Building a Digital Masterpiece on Top of the Core

Digital banking has become a must-have feature. The coronavirus pandemic forced consumers to accelerate their adoption of digital banking tools; now they love the convenience and flexibility these products provide.

But what is troubling for banks is that many consumers do not care if these services are met by a traditional financial institution or a fintech challenger bank. U.S. consumers are increasingly comfortable transacting with an increasing number of financial service providers to get the specific products and features that are most important to them.

According to a recent survey conducted by Cornerstone Advisors, 35% of consumers now have more than one checking account, led by the 42% of millennials who have two or more accounts. The report found that challenger banks hold a growing number of these accounts by offering specific features that consumers can’t get from their existing financial institution.

This pressure is particularly high on community and regional banks, which lack the budgets and IT resources of the global banks. However, the technology powering challenger banks has also created an emerging option that enables banks to accelerate product innovation and effectively compete with larger financial institutions and challenger banks: modular banking.

Challenger Bank Tech, One Block at a Time

Community and regional banks in pursuit of innovation are often left to choose between two equally unappealing options: wait on a core that may not innovate at the speed they want or take on the risk of a massive core conversion.

Modular banking, on the other hand, applies the challenger bank approach of building hyper-focused services to the realities of a bank’s existing core and IT landscape. Modular banking platforms typically offer the same functionality as a modern core banking system. However, instead of building the entire platform at once, modular banking approaches service much like a set of building blocks. Banks only need to select the products and services that complement their existing systems’ functionality or build new digital products on top of it.

Put simply, modular banking looks at each piece of a bank’s functionality — such as Know Your Customer, card issuance, P2P or rewards — as a collection of loosely coupled microservices and application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be combined and deployed in a cloud environment to facilitate specific use cases.

Modular banking enables institutions to build specific products to meet the specific needs of their customers and quickly adjust as market conditions change. For example, a regional bank could solve an immediate need for banking products to offer contract workers with a pre-built module, before shifting to bring innovative features for families that make up most of the service area with teen and children accounts. A modular approach to digital transformation benefits small and mid-size community banks in two keys ways.

Quickly Develop New Products
By decoupling critical infrastructure, like the systems and processes that need to work reliably but don’t confer competitive differentiation, from the people, processes and technology focused on product innovation, modular banking provides a potential solution to execution challenges that banks face.

Productive Fintech Partnerships
Creating productive, long-term partnerships requires financial institutions to build mutually beneficial relationships with fintech companies. Innovating through fintech partnerships also requires banks to move fast, which is where modular banking comes in.

The open architecture of a modular banking platform can facilitate the rapid integration of third-party partners, by giving potential partners a modern API to connect to and build on top of. Bank leaders can take a much more proactive approach to pursuing and operationalizing new partnerships.

By building these strategic partnerships, they can create a competitive differentiator to fuel growth for the coming years.

Tailor Innovation With Fintech, Bank Collaborations

The Covid-19 pandemic reshaped the way that community banks think about their digital products and the expectations that consumers have for them. Digital transformation is no longer an option – it is a necessity.

In fact, 52% of consumers have used their financial institution’s digital banking services more since the start of the pandemic, according to BAI Banking Outlook. However, the research also found that only 61% of consumers feel their community bank understands their digital needs, compared to that 89% of direct bank consumers and 77% of large bank consumers.

As customers’ ever-growing expectations are not being met, banking teams are also concerned that their digital tools may be missing the mark. For many, the investments into digital solutions and tools are not having as wide as an impact as expected; on occasion, they do not hold any true benefit to their current and prospective account holders.

In addition, many community banks find themselves innovating for the sake of innovating, rather than solving real problems that exist within their target market. The communities that these banks serve are distinctive and can present unique challenges and opportunities, unlike those as little as a state away. Community banks must consider practical, powerful digital tools that benefit their one-of-a-kind customer base.

Rather than a product-driven approach to development, community banks must look to the niche needs within the market to discover areas to innovate. Identifying obstacles in the financial lives of existing customers and prospects ensures that community banks are working to solve a problem that will alleviate pain points for accountholders. But, with limited time and resources, how can this be accomplished?

Fintech-Bank Partnerships
Community banks can attract new customers, expand existing relationships and improve customer experience within the specific communities that they serve by implementing fintech solutions that are  specialized to the individual market or demographic.

It makes sense. Fintech-bank partnerships can pair a bank’s distinct market opportunities with technology that can effectively unlock niche verticals. We collaborated with five community banks who were searching for a responsive web app for digital commercial escrow and subaccounting that would eliminate the manual processes that limited their ability to handle commercial escrow and subaccounting accounts. Engaging with a fintech and leveraging extensive resources that are dedicated to developing and improving upon innovative technology gave these institutions a solution built with their companies in mind.

These partnerships between fintechs and banks are also more financially feasible — many community banks are unable to develop similar solutions in-house due to understaffing or lack of resources. With the help of a fintech, the institution can implement solutions faster and reach profitable clients sooner.

Fintech and bank collaborations are changing the way that community banks innovate. Together, they can expand the potential of a solution, both in its specialization and its capability, to better meet customer needs. Banking teams can provide the digital tools that their clients need and attract desirable clients that they hope to serve.

Pandemic-Induced Innovation Charts Path Toward New Normal

As the financial institutions industry embarks on 2021, our reflections capture a world disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Economic uncertainty continues to impact strategic and growth plans for an inestimable period of time. Banks are closely monitoring loan payment trends and deposit account fluctuations as customers continue to struggle with stable employment and small businesses fight to survive.

The Covid-19 crisis occurred at a time of strength for most financial institutions. Unlike the 2008 Great Recession, banks have been able to rely on strong capital positions, which was crucial when it became no longer possible to continue operating business as usual.

Essentially overnight, consumer behavior shifted away from most face-to-face interactions, prompting an increase in online and contactless activity. Banks had to quickly adapt and explore innovation in order to meet both customer and employee needs. Outdated manual processes, continuity vulnerabilities and antiquated methods of communication immediately became apparent, with institutions pivoting to operate effectively. The pandemic became an accelerant and forced banks to embrace innovation to avoid business interruption, while prioritizing information security and employee and customer safety. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the Covid-19 pandemic created necessity — with an emphasis on urgency.

Top Five Covid-19 Challenges That Prompted Innovation

  1. To reduce the potential virus spread, executives found alternative means of meeting and interacting with employees and customers. Virtual meetings were the solution for many banks.
  2. While many institutions allowed for some remote work, this was not permitted for most employees prior to the pandemic. In some cases, chief technology officers had to quickly implement secure VPN access, evaluate hardware availability, order laptops and expand upon remote working policies and procedures.
  3. Digital transformation immediately moved from “wouldn’t it be great if we did this?” to “to be competitive and survive we must accomplish this immediately.” No. 1 on the transformation list was enhancing the customer experience. To remain competitive, transformation was no longer optional but absolutely required. Digital channels have been trending as customers’ preferred way to bank in the last few years, but this became the primary channel for customer engagement out of necessity. This shift prompted banks to reevaluate and enhance digital channel offerings along with supporting technologies.
  4. Round one of the Paycheck Protection Program was a difficult, labor-intensive process for participating institutions. The need for an efficient PPP application process prompted lenders of all sizes to embrace automation and fintech partnerships, resulting in a smoother process during round two.
  5. C-suite executives and bankers across the organization found themselves in a position where it was difficult to access information quickly and easily in order to make timely decisions to improve the customer experience and manage the bank. For many institutions, especially community financial institutions, this continues to be a challenge.

The need for accurate and efficiently delivered information and data across the organization has never been so great. It is still quite common for financial institutions to manage information in data silos, making it impossible to create the contextual customer intelligence necessary to compete in the post-pandemic environment. Financial institutions have the most intimate data about their customers. This data is of little value until it is transformed into meaningful information that can be easily digested, interpreted, and acted upon.

Banks that recognize that their data is a valuable asset are actively seeking out intelligent analytics tools to create contextual customer intelligence that can be strategically deployed across the organization and leveraged for consistent multichannel experiences to generate sales, increase customer and employee loyalty and reduce operating expenses. Financial institutions must have the ability to gather, aggregate and analyze their complex data assets quickly and accurately to remain competitive, meet regulatory reporting expectations and to achieve market success. The ability to analyze this data and act decisively is the path to not only being a better financial institution but prospering in uncertain times. Leveraging high-value data is imperative to thriving and increasing an institution’s competitive advantage.

Using Profitability to Drive Banker Behavior

There used to be a perception that bankers found it tough to innovate because they are largely left-brained, meaning they tend to be more analytical and orderly than creative right brainers. While this may have been true for the founding fathers of this industry, there’s no question that bankers have been forced into creativity to remain competitive.

It could have been happenstance, natural evolution, or the global financial crisis of 2008 — it doesn’t matter. Today’s bankers are both analytical and creative because they have had to find new, more convenient pathways to profitability and use those insights for continuous coaching.

The current economic landscape may require U.S. banks to provision for up to $318 billion in net loan losses from 2020 to 2022, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services estimates. These losses are expected to be booked in several lending categories, mainly driven by the pandemic’s domino effect on small businesses, income inequality and the astounding impact of women leaving the workforce pushing millions into extreme poverty. Additionally, net interest margins are at an all-time low. Deloitte forecasts that U.S. commercial banks won’t see revenues or net income reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022.

In the interim, bankers are still under pressure to perform and increase profitability. Strong performance is possible — economic “doom and gloom” isn’t the whole story. In fact, the second-largest bank in America is projecting loan growth in 2021, of all years, after six years of decline. These industry challenges won’t last forever. so preparation is key. One of the first steps in understanding profitability is establishing if your bank’s business model is transactional, relational or a mix of the two, then answering these questions:

  • How much does a loan pay for the use of funds? How much does a deposit receive for the use of funds?
  • How much does a loan pay for the current period and identified level of credit risk?
  • How much capital does the bank need to assign to the loan or deposit?
  • What are the appropriate fees for accounts and services used by our clients?
  • What expenses are allocated to a product to determine its profitability?

There should never be a question about why loans need to pay for funds. The cash a bank provides for a loan comes from one of three sources: capital investments, debt and borrowing or client deposits.

From there, bankers have shown incredible creativity and innovation in adopting simpler, faster ways to better understand their bank’s profitability, especially through sophisticated technologies that can break down silos by including all clients, products and transactions in a single database. By comparison, legacy databases can leave digital assets languishing in inaccessible and expensive silos. Bankers must view an entire client relationship to most accurately price the relationship.

This requires a mindset shift. Instead of thinking about credit structure — the common approach in the industry – to determine relationship pricing, think instead about the client relationship holistically and leave room to augment as necessary. Pricing models should reflect your bank’s profitability calculations, not adjusted industry average models. And clients will need a primary and secondary owner to break down silos and ensure they receive the best experience.

How does any of this drive optimal banker behavior? A cohesive, structurally sound system that allows bankers to better understand profitability via one source of the truth allows them to review deal performance every six months to improve performance. Further, a centralized database allows C-suite executives to literally see everything, forging connections between their initiatives to banker’s day-to-day actions. It creates an environment where bankers can realize opportunities through execution, accountability and coaching, when necessary.

Embracing Gender Diversity as a Pathway to Success

A prolonged flat yield curve, economic contraction, increasing compliance and technology costs, not to mention the pandemic-induced pressure on stock valuations, have left banks in a difficult operating environment with limited opportunities for profitability.

Yet, there is an untapped opportunity for banks to capitalize on a strong and growing talent pool and profitable customer base: women. Research repeatedly shows that increasing gender diversity on bank boards and in C-suites drives better performance. Forward-thinking banks should look to women in their communities for growth inside and outside the institution.

Women now receive nearly 60% of all degrees, make up 50% of the workforce and, prior to the pandemic, held more jobs in the U.S. than men. They are the primary breadwinner in over 40% of U.S. households and comprise more than 50% of stock owners. A McKinsey & Co. report found that U.S. women currently control $10.9 trillion in assets; by 2030, that could grow to as much as $30 trillion in assets. Women also started 1,821 net new businesses a day in 2017 and 2018, employing 9.2 million in 2018 and recording $1.8 trillion in revenues. Startups founded by women pulled in $18.6 billion in investments across 2,304 deals in 2019 — still, lack of capital is the greatest challenge reported by female small business owners.

Broadly, research also supports a positive correlation between a critical mass of gender diversity in leadership and performance.

A study of tech and financial services stocks found a 20% increase in stock price momentum within 24 months of appointing a female CEO, a 6% increase in profitability and 8% larger stock returns with a female CFO. And they may achieve better execution on deals. In a review of 16,763 publicly announced M&A transactions globally over the last 20 years, boards that were more than 30% female performed better in terms of stock price and operational metrics than all-male boards.


Note: Performance metrics are market-adjusted
Source: M&A Research Centre at Cass Business School, University of London and SS&C Intralinks: “Gender Diversity and M&A Outcomes; How Female Board-Level Representation Affects Corporate Dealmaking” (February 2020)

But as of 2018, women held just 40 CEO positions at U.S. public banks, or 4.31%. Nearly 20% of banks have no women board members; the median is just over 16%. Banks should start by gender diversifying their boards; gender-diverse boards lead to gender-diverse C-suites.

Usually, boards feature an “accidental” composition that results from social norms: board members source new directors from their social and immediate networks. An intentional board, by comparison, is deliberate in composing a governance structure that is best equipped to evaluate and address current demands and future challenges. Boards can address this in three ways.

  1. Expand your networks. The median male board member has social connections to 62% of other men on their boards but no social connections to women on their boards. Broaden the traditional recruitment channels to ensure a more qualified, diverse slate.
  2. Seek diverse skill sets. Qualified female candidates may emerge through indirect career paths, other sectors of the financial industry or are in finance but outside of financial services. Women with nonprofit experience and small business owners can bring local market knowledge and relevant experience to bank boards.
  3. Insist on gender diverse slates. A diverse slate of candidates negates tokenism, while a diverse interviewer slate demonstrates to candidates that your bank is diverse.

But diversity in recruiting and hiring alone won’t improve a bank’s performance. To be effective, a diverse board must intentionally engage all members. Boards can address this in three ways.

  1. Ensure buy-in. Support from key board members when it comes to diversifying your board is critical to success. Provide coaching for inclusive leadership.
  2. Review director on-boarding and ongoing engagement. Make sure it’s welcoming to people with different connections or social backgrounds, builds trust and facilitates open communication.
  3. Thoughtful composition of board committees. Integrate new directors into the board’s culture and make corporate governance more inclusive and effective.

The long-term performance benefits of a gender diverse board and c-suite are compelling, especially in the current challenging operating environment for banks. Over time, an intentional board and C-suite that mirrors the gender diversity of your bank’s key constituents — your customer base, your employee base and your shareholder base — will out-perform banks that do not adapt.

Three Reasons to Take Banking to the Cloud

Bankers challenged by legacy technology can leverage a low-cost workaround as a way to keep up with the latest innovation.

Today’s marketplace is challenging bankers to keep pace with the rate of technology innovation and provide a level of functionality and service that meets — or hopefully, exceeds — their customers’ expectations. Many find, however, that they must first overcome the limitations of existing legacy technology in order to deliver the customer experience that will keep them competitive.

A revolution of sorts has been developing within the computing world: a shift to internet-based, cloud services has introduced a more cost-effective, scalable and reliable approach to computing. With essentially no or little cost to join and access to on-demand platforms and application programming interfaces (APIs), users are empowered to leverage virtually unlimited resources while paying on a metered basis. An additional benefit of the cloud is its ability to support transformation over time, providing options to configure services based on users’ specific needs as they evolve — which has a direct application for bankers.

Many banks have already learned that a move to the cloud not only helps them increase efficiencies and reduce operational costs, but can drive innovation where it matters most: the customer experience. The inherent advantages of the cloud are being applied within retail banking to provide a modern banking experience for customers through services that are offered in a scalable, “pay-as-you-go” format that grows and evolves over time.

Most importantly, the cloud helps bankers build off of their existing technology infrastructure to more easily create new services and experiences for their customers, particularly in three ways:

Faster innovation. The cloud breaks down the barriers to innovate across departments, eliminating a disintermediated, “spaghetti” architecture and allowing banks to go to market faster. Projects that may have taken months or years to implement before can now often be completed through a click and initiated within days. Much like an appstore, the cloud allows banks to subscribe, try and launch new products almost instantly, as well as delete applications that no longer serve their account holders.

More cost savings. Compared to the expense of enterprise and on-premises solutions, the cloud minimizes the need for costly investments, like physical infrastructure or storage and maintenance fees. Instead, banks pay only for the specific applications they use. Services that were once available only through binding, long-term contracts are now accessible entirely within the cloud on a metered basis, removing the significant upfront costs associated with legacy technology.

Improved flexibility. The number of resources and tools available within the cloud environment is growing daily, which drives growth in the developer community as a whole. This leads to more participants who are creating and contributing even better offerings. Banks benefit through the ability to implement new products or services quickly and easily in response to market demand or the specific banking needs of account holders. If the bank finds a certain application does not provide enough value, the cloud offers the flexibility to try other services until it identifies the product with the best fit for its unique situation.

For too long, too many banks have simply settled for “good enough” from an innovation perspective, hamstrung by their legacy technology’s complex infrastructure. In most cases, banks’ core technology investments have been sound ones — the technology is stable, secure and reliable and has a proven track record. But it can create limitations when it comes to flexibility, ease and speed to deploy new capabilities. With cloud computing, bankers can effectively extend the value of their core technology investments by leveraging all of the benefits that they provide, while cost-effectively supporting a more innovative approach to providing customers with a true, modern banking experience.

A Pandemic-Proof Process Transformation Game Plan

Initiatives without execution are dreams that never become plans.

At MX, we’re helping banks use financial data to improve the financial lives of more than 30 million people. Banks need a secure foundation to build on at a time when profits have stalled, laying the groundwork for ways to increase revenue, offset losses and impact to your bottom line.

To get a better understanding of what financial institutions are focusing on, we recently surveyed more than 400 financial institution clients for their top initiatives this year and beyond. We believe these priorities will gain even more importance across the industry. The top five initiatives are:

  1. Enabling Emerging Technologies, Continued Innovation
  2. Improving Analytics, Insights
  3. Increasing Customer Engagement
  4. Leveraging Open Banking, API Partnerships
  5. Strategically Growing Customer Acquisition, Accounts

But identifying the initiatives to prioritize is merely the first step. Banks need to align their top initiatives throughout their organization to lay down the project’s foundation. Sustainable transformation is not accomplished by simply plugging in a new technology or process. True transformation requires a shift in the way the organization operates day to day. Without a commitment to changing the way you do business your efforts will be stunted and you will not achieve the outcomes promised in the initial business case.

The first thing banks need to do is ensure that their organizational goals translate top down, from executive leadership through department levels, all the way to individual contributors. If certain priorities don’t align from top to bottom, it’s important to address these outliers right away to ensure everyone is moving ahead in the same direction.

Banks will also want to make sure they’re effectively tracking their performance against the company strategy and organizational vision through Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and department metrics. Look at the top initiatives in the industry and see how they align within your bank’s own organizational goals.

This practice might reveal that that not all initiatives work together. Three critical questions to ask during this process are: Are we focused on understanding and solving the needs of our customers? How do we shift priorities to align with where we should be going as an organization? Where is overlap or conflict of priorities between all stakeholders?

Here’s a brief overview of how banks can create a game plan to guide their process transformation:

1. Align OKRs With Vision
Break down your bank’s vision into objectives. This can be anything from helping employees develop the right skills to acquiring the right technologies and so on. From there, break those objectives down into quarterly Objectives and Key Results and translate them across each department and individual employee.

2. Specify Metrics
Ensure your bank has the right metrics in place for measuring your OKRs. The more clarity your bank can get around what you’re measuring and why, the easier it will be to understand if your efforts’ progress and success.

3. Find Champions
Identifying champions within your organization is a great way to move things forward. These critical stakeholders will be just as motivated as you to get certain things done. If you’re considering new technologies or new programs, work with them to translate the need and opportunity to the executive suite.

4. Identify Trusted Partners 
Now’s the time to lean on trusted partners for support. Your customers are actively looking to you for alternative digital solutions to manage their money. Instead of going at it alone and trying to build everything in-house, it may be faster to partner with financial technology firms and other third parties that can get your products to market more efficiently.  

At MX, we’re working closely with our partners and clients to ensure they have the tools they need to optimize their digital experiences and complete their top initiatives, even in these challenging times. Banks must create comprehensive strategies around their digital channels and offerings, so they can continue to lead during uncertainty and change. This is a valuable opportunity for all of us to be better to one another and to the communities we serve.

Five Digital Banking Initiatives for Second Half of 2020

As the calendar nears the midpoint of 2020 and banks continue adjusting to a new normal, it’s more important than ever to keep pace with planned initiatives.

To get a better understanding of what financial institutions are focusing on, MX surveyed more than 400 financial institution clients for their top initiatives this year and beyond. We believe these priorities will gain even more importance across the industry.

1. Enabling Emerging Technologies, Continued Innovation
Nearly 20% of clients see digital and mobile as their top initiatives for the coming years. Digital and mobile initiatives can help banks limit the traffic into physical locations, as well as reduce volume to your call centers. Your employees can focus on more complex cases or on better alternatives for customers.

Data-led digital experiences allow you to promote attractive interest rates, keep customers informed about upcoming payments and empower them to budget and track expenses in simple and intuitive ways. 

2. Improving Analytics, Insights
Knowing how to leverage data to make smarter business decisions is a key focus for financial institutions; 22% of our clients say this is the top initiative for them this year. There are endless ways to leverage data to serve customers better and become a more strategic organization.

Data insights can indicate customers in industries that are at risk of job loss or layoffs or the concentration of customers who are already in financial crisis or will be if their income stops, using key income, spending and savings ratios. Foreseeing who might be at risk financially can help you be proactive in offering solutions to minimize the long-term impact for both your customers and your institution.

3. Increasing Customer Engagement
Improving and increasing customer engagement is a top priority for 14% of our clients. Financial institutions are well positioned to become advocates for their customers by helping them with the right tools and technologies.

Transaction analytics is one foundational tool for understanding customer behavior and patterns. The insights derived from transactions and customer data can show customers how they can reduce unnecessary spending through personal financial management and expert guidance.

But it’s crucial to offer a great user experience in all your customer-facing tools and technologies. Consumers have become savvier in the way they use and interact with digital channels and apps and expect that experience from your organization. Intuitive, simple, and functional applications could be the difference between your customers choosing your financial institution or switching to a different provider.

4. Leveraging Open Banking, API Partnerships
Open banking and application programming interfaces, or APIs, are fast becoming a new norm in financial services. The future of banking may very well depend on it. Our findings show that 15% of clients are considering these types of solutions as their main initiative this year. Third-party relationships can help financial institutions go to market faster with innovative technologies, can strengthen the customer experience and compete more effectively with big banks and challengers.

Financial institutions can leverage third parties for their agile approach and rapid innovation, allowing them to allocate resources more strategically, expand lines of business, and reduce errors in production. These new innovations will help your financial institution compete more effectively and gives customers better, smarter and more advanced tools to manage their financial lives.

But not all partnerships are created equally. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently released changes surrounding third-party relationships, security and use of customers’ data, requiring financial institutions to provide third-party traffic reports of companies that scrape data. Right now, the vast majority of institutions only have scrape-based connections as the means for customers to give access to their data — another reason why financial institutions should be selective and strategic with third-party providers.

5. Strategically Growing Customer Acquisition, Accounts
As banking continues to transform, so will the need to adapt including the way we grow. Nearly 30% of our clients see this as a primary goal for 2020 and beyond. Growth is a foundational part of success for every organization. And financial institutions generally have relied on the same model for growth: customer acquisitions, increasing accounts and deposits and loan origination. However, the methods to accomplish these growth strategies are changing, and they’re changing fast.

Right now, we’re being faced with one of the hardest times in recent history. The pandemic has fundamentally changed how we do business, halting our day-to-day lives. As we continue to navigate this new environment, financial institutions should lean on strategic partnerships to help fill gaps to facilitate greater focus on their customers.

Doing More In Branches With Less

Frugality breeds innovation, which means right now is a prime opportunity for change.

Budgets are tight and resources are stretched thin for banks. The good news is that they can do more with less by implementing a universal associate model with the right enabling technology. When executed optimally, this model can help reduce staffing costs, reduce technology costs, and increase advisory conversations at the same time. A win all around, especially in these times.

Many banks will say they already have this model in place, but we find that a true universal associate model is rare.

Leadership typically believes they already have deployed a universal banker model, but when we break it down for them and go through what each associate should be able to deliver at every touchpoint, it becomes clear that they are far from a universal banker,” says Krista Litvack, director of Professional Services, the training and banking consulting arm at DBSI.

Universal associates are cross-trained employees who can fulfill nearly every task and transaction type within the branch, including the workload of tellers and the majority of the platform staff responsibilities. This model can reduce teller costs and eliminate the need for specialized roles and customer hand-offs. At the same time, universal associates are often experts at transitioning high-cost, low-value transactions — like a check deposit or withdraw — to low-cost channels such as self-service or mobile.

Universal associates are a way for banks to turn every interaction into an advisory or sales conversation using their depth and breadth of product knowledge. For example, a universal associate might offer a college savings account to a customer with new or young children. These types of advisory conversations can improve the customer experience significantly. According to a J.D. Power consumer study, customer satisfaction doubled when they received higher-level interactions that led to either additional savings or improved financial journey products, such as retirement planning.​

Training is an important component, but the missing link to a true universal associate model is often technology. A universal banking model with the right technology and process in place can save up to $92,412 per branch, per year. That’s a massive cost reduction worth considering. There are three key areas banks should address to create a seamless integration of technology, people and process.

Cash Automation
Universal associates can’t operate efficiently without removing the largest distractions that a traditional teller has: balancing.​ Staying in balance, counting each individual transaction three times and the cumbersome end-of-night processes all distract from building relationships that secure long-term patronage. Teller cash recyclers are a step in the right direction and help shift the focus from balancing and counting cash to advising and helping the customer. When designed and located properly, these devices eliminate stress, allow for open branch design by increasing security and make overall cash management more effective.​

Technology Optimization
Cash recycler limitations keep many branches from achieving full automation because they limit access for two staff members at a time. This disrupts the customer experience and the workflow of the associates if a third associate needs to use the machine. Instead of investing in more machines, banks can use technology such as remote transaction assist. It helps optimize recylers by allowing cash transactions to be sent from any part of the branch to any recycler or dispenser, pulled down from a queuing system that uses a unique identification number once the associate is at the device.​ One recyclers can now easily be shared among multiple staff members, greatly reducing technology costs and creating more convenience.

Banks can optimize their cash recycler investments even further with kiosks to handle all types of transactions to more-efficient channels while tablet-equipped associates advise customers. This opens up recyclers for associate and customer use.

Tablet-Equipped Associates
The in-branch experience doesn’t have to be tied to a desk or an office: Imagine a universal associate who can help customers from anywhere in the branch to create a unique experience that maximizes branch square footage. Tablet-based teller applications that connect associates to cash automation machines or even self-service kiosks is the final piece in creating a frictionless customer experience and a true universal associate model.

Break down the teller line and remove the need for a hand-off entirely with a tablet that has teller transaction functionality and empower universal associates. Banks that want to implement a universal associate model will need the right design, technology, and process to make the shift. Now is the time to make those investments and position your bank for its post-pandemic future through lowered costs and better customer experiences.

How Innovative Banks Fight Covid Through Giving

Charitable initiatives are not new to banks.

Many have foundations, donation-matching programs or standing committees dedicated to giving back. What is new to banks, however, is how fast they’re being expected to contribute to vital causes while juggling other time-sensitive priorities created by the Covid-19 crisis.

Launching an impactful, Covid-specific relief program could be a non-starter for banks unless they leverage technology to make it happen quickly. Two Northeastern banks have proved that it’s possible to spin up new products and programs in days with the help of fintech partners.

As the extent of the Covid-19 crisis became clear, the Community Engagement Steering Committee at The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, a unit of Cape Cod Five Mutual Company, kicked its planning into high gear. The committee includes employees from different areas of the Massachusetts-based bank.

Before Covid-19 struck, it convened on a weekly basis to plan community initiatives and review applications for support. Now, the committee needed to move quickly to help local healthcare organizations battling the virus on the frontlines. That goal led to a partnership between the bank and Pinkaloo, a charitable-giving fintech the bank connected with at an industry event last year.

Pinkaloo had been presenting to the bank’s internal teams since January, but the arrival of Covid pushed Cape Cod 5, as the bank is called, to formalize the partnership. “Speed to market was important to us because of the emergent need,” says Stephanie Dennehy, chief marketing officer for the $3.6 billion bank.

In a week, the fintech and bank launched giving portals for seven different healthcare providers in the bank’s footprint.

To make it happen, Pinkaloo stayed in close contact with the bank’s team and everyone — from information security to legal to executive leadership — worked quickly to streamline the implementation process. The result was that a vendor management program that would normally take two to three weeks was completed in two to three days, says Adrian Sullivan, the bank’s chief digital officer.

Covid has showed banks that they can move fast in exigent circumstances, but will those lessons last beyond the current crisis?

Sullivan thinks they will. “The way we’ve done things remotely and in such an expedited fashion — I think that becomes new normal,” he says. “We realized how fast it really can be done, so I think we will shift for the better and start to work in a more agile fashion.”

To the southeast of Cape Cod 5 is a single-branch, digital-first bank that’s no stranger to iterating quickly. Quontic Bank, based in Astoria, New York, chose to support relief efforts with a new savings account.

The Drawbridge Savings account pays depositors an annual percentage yield of 0.50% on balances up to $250,000; the bank matches the interest paid on these accounts with a donation towards its #BeTheDrawbridge campaign. The savings account approach made sense to Quontic. They didn’t want to rely on a transaction-based account when people are changing their spending habits and stockpiling funds, says Patrick Sells, Quontic’s chief innovation officer.

To make the idea a reality, Sells put in a call to one of the bank’s existing technology partners, MANTL. MANTL’s account-opening solution automatically books new accounts to the bank’s core. MANTL engineers worked through the weekend and delivered the new savings product in three days. The bank’s team worked all weekend too, preparing disclosures, developing marketing plans and completing all the other steps required to bring the new financial product to market.

Although the stakes are higher in times of crisis, the $395 million bank is used to working in an agile manner. “One of the core values that applies here is progress, not perfection,” says Sells. “Striving for perfection so often gets in the way of progress, and especially quick progress.” Quontic can pivot if it makes a decision that doesn’t work, but the bank recognizes it can’t make any decisions when it’s frozen in the planning stage.

Covid-19 is changing the world quickly. Banks that want to help will need to lean on technology to put their plans in motion fast.