How Bank Executives Can Address Signs of Trouble

As 2021’s “roaring” consumer confidence grinds to a halt, banks everywhere are strategizing about how best to deal with the tumultuous days ahead.

Jack Henry’s annual Strategic Priorities Benchmark Study, released in August 2022, surveyed banks and credit unions in the U.S. and found that many financial institutions share the same four concerns and goals:

1. The Economic Outlook
The economic outlook of some big bank executives is shifting. In June 2022, Bernstein Research hosted its 38th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference where some chief executives leading the largest banks in the U.S., including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Morgan Stanley, talked about the current economic situation. Their assessment was not entirely rosy. As reported by The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon called the looming economic uncertainty a “hurricane.” How devastating that hurricane will be remains a question.

2. Hiring and Retention
The Jack Henry survey also found 60% of financial institution CEOs are concerned about hiring and retention, but there may be some hope. A 2022 national study, conducted by Alkami Technology and The Center for Generational Kinetics, asked over 1,500 US participants about their futures with financial institutions. Forty percent responded they are likely to consider a career at a regional or community bank or credit union, with significant portion of responses within the Generation Z and millennial segments.

3. Waning Customer Loyalty
The imperative behind investing in additional features and services is a concern about waning customer loyalty. For many millennials and Gen Z bank customers, the concept of having a primary financial institution is not in their DNA. The same study from above found that 64% of that cohort is unsure if their current institution will remain their primary institution in the coming year. The main reason is the ease of digital banking at many competing fintechs.

4. Exploding Services and Payment Trends
Disruptors and new competition are entering the financial services space every day. Whether a service, product or other popular trend, a bank’s account holders and wallet share are being threatened. Here are three trends that bank executives should closely monitor.

  • The subscription economy. Recurring monthly subscriptions are great for businesses and convenient for customers: a win-win. Not so much for banks. The issue for banks is: How are your account holders paying for those subscriptions? If it’s with your debit or credit card, that’s an increased source of revenue. But if they’re paying through an ACH or another credit card, that’s a lost opportunity.
  • Cryptocurrency. Your account holders want education and guidance when it comes to digital assets. Initially, banks didn’t have much to do with crypto. Now, 44% of execs at financial institutions nationwide plan to offer cryptocurrency services by the end of 2022; 60% expect their clients to increase their crypto holdings, according to Arizent Research
  • Buy now, pay later (BNPL). Consumers like BNPL because it allows them to pay over time; oftentimes, they don’t have to go through a qualification process. In this economy, consumers may increasingly use it to finance essential purchases, which could signal future financial trouble and risk for the bank.

The Salve for It All: The Application of Data Insights
Banks need a way to attract and retain younger account holders in order to build a future-proof foundation. The key to dealing with these challenges is having a robust data strategy that works around the clock for your institutions. Banks have more data than ever before at their disposal, but data-driven marketing and strategies remains low in banking overall.

That’s a mistake, especially when it comes to data involving how, when and why account holders are turning to other banks, or where banks leave revenue on the table. Using their own first-party data, banks can understand how their account holders are spending their money to drive strategic business decisions that impact share of wallet, loyalty and growth. It’s also a way to identify trouble before it takes hold.

In these uncertain economic times, the proper understanding and application of data is the most powerful tool banks can use to stay ahead of their competition and meet or exceed account holder expectations.

How Legacy Systems, Tech Hold Bank Employees Back

The recent explosion in financial technology firms has allowed banks to make massive strides in improving the customer experience.

The most popular solutions have focused on making processes and services faster and easier for customers. For example, Zelle, a popular digital payments service, has improved the payments process for bank customers by making transfers immediate — eliminating the need to wait while those funds enter their checking account. There are countless examples of tools and resources that improve the bank customer experience, but the same cannot be said for the bank staffers.

Bank employees often use decades-old legacy systems that require weeks or months of training, create additional manual work required to complete tasks and do not communicate with each other. Besides creating headaches for the workers who have to use them, they waste time that could be better spent meaningfully serving customers.

The Great Resignation and tight labor market has made it difficult to find and retain workers with adequate and appropriate experience. On top of that, bankers spend significant amounts of time training new employees on how to use these complicated tools, which only exacerbates problems caused by high turnover. The paradox here is that banks risk ultimately disengaging their employees, who stop using most of the functionality provided by the very tools that their bank has invested in to help them work more efficiently. Instead, they revert to over-relying on doing many things manually.

If bank staff used tools that were as intuitive as those available to the bank’s customers, they would spend less time in training and more time connecting with customers and delivering valuable services. Improvements to their experience accomplishes more than simply making processes easier and faster. As it stands now, bank teams can spend more time than desired contacting customers, requesting documents and moving data around legacy systems. This manual work is time-consuming, robotic and creates very little profit for the bank.

But these manual tasks are still important to the bank’s business. Bankers still need a way to contact customers, retrieve documents and move data across internal systems. However, in the same way that customer-facing solutions automate much of what used to be done manually, banks can utilize solutions that automate internal business processes. Simple, repetitive tasks lend themselves best to automation; doing so frees up staff to spend more of their time on tasks that require mental flexibility or close attention. Automation augments the workers’ capabilities, which makes their work more productive and leads to a better customer experience overall.

There are good reasons to improve the experience of bank employees, but those are not the only reasons. Quality of life enhancements are desirable on their own and create a greater opportunity for employees to serve customers. When deciding which tools to give your staff, consider what it will be like to use them and how effectively they can engage customers with them.

Asking the Right Questions About Your Bank’s Tech Spend

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, finds 81% of bank executives and board members reporting that their technology budget increased compared to 2021, at a median of 11%. Much of this, the survey indicates, ties to the industry’s continued digitization of products and services. That makes technology an important line item within a bank’s budget — one that enables bank leaders to meet strategic goals to serve customers and generate organizational efficiencies.

“These are some of the biggest expenditures the bank is making outside of human capital,” says John Behringer, risk consulting partner at RSM US LLP. The board “should feel comfortable providing effective challenge to those decisions.” Effective challenge references the board’s responsibility to hold management accountable by being engaged, asking incisive questions and getting the information it needs to provide effective oversight for the organization.  

Banks budgeted a median $1 million for technology in 2022, according to the survey; that number ranged from a median $250,000 for smaller banks below $500 million in assets to $25 million for larger banks above $10 billion. While most believe their institution spends enough on technology, relative to strategy, roughly one-third believe they spend too little. How can boards determine that their bank spends an appropriate amount?

Finding an apples to apples comparison to peers can be difficult, says Behringer. Different banks, even among peer groups, may be in different stages of the journey when it comes to digital transformation, and they may have different objectives. He says benchmarking can be a “starting point,” but boards should delve deeper. How much of the budget has been dedicated to maintaining legacy software and systems, versus implementing new solutions? What was technology’s role in meeting and furthering key strategic goals? 

A lot of the budget will go toward “keeping the lights on,” as Behringer puts it. Bank of America Corp. spends roughly $3 billion annually on new technology initiatives, according to statements from Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan — so roughly 30% of the bank’s $11 billion total spend.

For banks responding to the survey, new technology enhancements that drive efficiencies focus on areas that keep them safe: For all banks, cybersecurity (89%) and security/fraud (62%) were the top two categories. To improve the customer experience, institutions have prioritized payments capabilities (63%), retail account opening (54%), and consumer or mortgage lending (41%).

Benjamin Wallace says one way board members can better understand technology spend is to break down the overall technology cost into a metric that better illustrates its impact, like cost per account. “For every customer that comes on the board, on average, let’s say $3.50, and that includes the software, that includes the compensation … and that can be a really constructive conversation,” says Wallace, the CEO of Summit Technology Group. “Have a common way to talk about technology spend that you can look at year to year that the board member will understand.”

Trevor Dryer, an entrepreneur and investor who joined the board of Olympia, Washington-based Heritage Financial Corp. in November 2021, thinks boards should keep the customer top of mind when discussing technology and strategy. “What’s the customer’s experience with the technology? [W]hen do they want to talk to somebody, versus when do they want to use technology? When they do use technology, how is this process seamless? How does it align with the way the bank’s positioning itself?” If the bank sees itself as offering high-touch, personal service, for example, that should be reflected in the technology.

And the bank’s goals should drive the information that floats back to the boardroom. Dryer says $7.3 billion Heritage Financial has “great dashboards” that provide important business metrics and risk indicators, but the board is working with Chief Technology Officer Bill Glasby to better understand the impact of the bank’s technology. Dryer wants to know, “How are our customers interacting with our technology, and are they liking it or not? What are the friction points?” 

Some other basic information that Behringer recommends that bank leaders ask about before adopting new technology include whether the platform fits with the current infrastructure, and whether the pricing of the technology is appropriate. 

Community banks don’t have Bank of America’s $11 billion technology budget. As institutions increase their technology spend, bank leaders need to align adoption with the bank’s strategic priorities. It’s easy to chase fads, and be swayed to adopt something with more bells and whistles than the organization really needs. That distracts from strategy, says Dryer. “To me, the question [banks] should be asking is, ‘What is the problem that we’re trying to solve for our customers?’” Leadership teams and boards that can’t answer that, he says, should spend more time understanding their customers’ needs before they go further down a particular path. 

The best companies leverage technology to solve a business problem, but too many management teams let the tail wag the dog, says Wallace. “The board can make sure — before anyone signs a check for a technology product — to press on the why and what’s driving that investment.” 

Forty-five percent of respondents worry that their bank relies too heavily on outdated technology. While the board doesn’t manage the day-to-day, directors can ask questions in line with strategic priorities. 

Ask, “’Are we good at patching, or do we have a lot of systems where things aren’t patched because systems are no longer supported?’” says Behringer. Is the bank monitoring key applications? Have important vendors like the core provider announced sunsets, meaning that a product will no longer be supported? What technology is on premises versus hosted in the cloud? “The more that’s on prem[ises], the more likely you’ve got dated technology,” he says.

And it’s possible that banks could manage some expenses down by examining what they’re using and whether those solutions are redundant, a process Behringer calls “application rationalization.” It’s an undertaking that can be particularly important following an acquisition but can be applied just as easily to organic duplication throughout the organization. 

A lack of boardroom expertise may have members struggling to have a constructive conversation around technology. “Community bank boards may not have what we would consider a subject matter expert, from a technology standpoint,” says Behringer, “so they don’t feel qualified to challenge.” 

Heritage Financial increased the technology expertise in its boardroom with the additions of Dryer and Gail Giacobbe, a Microsoft executive, and formed a board-level technology committee. Dryer led Mirador, a digital lending platform, until its acquisition by CUNA Mutual Group in 2018. He also co-founded Carbon Title, a software solution that helps property owners and real estate developers understand their carbon impact. 

Experiences like Dryer’s can bring a different viewpoint to the boardroom. A board-level tech expert can support or challenge the bank’s chief information officer or other executives about how they’re deploying resources, whether staffing is appropriate or offer ideas on where technology could benefit the organization. They can also flag trends that they see inside and outside of banking, or connect bank leaders to experts in specific areas. 

“Sometimes technology can be an afterthought, [but] I think that it’s a really critical part of delivering banking services today,” says Dryer. “With technology, if you haven’t been in it, you can feel like you’re held captive to whatever you’re being told. There’s not a really great way to independently evaluate or call B.S. on something. And so I think that’s a way I’ve been trying to help provide some value to my fellow directors.”  

Less than half of the survey respondents say their board has a member who they’d consider a tech expert. Of the 53% of respondents who say their board doesn’t have a tech expert, just 39% are seeking that expertise. As a substitution for this knowledge, boards could bring in a strategic advisor to sit in as a technologist during meetings, says Wallace. 

On the whole, boards should empower themselves to challenge management on this important expense by continuing their education on technology. As Wallace points out, many boards play a role in loan approvals, even if most directors aren’t experts on credit. “They’re approving credit exposure … but they would never think to be in the weeds in technology like that,” he says. “Technology probably has equal if not greater risk, sometimes, than approving one $50,000 loan to a small business in the community.”

The ways in which banks leverage technology have been featured recently in Bank Director magazine. “Confronting the Labor Shortage” focuses on how M&T Bank Corp. attracts and trains tech talent. “Community Banks Enter the Venture Jungle” examines bank participation in fintech funds; a follow-up piece asks, “Should You Invest in a Venture Fund?”  Some institutions are evaluating blockchain opportunities: “Unlocking Blockchain’s Power” explores how Signature Bank, Customers Bancorp and others are leveraging blockchain-based payments platforms to serve commercial customers; risk and compliance considerations around blockchain are further discussed in the article, “Opportunities — and Questions — Abound With Blockchain.” 

Technology is an important component of a bank’s overall strategy. For more information on enhancing strategic discussions, consider viewing “Building Operational Resiliency in the Midst of Change” and “Board Strategic Leadership,” both part of Bank Director’s Online Training Series.   

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, surveyed 138 independent directors, chief executive officers, chief operating officers and senior technology executives of U.S. banks below $100 billion in assets to understand how these institutions leverage technology in response to the competitive landscape. Bank Services members have exclusive access to the complete results of the survey, which was conducted in June and July 2022. 

7 Key Actions for Banks Partnering With Fintechs

A longer version of this article can be read at RSM US LLP.

Many banks are considering acquiring or partnering with existing fintechs to gain access to cutting-edge technologies and remain competitive in the crowded financial services marketplace.

There are many advantages to working with fintech partners to launch newer services and operations, but failing to properly select and manage partners or new acquisitions can have the opposite effect: additional risks, unforeseen exposures and unnecessary costs. Partnership opportunities may be a focus for leadership teams, given the significant growth and investments in the fintech space over the last decade. Consumer adoption is up: 88% of U.S. consumers used a fintech in 2021, up from 58% in 2020, according to Plaid’s 2021 annual report; conventional banks’ market share continues to drop.

Planning is everything when partnering with or acquiring a fintech company. Here are seven key actions and areas of consideration for banks looking for such partnerships.

1. Understand your customers on a deeper level: The first step before considering a fintech partner or acquisition is to understand what your consumers truly want and how they want those services delivered. Companies can pinpoint these needs via surveys, customer focus groups, call centers or discussions and information-gathering with employees.

Organizations should also explore the needs of individuals and entities outside their existing customer bases. Gathering data that helps them learn about their customers’ needs, lifestyle preferences and behaviors can help banks pinpoint the right technology and delivery channel for their situation.

2. Understand leading-edge technological advancements: While fintech partnerships can give a traditional bank access to new cutting-edge technologies, leaders still need to understand these technologies and the solutions. This might involve helping teams gain fluency in topics such as artificial intelligence that can improve credit decisioning, underwriting processes and fraud detection, automation that speeds up service delivery responses and customer onboarding, data analysis and state-of-the-art customer relationship management tools and more.

3. Prepare for culture shock: Fintechs, particularly those in start-up mode, will be used to operating at a different pace and with a different style than typical banks. Fintechs may behave more entrepreneurially, trying many experiments and failing often and fast. This entrepreneurial mindset has implications for how projects are organized, managed, measured, staffed and led.

4. Take a 360-degree view of risk: Fintechs may not have been subject to the same strict compliance as banks, but as soon as they enter a partnership, they must adhere to the same standards, regulations and controls. Any technology-led, third-party partnership comes with the potential for additional risks in areas such as cybersecurity, data privacy, anti-money laundering and myriad other regulatory compliance risks. Banks need to have a solid understanding of the viability and soundness of the fintech they might partner with, as well as the strength and agility of the leadership team. They should also ensure the new relationship has adequate business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

From vendor selections and background checks to mutual security parameters and decisions around where servers will be located, all potential exposures are important for banks to assess. A new fintech relationship could open new avenues for outside threats, information breaches and reputation damage.

5. Don’t underestimate the management lift needed:Acquiring or partnering with a fintech or third-party vendor involves significant management work to meet customer needs, keep implementation costs in line and merge technologies to ensure compatibility between the two organizations.

Employees at each company will likely have different approaches to innovation, which is one of the major benefits of teaming up with a fintech company; your organization can rapidly gain access to cutting-edge technologies and the overall agility of a startup. But management needs to ensure that this union doesn’t inadvertently create heartburn among employees on both sides.

6. Build ownership through clear accountability and responsibility: A fintech partnership requires management and oversight to be effective. Banks should consider the ownership and internal staffing requirements needed to achieve the full value of their investment with a fintech organization.

Don’t underestimate the time and effort needed to develop and deploy these plans. Based on the automation levels of the solution implemented, these resources may need dedicated time on an ongoing basis for the oversight and operations of the solution as well.

7. Stick to a plan:While in a hurry to launch a service, leadership teams may gloss over the whole steps of the plan and critical items may fall off. To combat this, banks should have a robust project plan that aligns with the overall innovation strategy and clear definitions around who is responsible for what. A vendor management program can help with this, along with strategic change management planning.

Balancing the demands of innovation with a thorough and thoughtful approach that considers customer behaviors, risks, resources and plans for new solutions will make fintech partnerships go as smooth as possible. Institutions would do well to incorporate these seven key areas throughout the process of a potential third-party partnership to ensure the maximum return on investment.

2022 Technology Survey: Complete Results

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, surveyed 138 independent directors, chief executives, chief operating officers and senior technology executives of U.S. banks below $100 billion in assets to understand how these institutions leverage technology in response to the competitive landscape. The survey was conducted in June and July 2022, and primarily represents banks under $10 billion in assets. Members of the Bank Services program have exclusive access to the full results of the survey, including breakouts by asset category.

The survey finds that most respondents (81%) say their bank increased its 2022 technology budget over last year, reporting a median 11% increase. Banks have primarily prioritized investments in new technology features and updates in areas like security, or where customers frequently interact with the bank, like payments or digital loan applications. 

Leveraging technology to create a more competitive and efficient organization requires internal know-how, and directors and executives find this to be a key area for concern: 48% worry about an inadequate understanding within the bank of emerging technologies. Forty-five percent say they’re worried about their organization’s reliance on outdated technology. 

While directors aren’t involved in day-to-day decisions about the bank’s technology, the board needs to align technology with strategy and ensure that the bank has the resources it needs to achieve its goals. Forty-two percent of respondents say their board has at least one member they would consider to be an expert in technology, including digital transformation, user experience or data analytics. 

Click here to view the complete results.

Key Findings

The Competitive Landscape
Fifty-six percent of all respondents view local banks and credit unions as their top competitive threat, followed by big and superregional banks, at 46%. One-third worry about competition from big tech companies such as Apple, while an equal number are concerned about competition from digital, nonbank business lenders. 

Hit-or-Miss on Digital Applications
Nearly half of respondents say their bank has a fully digital process for opening retail deposit accounts, with larger shares representing banks over $1 billion reporting as much. Far fewer respondents report a fully digital process for retail loans, small business deposits or loans, or commercial loans. 

Generational Divides
Just 25% of the directors and executives surveyed say their bank has the tools it needs to effectively serve Generation Z (16-25 years old), and half believe their institution can effectively serve millennials (26-40). Eighty-five percent say as much about Generation X (41-56), and 93% say this of baby boomers (57-75). 

All-In on the Cloud
Eighty-eight percent say their bank uses cloud technology to generate efficiencies internally; 66% use application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow different applications or systems to exchange data. Robotic process automation (32%) and artificial intelligence or machine learning (19%) are far less commonly used. 

New Frontiers
Three-quarters say their board or leadership team has discussed risks or opportunities related to cryptocurrency or digital assets in the past 18 months. Sixty-four percent say the same of banking as a service (BaaS), and 69% say that of environmental, social and governance issues. Cannabis, on the minds of 58%, has been more commonly discussed at banks under $5 billion of assets. 

Views on Collaboration
More than half of respondents view technology companies as vendors only, as opposed to collaborating with or investing in these firms. Thirty-nine percent, primarily representing banks over $1 billion in assets, say their institution has collaborated with technology providers on specific solutions. Twenty percent have participated in a venture fund that invests in technology companies, and 11% have directly invested in one or more of these companies. 

2022 Technology Survey Results: Investing in Banking’s Future

In mid-July, at the peak of second quarter earnings, large regional banks showed off an array of technology initiatives. 

Providence, Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial Group, with $227 billion in assets, highlighted a new mobile app for its direct-to-consumer digital bank. And $591 billion U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis realized the benefits of its ongoing investments in digital payments capabilities over the years, reporting $996 million in payments services revenue, or a year-over-year increase of nearly 10%.

Community banks, with far fewer dollars to spend, have to budget wisely and invest where it makes the most sense. For many, that means prioritizing new technology features and updates in areas like security, or where customers frequently interact with the bank, like payments or digital loan applications.

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, delves into some of these strategies, asking bank senior executives and board members about the concerns and challenges that their institutions face, and where they’ve been investing their resources in technology.

Eighty-one percent of respondents say their bank increased its 2022 technology budget over last year, reporting a median 11% increase. Asked where their bank built more efficient processes by deploying new technology or upgrading capabilities in the past 18 months, 89% named cybersecurity as a key area for investment, followed by security and fraud (62%). During the same time period, 63% implemented or upgraded payments capabilities to improve the customer experience; 54% focused on enhancing digital retail account opening.

Leveraging technology to create a more competitive and efficient organization requires internal know-how, and directors and executives find this to be a key area for concern: 48% worry about an inadequate understanding within the bank of emerging technologies. Forty-five percent say they’re worried about their organization’s reliance on outdated technology.

While directors aren’t involved in day-to-day decisions about the bank’s technology, the board needs to align technology with strategy and ensure that the bank has the resources it needs to achieve its goals. Forty-two percent of respondents say their board has at least one member they would consider to be an expert in technology, including digital transformation, user experience or data analytics.

Following on the heels of Bank Director’s 2022 Compensation Survey, which found technology talent in demand, the 2022 Technology Survey indicates that most banks employ high-level executives focused on technology, particularly in the form of a chief information security officer (44%), chief technology officer (43%) and/or chief information officer (42%). However, few have a chief data officer or data scientists on staff — despite almost half expressing concerns that the bank doesn’t effectively use or aggregate the bank’s data.

Key Findings

The Competitive Landscape
Fifty-six percent of all respondents view local banks and credit unions as their top competitive threat, followed by big and superregional banks, at 46%. One-third worry about competition from big tech companies such as Apple, while an equal number are concerned about competition from digital, nonbank business lenders.

Hit-or-Miss on Digital Applications
Nearly half of respondents say their bank has a fully digital process for opening retail deposit accounts, with larger shares representing banks over $1 billion reporting as much. Far fewer respondents report a fully digital process for retail loans, small business deposits or loans, or commercial loans.

Generational Divides
Just 25% of the directors and executives surveyed say their bank has the tools it needs to effectively serve Generation Z (16-25 years old), and half believe their institution can effectively serve millennials (26-40). Eighty-five percent say as much about Generation X (41-56), and 93% say this of baby boomers (57-75).

All-In on the Cloud
Eighty-eight percent say their bank uses cloud technology to generate efficiencies internally; 66% use application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow different applications or systems to exchange data. Robotic process automation (32%) and artificial intelligence or machine learning (19%) are far less commonly used.

New Frontiers
Three-quarters say their board or leadership team has discussed risks or opportunities related to cryptocurrency or digital assets in the past 18 months. Sixty-four percent say the same of banking as a service (BaaS), and 69% say that of environmental, social and governance issues. Cannabis, on the minds of 58%, has been more commonly discussed at banks under $5 billion of assets.

Views on Collaboration
More than half of respondents view technology companies as vendors only, as opposed to collaborating with or investing in these firms. Thirty-nine percent, primarily representing banks over $1 billion in assets, say their institution has collaborated with technology providers on specific solutions. Twenty percent have participated in a venture fund that invests in technology companies, and 11% have directly invested in one or more of these companies.

To view the high-level findings, click here.

Bank Services members can access a deeper exploration of the survey results. Members can click here to view the complete results, broken out by asset category. If you want to find out how your bank can gain access to this exclusive report, contact bankservices@bankdirector.com.

Understanding Customers’ Finances Strengthens Relationships

As the current economy shifts and evolves in response to inflationary pressures, and consumer debt increases, banks may encounter an influx of customers who are accruing late charges, overdue accounts and delinquencies for the first time in nearly a decade.

Banks have not been accustomed to seeing this level of volume in their collections and recovery departments since the Great Recession and have not worked with so many customers in financial stress. To weather these economic conditions, banks should consider automated systems that help manage their collections and recovery departments, as well as guide and advise customers on how to improve their financial health and wellbeing. Technology powered with data insights and automation positions banks to successfully identify potential weakness early and efficiently reduce loan losses, increase revenue, minimize costs and have the data insights needed to help guide customers on their financial journey.

Consumer debt increased $52.4 billion in March, up from the increase of nearly $40 billion the previous month. Financial stress and money concerns are top of mind for many households nationwide. According to a recent survey, 77% of American adults describe themselves as anxious about their financial situation. The cause of the anxiety vary and stem from a wide range of sources, including savings and retirement to affording a house or child’s education, everyday bills and expenses, paying off debt, healthcare costs and more.

While banks traditionally haven’t always played a role in the financial wellness of their customers, they are able to see patterns based on customer data and transactional history. This viewpoint enables them to serve as advisors and help their customers before they encounter a problem or accounts go into delinquency. Banks that help their customers reduce financial stress wind up strengthening the relationship, which can entice those customers into using additional banking services.

Using Data to Understand Customer’s Financial Health
By utilizing data insights, banks can easily identify transaction and deposit patterns, as well as overall expenses. This allows banks to assess their customer risk more efficiently or act on collections based on an individual’s level of risk and ability to pay; it also shows them the true financial health of the customer.

For example, banks can identify consumers in financial distress by analyzing deposit account balance trends, identifying automated deposits that have been reduced or stopped and identify deposit accounts that are closed. Banks can better understand a consumer’s financial health by collecting, analyzing and understanding patterns hidden in the data.

When banks identify potentially stressed customers in advance, it can proactively take steps to assist customers before loans go delinquent and accounts accrue late fees. Some strategies to accommodate customers facing delinquency include offering free credit counseling, short-term or long-term loan term modifications, and restructuring or providing loan payment skip offers. This type of assistance not only benefits the financial institution — it shows customers they are valued, even during tough economic times.

Data enables banks to identify these trends. But they can better understand and utilize the data when they integrate it into the workflow and apply automation, ultimately reducing costs associated with the management of delinquencies, loss mitigation and recoveries and customer relationship management. A number of banks may find that their outdated, manual systems lack the scalability and effectiveness they’ll need to remain competitive or provide the advice and counsel to strengthen customer relationships.

Banks are uniquely positioned to help consumers on their journey to improve their financial situation: They have consumer information, transaction data and trust. Banks should aim to provide encouragement and guidance through financial hardships, regardless of their customers’ situation. Augmenting data analysis with predictive technology and automated workflows better positions banks to not only save money but ensure their customers’ satisfaction.

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.