any technology or technology-enabled process that is, or might be, applied within financial services. While the technologies are complex, the vast array of the current wave of fintech boils down to three simple dynamics: (1) leveraging technology to measure or predict customer need or behavior; (2) meeting customer need through the best customer experience possible; and (3) the ability to execute more nimbly to evolve products and services and how they are delivered.

Every reasonably well-versed person in fintech knows that the ability to predict customer need or behavior is achieved through a strong data infrastructure combined with a high-quality analytics function. But what defines the quality of the customer experience? At Fundation, we believe the quality of the customer experience within financial services is determined by the convenience, simplicity, transparency, intuitiveness and security of the process by which a product or service is delivered. The challenge for many financial services companies in developing the optimal customer experience lies in the rigidity of their legacy systems. They lack the flexibility to continually innovate products and services and how they are delivered.

The distinct advantage that fintech firms like Fundation have over traditional financial services companies is the flexibility gained from building their technology infrastructures from scratch on modern technology. With in-house application development and data operations capabilities, fintechs can rapidly engineer and, more importantly, reengineer the customer experience and their business processes. The capacity to reengineer user interface (UI), user experience (UX) and back-end processes is a major factor in the ability of financial services companies to maintain a competitive edge in the digital era where customers are accustomed to engaging with the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple in their digital lives.

Banks Remain Well Positioned to Win With Fintech
Armed with these capabilities, we, like so many fintechs, could be thumping our chests about how we are going to transform banking. But at Fundation, we see the future differently. We believe that the biggest disruption to banking is not going to come from outside of the banking industry—it’s going to come from the inside. A handful of banks (and maybe more) will reengineer their technology and data infrastructure using modern systems and processes, developed internally and augmented through highly integrated partnerships with fintechs. As a result, these banks will generate superior financial returns and take market share as customers migrate to firms that provide the experiences they expect.

In addition to enjoying a lower cost of capital advantage versus fintechs, we believe banks are well positioned for three other reasons. First, banks will remain the dominant choice of customers for financial products given their brand strength and existing market share. Second, banks have far more data than the average fintech that can be used to develop predictive analytics to determine customer need or behavior. Third, and perhaps most important, banks have what we at Fundation call the “trust asset:” their customers trust that they will protect their information and privacy and that they will recommend products best suited to their needs.

Be the Manufacturer or the General Contractor
Banks are in a strong position to win the fintech revolution but what remains are the complexities of how to execute. There are a few basic strategies:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Manufacture your own capabilities
  3. Operate as the general contractor, aligning your institution with third parties that can do the manufacturing
  4. Some combination of manufacturing and general contracting

For banks that are predominantly in relationship-driven lines of business rather than transactional lines of business, doing nothing is viable for now. The pressures on your business are not as severe, and a wait-and-see approach may enable you to make more informed decisions when the time is right.

For others, doing nothing is fraught with peril. Assuming that you choose one of the remaining three options, the implementation process will be hard, but what may be even harder is the change in organizational psychology necessary to execute on your decision. Resistance to change is natural.

That is why fintech initiatives should be driven top-down. Executive leadership should command these initiatives and set the vision. More important, executive leaders should explain why the institution is pursuing a fintech initiative and why it has decided to build, partner or outsource. Explaining why can reduce the natural resistance to, and fear of, change.

Manufacturing your own capabilities is hard work but has advantages. It provides maximum control over the project and limits your vendor management risk. The downside is that the skill sets required to execute are wide-ranging. That said, building in-house doesn’t mean that everything needs to be proprietary technology. Most fintech platforms are a combination of proprietary technology along with third-party customized components. Should you elect to build off of third-party software, you must ensure that the platform is highly configurable and customizable. If you don’t have significant influence over customization, you will lose the opportunity to reengineer the processes necessary to rapidly innovate and evolve.

Being the general contractor isn’t easy, either, but banks are very adept at it. You could make the argument that most banks are just an amalgamation of business lines, each of which employs a different system (mostly third-party) and are already operating as general contractors. The business line leaders we have come to know have significant experience managing critical third-party vendors and therefore have the skill set and knowledge to manage even the most innovative financial technology partners. What’s more, they often know what they would want their operating platforms to do, as opposed to what they are built to do today.

Should your institution decide to outsource services to a fintech firm, it is paramount to align interests. Banks should embrace their fintech counterparty as a partner, not simply a vendor. Welcome the flexibility that they offer, and allow them to empower your institution to innovate and evolve.

Don’t Squander the “Trust Asset”
In a world where Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple dominate the digital landscape, deliver ideal customer experiences, and may possess a “trust asset” of their own, the status quo is not an option, no matter how painful change can be. If your financial institution intends to compete over the long term, executing on a fintech road map is vital, moving towards infrastructures with a foundation of flexibility. Over the next decade, flexibility will allow financial services companies to compete more effectively by delivering the products, services and experiences that customers will demand. Flexibility is what will allow your institution to maintain its competitive position over the long term.

Innovation Spotlight: First Internet Bank


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David Becker, President and CEO

Before he understood banking, David Becker understood technology and its ability to shape the customer experience. Highly attuned to how people would want to bank in the future, Becker started First Internet Bank in 1999, now a $2.4 billion asset institution in Fishers, Indiana. In his 35 years working in financial services technology, Becker has created five companies listed in Inc. magazine’s 500 fast growing companies and continues to engage in philanthropic initiatives to support the economic growth of central Indiana.

When you first told people you were starting a branchless bank, what reaction did you receive?
Nearly 20 years ago, I had an idea to create a bank that lived entirely online. At the time, I had three financial services software companies. Today, we would call them fintechs. My experience as a service provider to the financial services industry, and my years as a consumer and business bank client, gave me deep insight into how banks worked, and, candidly, how they could improve.

How did bankers react? I initially presented my concept to a traditional bank, explaining how a bank could build a nationwide business with an all-online presence. After the presentation, though, the bank’s CEO rejected our concept. He claimed computers weren’t fast enough and the alleged consumer wouldn’t buy in. Essentially, he said it couldn’t be done.

Fortunately, consumers did not share the same skepticism. What’s unique about our story is that this online banking model was born following a focus group with my friends and neighbors. I asked them about how they’d prefer to bank. The ideas flowed. Eighteen years and $2 billion in assets later, we have demonstrated the success that can follow when you remain focused on the customer.

What lessons did you learn working in the technology sector that later helped you as you were growing First Internet Bank?
Before launching First Internet Bank, I worked in and around financial services for years. I saw an opportunity to improve upon the industry’s shortcomings—primarily improving efficiency and the customer experience, both of which rely heavily on technology paired with a human touch.

What’s helped us grow so quickly is that we’ve recognized that we need talented people who can handle anything that comes in the door. Because we have no tellers, per se, everyone who works on our retail banking team, for example, needs to be trained across multiple technologies to handle multiple functions, from complex IRA transactions to mobile functionality to starting new deposit accounts.

And because we’re using technology like mobile banking and biometrics, to revolutionize the banking process, there really isn’t any limit to our potential growth.

How can bank boards start to adapt an entrepreneurial mindset that allows for innovation?
Because we were a pioneer of the branchless model, we’ve learned to use technology to help us adapt to challenges and reinvent ourselves. Technology enables us to expand our business, enter new verticals to diversify our revenue streams, and serve customers across the country—without a costly branch network.

Technology is an increasingly important part of our business, and there is much to be said about the ways fintech is changing the landscape of our industry. However, I would caution boards against looking to a fintech solution as a quick fix to bring innovation to your organization. If you truly want to foster a culture of innovation, look to your existing team.

Today, our hire is the “dissatisfied banker.” We look for the banker who says, “What if we did this instead?” We want the people who challenge the status quo and offer solutions to help us make it better. At First Internet Bank, we call this our “entrepreneurial spirit,” and it permeates the organization.

Our people are the key to our success. Some are bankers that have finally been empowered to do what they’ve always wanted to do. Others are industry outsiders that we’ve hired to bring new solutions to old problems.