How Banks Can Win the Small Business Customer Experience

In the first stages of the pandemic, it became apparent that many banks were unable to effectively meet the needs of their small business customers in terms of convenience, response time, fast access to capital and overall customer experience. Innovative financial technology companies, on the other hand, recognized this market opportunity and capitalized on it.

Bankers recognize the importance of providing their business banking customers with the same fast and frictionless digital experience that their consumer retail banking customers enjoy. So, how can banks ensure that they are competitive and continue to be relevant partners for their small business customers?

The reality of applying for most business loans below $250,000 is a difficult experience for the applicant and a marginally profitable credit for the bank. Yet, the demand for such lending exists: the majority of Small Business Administration pandemic relief loans were less than $50,000.

The key to making a smooth, fast and convenient application for the borrower and a profitable credit for the lender lies in addressing the issues that hinder the process: a lack of automation in data gathering and validation, a lack of automated implementation of underwriting rules and lack of standardized workflows tailored to the size and risk of the loan. Improving this means small business applicants experience a faster and smoother process — even if their application is declined. But a quick answer is preferable to days or weeks of document gathering and waiting, especially if the ultimate response is that the applicant doesn’t qualify.

But many banks have hesitated to originate business loans below $100,000, despite the market need for such products. Small business loans, as a category, are often viewed as high risk, due to business owners’ credit scores, low revenues or lack of collateral, which keeps potential borrowers from meeting banks’ qualifications for funding.

Innovative fintechs gained the inside track on small business lending by finding ways to cost-effectively evaluate applicants on the front-end by leveraging automated access to real-time credit and firmographic and alternative data to understand the business’ financial health and its ability to support the repayment requirements of the loan. Here, much of the value comes from the operational savings derived from screening out unqualified applicants, rerouting resources to process those loan applications and reducing underwriting costs by automating tasks that can be performed by systems rather than people.

To make the economics of scale for small dollar business lending work, fintechs have automated data and document gathering tasks, as well as the application of underwriting rules, so their loan officers only need to do a limited number of validation checks. Adopting a similar approach allows banks to better position themselves to more cost effectively and profitably serve the borrowing needs of small business customers.

Although some fintechs have the technology in place to provide a faster, more seamless borrowing experience, many lack the meaningful, personal relationship with business owners that banks possess. They typically must start from scratch when onboarding a new loan customer, as opposed to banks that already own the valuable customer relationship and the existing customer data. This gives banks an edge in customizing offers based on their existing knowledge of the business client.

While consumer spending remains strong, persisting inflationary pressures and the specter of a recession continue to impact small businesses’ bottom lines. Small business owners need financial partners that understand their business and are nimble enough to help them react to changing market dynamics in real time; many would prefer to manage these challenges with the assistance of their personal banker.

The challenge for bankers is crafting and executing their small business lending strategy: whether to develop better business banking technology and capabilities in-house, buy and interface with a third-party platform or partner with an existing fintech.

Better serving business customers by integrating a digital, seamless experience to compliment the personal touch of traditional banking positions financial institutions to compete with anyone in the small business lending marketplace. With the right strategy in place, banks can begin to win the small business customer experience battle and more profitably grow their small business lending portfolios.

Why Banks Should Offer Real-Time Payments for Business Customers

Faster payments are the next phase of the digital revolution in banking. The race toward real time is well underway — more than 200 U.S. financial institutions already send and receive real-time payments. Those that cannot do so must start soon or they will be left behind.

The rise of mobile and digital commerce has created a need for speed and certainty of payment. Bank customers want to be able to pay whoever they want, whenever they want, using a device of their own choosing. But in practice, there are many flavors of fast. It’s important to clarify exactly what we mean by real-time payments and faster payments.

Real-time payments are payments that are initiated and settled almost instantly. A real-time payments rail is a digital infrastructure that facilitates real-time payments 24/7. A crucial characteristic of a real-time payments rail is that it is always available, bringing payments into line with a digital world that never sleeps. In the U.S., there are currently two real-time solutions:

  • The Clearing House has offered its real-time payments platform (RTP) to all federally insured U.S. depository institutions since 2017.
  • The Federal Reserve is currently developing FedNow, a new service that will enable individuals and businesses to send instant payments, due for launch in 2023.

Both real-time solutions are “open loop,” which means that the payment is connected to a bank account rather than a prepaid balance. This is important: It creates the potential for payments to reach every bank account in the U.S. and beyond.

Faster payments, such as Nacha’s Same Day ACH, are payments that post and settle faster than traditional payment rails but not instantly. For example, both Mastercard and Visa offer push payment solutions that message transactions in seconds but do not settle as quickly.

In practice, all real-time payments are faster payments, but faster payments are not always real time.

Although many payments, such as mortgage installments, are non-urgent, the transformational potential of real-time for banks and their business customers is enormous. Real-time technology marks the biggest advance in electronic payments in 40 years and heralds a new era where payments can be an opportunity for banks to add real business value.

Connectivity. Banks can offer business customers access to a growing real-time network that offers uninterrupted transaction processing. But real-time payment also enables two-way messaging, including request for payment, payment confirmation, credit transfer and remittance advice. Each of these features removes friction and can enhance the relationship between companies and their customers.

Cash flow. Businesses can adopt “just in time” cash management and pay creditors exactly on time. In the U.S., 82% of small businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems; real-time payments signals a new era of easier cash management. A real-time picture of its cash position allows a small business can be sure it can meet its short-term commitments, minimize borrowing and optimize its use of surplus cash.

Certainty. Real time account-to-account settlement allows business customers to have payment certainty and reduces payment failures, streamlining business processes to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Innovation. With almost 60 million Americans participating in the gig economy and up to 90% of Americans considering freelance or consulting work, innovation allows people to be paid immediately for the work they’ve done. Real-time payment makes “day pay” a practical reality.

Customer expectations. The tech giants have redefined the customer experience. Real-time payments present a unique opportunity for banks to catch up with a fintech approach to business banking by coupling it with simplified account opening, accelerated credit decisioning and synced accounting packages.

Real-time payment processing is a pivotal innovation in banking that should be included in every bank’s digitalization strategy. But there’s a lot to consider. A payment never happens in isolation; it’s always part of a larger business workflow. Many mission-critical bank systems are batch based, so there will always be integration issues and challenges. Moreover, there are peripheral systems, such as fraud detection, that banks must choreograph with payment movements. And as real-time payments build momentum, banks should be prepared to manage burgeoning payment volumes.

Getting started in real-time payments is never easy, but it’s a lot easier with expert help. Banks should work with their payments partners and build a road map to success. Managed services can offer a fast route to industry best practices and empower a bank to start with a specific pain point — receivables, for example — and progress from there. But every bank must start soon, for the race towards real time is accelerating.

4 Keys Banks Need to Unlock Value From Artificial Intelligence

Banks of all sizes are tuning up their technology to better compete for customer loyalty by focusing on areas involving consumer interactions. But bank leaders need to understand that artificial intelligence, or AI, alone can’t revolutionize the customer experience.

In order for AI investments to elicit instant, human-like understanding and communication, banks must combine AI technology with:

  • Access to quality data.
  • Customer experience solutions that support responsiveness, natural interaction and context retention.
  • Security for enrollment, authentication and fraud detection — indispensable in the context of retail banking.

Data
Quality and Access
Data is the fuel driving AI-based experiences. That means the quality of the available data about the user for a specific use case and the ability to access this data in a real-time, secure fashion are mission-critical aspects of an AI investment.

Unsurprisingly, increasing the quality of data and providing seamless, secure access to this data has been a challenge that banks have grappled with for years.

But institutions must overcome these data utilization hurdles in order to offer an AI-based experience that is better than mediocre. The best outcome? Users will no longer suffer through disjointed experiences or delayed satisfaction caused by siloed data, multiple data connection hops and antiquated back ends that haven’t been modernized to today’s standard.

Collection and Understanding
Big data — the collection of very large data sets that can be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations — goes hand-in-hand with AI. When it comes to consumer banking, an AI solution for banks should store all customer interaction information, from words used to communicate with the bot to actions taken by the user, so it can be analyzed and applied in future interactions. To do this, banks need to adopt AI technology that integrates a learning loop that’s always running in the background.

As data accumulates, AI-powered bots should get smarter over time. Behavioral, transaction and preference information enables banks to create personalized experiences that elevates customer experience to the next level. J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study found that 78% of respondents would continue using their bank if they received personalized support, but just 44% of banks are actually delivering it.

Without the right data, there’s no intelligence to inform interactions.

Customer Experience
If someone asked, “What’s your name?” and it took you 8 seconds to respond, the conversation would seem unnatural and disjointed. Similarly, AI technology requires real-time responsiveness to live up to its human-like image. Additionally, bank customers expect to be able to seamlessly transition between interaction channels without having to rehash their issue each time they get transferred, change interaction channels or follow up. Banks can only achieve this omnichannel customer experience that incorporates customer interaction information across channels with customer experience technology that integrates AI.

Consumers now rank omnichannel consistency as the most important dimension of customer experience, according to a 2021 Harris poll, up from No. 2 in 2019. In a Redpoint Global research study, 88% of respondents said that a bank should have seamless, relevant and timely communications across all channels; less than half (45%) reported that their bank effectively achieved this objective. An omnichannel customer experience is foundational for AI.

Security
As powerful as artificial intelligence can be as a competitive advantage in banking, lack of strong security measures is a nonstarter. In the latest The Economist Intelligence Unit Survey, bankers identified privacy and security concerns as the most prominent barrier to adopting and incorporating AI technologies in their organization. Thankfully, ironclad AI is within reach.

While AI capability is great, its usability is limited if its security is not up to par. An AI bot can go far beyond answering your customers’ basic questions if bank transactions are authenticated and secure; it can perform tasks such as retrieving account balances, listing and searching transactions, making payments, transferring funds and more. Imagine the impact that a friendly and reliable virtual teller, available 24/7, could have on your institution.

Four in five senior banking executives agree that unlocking value from artificial intelligence will distinguish outperformers from underperformers. To access its value, a bank’s customer-facing system must be supported by four pillars: AI understanding, quality data, omnichannel customer experience technology and security.

When technology budgets are tight, bank leaders must invest wisely; not all AI solutions are created equal. Chasing the new shiny thing can waste dollars if bank decision makers don’t have a handle on the scope of what their institution needs. Knowing which pieces of the puzzle will complete the picture is a competitive differentiator. Now, your bank can unlock the value of AI and win.

Bank Fraud: Where Do We Go From Here?

The work of so many bank fraud teams is to ensure that they don’t wake up to a crime scene.

In the latest episode of Reinventing Banking, a special podcast brought to you by Bank Director and Microsoft, we discuss the evolution of technology that helps fight cyber fraud and where the industry goes from here.

Seth Ruden is director of global advisory for the Americas for BioCatch, a behavioral biometrics company that helps financial institutions gain actionable insight, including fighting fraud. He talks with Bank Director’s FinXTech Research Analyst Erika Bailey about the promise that machine learning and automation have for bank fraud teams.

He also talks about the increasing sophistication of data analytics in tracking, and finding, potential fraud. Ruden also reveals his strategy for getting resources for bank fraud teams at your bank.

Finally, he chats a bit with Bank Director’s Erika Bailey on their mutual love for classic rock.

So ramble on …

Giving Customers Choice, Access With Investments

It’s time for community financial institutions to significantly upgrade their investment resources to service their clients. Retail investors want to be more educated about investing opportunities and have greater access to investment tools; in response, investment-as-a-service companies are building platforms so banks can give their clients more of what they want.

One problem with financial and investment innovation today is that there is either too much focus on gimmicks or not enough focus on innovation. Crypto-only investment companies indiscriminately pitch every token as the latest and greatest get-rich-quick scheme. Gamified investment apps promote risky options trades to retail investors, turning investing into a lottery or casino and distracting users from what investing should be: a powerful tool to maintain, protect and build wealth. Further, legacy investment institutions often make the bulk of their revenue from customers who are already wealthy via older products, with little incentive to experiment with creative new offerings.

In this unhappy mix, it is investors with the most to gain from a long-term investing strategy — younger less affluent or not yet rich investors — who lose the most. Unable to access wealth management and investing services from their trusted financial institution, they seek out third-party investment apps that don’t prioritize their long-term success and happy retirement. For community financial institutions, this interrupts the chain of familial wealth transfer and risks their next generation of customers.

Investors desire a unified platform that offers access to a growing list of investments, ranging from physical metals to AI-driven investment models to crypto-assets to collectibles. A self-directed platform is key: Investors should be given a choice to pursue the investment strategy they feel fits best for their unique investment interests and risk profile. The platform should include all the tools they need to effortlessly pursue the “Get rich slowly” strategy: passive investing and dollar-cost averaging into a low-cost, highly diversified portfolio.

Cloud computing innovations and numerous rounds of fintech venture capital have made it possible for companies to build curated investment platforms that traditional banks can easily add and implement. Investment tools driven by application program interfaces, or APIs, allow financial services to embrace change in collaborative ways that don’t conflict with existing business, yet still appeal to the ever-changing preferences of investors.

Investing is not one-size-fits-all. Wine fans may want to invest in a portfolio of wine assets to hold or eventually redeem. Investors who collected baseball cards as a kid may now have the capital to buy collectibles with significance to them as culturally relevant assets. Individuals also may want to invest in thematic categories, like semiconductors — the foundation for all computing, from electric vehicles to computers to smartphones. These investments are not optimal for everyone, but they don’t have to be for everyone. What matters most is access.

Too many banking platforms do not take full advantage of the full range of investment tools available in the marketplace, even though their clients are looking for these. Lack of access leads to painful experiences for the average investor who wants to be both intelligent with their money and allowed to experiment and explore the ever-changing world of digitally available investment categories. Give customers a choice to pursue wealth-building strategies based on their unique insights and instincts, and made available through their existing bank.

Rise of the Quantum Machines

A new technological revolution on the horizon is poised to disrupt the financial services industry: Quantum Computing.

While broad commercial applications of quantum technologies are likely several years away, experts predict that practical applications of quantum computing in the banking industry may only be three to five years away. Various industry leaders at Goldman Sachs Group and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have already begun experimenting with quantum computing and are preparing for the inevitable “quantum supremacy.”

What is Quantum Computing?
IBM defines quantum computing as a “rapidly emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for classical computers.” Classical computers operate on a binary system, processing “bits” of information as either zeros or ones. In contrast, quantum systems process quantum bits or “qubits” of information as either zeros, ones, a combination of zeros and ones, or any value in between. As a result, the processing power of quantum systems will be well beyond what a binary system could ever process.

However, because quantum computing relies on the laws of quantum mechanics, the answers produced by quantum calculations will be probabilistic instead of determinative. Binary systems operate by processing a limited data set via specific processing instructions to deliver a singular answer. In contrast, quantum systems operate by processing multiple units of data, resulting in a narrowed range of possible answers instead of a singular answer. Practically speaking, this means that teams must run calculations through quantum systems multiple times to narrow the universe of possible answer to a functional range.

While results from quantum systems may sound less reliable, it ultimately depends on their use. In many cases, binary systems will be better and never need to be replaced by quantum systems. However, quantum computing will be revolutionary when it comes to eliminating certain possibility ranges associated with incredibly complex problems.

What is Quantum Supremacy?
“Quantum supremacy” sounds ominous, but it simply refers to the point in time where quantum systems can perform calculations beyond the scope of classical computers in a reasonable amount of time. Although developments in quantum computing are promising, quantum supremacy is not likely to occur until the end of this decade. One of the challenges is assembling a single quantum system with the requisite qubits that outperforms a classical, binary computer. Some companies have almost achieved this, but developers have yet to develop a reasonably sized quantum system for commercial applications. So while quantum supremacy is currently only theoretical, it is not so far off in the future.

Benefits and Risks of Quantum Computing
Quantum computing gives early adopters a competitive advantage. Insights gleaned from quantum computing can help banks make better decisions, reduce risk, increase profits and provide better customer service. An IBM report identified a few use cases that are likely to improve financial services:

  • Targeting and Prediction: According to an IBM report, 25% of small to medium sized banks lose customers because their offerings don’t target the right customer. Quantum computing can help financial institutions break down their complex data structures to develop better predictive models that offer products and tailored services more effectively to customers.
  • Trading Optimization: Equity, derivative, and foreign exchange markets are complex environments, and trading activities are growing exponentially. The complex and fast-paced nature of these markets require exceptionally fast models to help investment managers optimize customer portfolios. Quantum computing can help give investment managers the tools necessary to deliver better services to customers, such as improving portfolio diversification or rebalancing portfolio investments to meet a customer’s investment goals.

Although the benefits of quantum computing are numerous, they do not come without risks. In particular, quantum computing poses a serious threat to cybersecurity controls. Encryption techniques used to secure accounts and networks are immediately at risk upon quantum supremacy. Currently, banks use complex encryption algorithms to secure user accounts, transactions and communications. Breaking through current encryption algorithms is virtually impossible and highly impractical. However, threat actors leveraging quantum technologies have the potential power to break through these classical encryption methods. Although this threat is currently only theoretical, leaders in quantum computing are already working on quantum cryptography to get ahead of this potential cybersecurity threat.

How to Prepare for Quantum Supremacy?
While broad adoption of quantum systems and products is unlikely until later this decade, banks can anticipate quantum products and solutions emerging in the next few years. In anticipation of this quantum revolution, financial institutions should:

  • Start Talking About Quantum Computing: Financial institutions should begin preparing to implement and leverage these technologies immediately given that product breakthroughs are likely within the next five years. Financial institutions should also consider potential partnerships with leaders in quantum computing such as IBM, Microsoft, and others. The sooner financial institution boards and executives can put a quantum strategy in place, the better.
  • Start Talking About Quantum Encryption: Financial institutions with significant data repositories should begin thinking about the cybersecurity risks associated with quantum computing. Chief information security officers should begin thinking about how their institution will safely transition their data repositories from classical encryption to quantum encryption in the near future.

FinXTech’s Need to Know: Accounts Payable

When I think of bookkeeping, the first thing that comes to mind is a scene out of “Peaky Blinders:” a sharply dressed man pacing the floor with a heavy leather book, frantically crunching the numbers to figure out which accounts have an overdue balance and of how much.

Today, accounting software digitizes the majority of this reconciliation process. The problem with this? There are hundreds of software solutions a business can choose from — but more poignantly, software offered by a business’ bank seldom falls at the top of that list.

Many banks have historically been slow to service their small business customers. Account opening, applying for a loan or even getting business cards has traditionally forced business owners to head to a branch. The crucial need for bookkeeping software has turned businesses onto disruptors in the space: Intuit’s Quickbooks, Block’s Square software system, PayPal Holdings, etc. These incumbents, and others, are ready to pounce on a market that’s estimated to grow as big as $45.3 billion.

But banks have the chance to claim some of that market.

The Paycheck Protection Program showed small businesses that there were gaps fintechs couldn’t fill — ones that financial institutions could. Bank leaders looking to strengthen the relationship between their institution and their small business customers may want to start with accounts payable (AP) technology.

 If your bank doesn’t already offer small business customers an integrated AP software as a benefit of having a business account, it’s time to seriously consider it.

Some larger banks — U.S. Bancorp, Fifth Third Bancorp — have built in-house AP offerings for their commercial customers. Others, like my $4 billion bank in southeast Iowa, do not — and probably can’t even afford to consider building. Detroit-based Autobooks provides those in-between banks with a platform to help service the AP and invoicing needs of small businesses.

Autobooks lets banks offer its white-labeled software to their small-business customers to manage accounting, bill pay and invoicing from within the institution’s existing online banking system. This eliminates the need for businesses to go anywhere else to handle their AP, and keeps invoicing and payment data within the bank’s ecosystem. More data can lead to better insights, campaigns and products that generate revenue for the bank.

Autobooks receives payments via credit card, Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers and lockbox transactions. Because small businesses are already working within the bank’s online system, received funds are automatically deposited directly into the business’ bank account.

Paymode-X from Bottomline Technologies is another solution that banks could use. Paymode-X is an electronic, business-to-business payments network that integrates with the existing cash management systems of a bank’s business customers. It eliminates manual initiation and tracking of electronic and ACH payments; its bi-directional connection to accounting systems helps automate reconciliation. Constant electronic monitoring of payments also better traces and tracks payments for banks.

Bottomline Technologies handles vendor outreach and enrollment into the system, and also helps banks identify opportunities to earn additional revenue through the rebates and discounts a vendor may offer to encourage paying electronically, paying early or buying in high volumes.

In addition to offering it to commercial customers, banks can also use Paymode-X for their internal AP needs.

Bill.com has also marked itself as a notable fintech partner. Bill.com Connect is an end-to-end payments management platform that commercial clients access through a bank’s online portal or mobile app. Platform features include a payments inbox to receive, manage and process invoices digitally, automatic forwarding of invoices to the appropriate party, digital signatures and customizable workflows to enable automated approvals.

Bill.com also touts a network of over three million businesses, which could be an attractive benefit for commercial clients looking to expand, partner and more simply get paid.

There is still time and space for banks to plant their flag in the small business space; fintech partners could be an attractive way to break that ground.

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

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.

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.