Why Management and Directors Need to Consider Blockchain in Overall Digital Strategy


blockchain-8-15-18.pngIf we think back to what we were doing in 1994, we would say we were using a gigantic cell phone, just hearing about the internet, addicted to the fax machine, and just starting to use email. Fast forward, and we are with blockchain where we were with the internet and email in 1994.

After the sale of Mechanics Bank in 2015 and subsequently leaving my role as CEO, I embarked upon a journey that has forever changed how I think; how I problem solve; how I view the boardroom; the secret society of the c-suite and most importantly, how I view technology, people and process.

There is a convergence of social media, digital retail, robotics, artificial intelligence, wearables, blockchain, Internet of Things, big data and advanced analytics. We must think about the big picture and how all of these pieces fit together in overall corporate and organizational digital strategy.

Forbes recently reported the top 20 largest businesses in the world, including top financial institutions, are all now exploring blockchain. These same companies are simultaneously evaluating and implementing the use of big data, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Since 90 percent of goods in global trade are transported through the shipping industry supply chain, let’s use the announced partnership of Maersk and IBM as our first example.

As you may know, Maersk is the largest shipping container company in the world, transporting 15 percent of the world GDP each year.

The shipping industry supply chain consists of:

  • Land transportation brokers
  • Customs brokers
  • Ports
  • Freight forwarders
  • Governments
  • Ocean carriers

Like many bank functions in the U.S., global trade functions are antiquated. The industry is still largely paper intensive with organizational silos and a heavy reliance on Excel. A typical transaction can take up to 30 people and more than 200 communications to complete. Maersk is not immune to these same challenges, but recently embarked on its own digital transformation through two partnerships:

  • Microsoft Enterprise Services to move five regional datacenters to the cloud, improve IT performance, bolster customer services, and reduce operational risk;
  • IBM to improve transparency and efficiency, with complete visibility of tracking millions of container shipments each year.

Each participant in a supply chain ecosystem can view the progress through the supply chain. They can also see the status of customs documents, view bills of lading and other data. This will all be done using blockchain technology and smart contracts.

So, what does all of this mean? Let’s take a look at how this all ties in to what I call “the digital innovation melting pot” and why we as bankers must pay attention:

In this video, the bank is partnered with the shipping, wearable device, driverless car, identity, virtual agent/chatbot, social media, social media influencers, predictive analytics, retailer, airline, and hotel industries. These 11 industries are working together to offer products, complete transactions and improve the customer experience with little in-person human interaction.

My view of blockchain, innovation and its place in the new digital world is from my role as a CEO who’s been accountable to shareholders, responsible for the bottom line. Though the top banks in the country have caught on to this trend, many banks are still in the dark ages, plagued by denial, lack of innovation knowledge and the right talent.
Many institutions still have bricked-up infrastructure, engrained in the mentality that “this is the way it’s always been done,” with a lot of outdated, dysfunctional and inefficient processes, policies and procedures.

The disregard of digital technology disruption and innovation is like a termite infestation that destroys the structure if you don’t pay attention to warnings and maintain the property.

Key Takeaways
Partnerships are the way of the future. A bank can no longer rely solely on its own infrastructure and core vendor relationships. The new digital world converges industries, so make sure you pick the right partners. To do so, understand existing infrastructure and look through the lens of generational age groups with a customer focus.

  • Does the customer want simple to use technology services and want it now?
  • Do they prefer more traditional services, and are they less trusting of new market entrants? Do they still value human advice?
  • Do they value high-quality service and view “trust as a must,” but are interested in innovation and want to be educated?
  • Is there forward-thinking leadership in the boardroom and C-suite?
  • How does the board get refreshed with new perspective?
  • Would board members be willing to give up their board seat to allow fresh perspective?
  • Has there been evaluation about current state and future growth?
  • Is there understanding about existing system capabilities, shortfalls, what works, what doesn’t?

Determine your game plan:

  • Does the front end need digitization?
  • Fix front end while gradually replacing legacy infrastructure and integrating middle and back office?
  • Go digital native – full overhaul?
  • Evaluate whether systems, processes, procedures and policies are still relevant?

Don’t forget impact on your people. Make sure new offerings do not cannibalize existing product offering and pricing. Remember that a digital expert is unnecessary in the boardroom. Instead find a digital technology translator; someone who understands the cause and effect of decisions made at the macro level. Lastly, and most importantly, figure out how to disrupt your business model before it becomes disrupted.

Risk & Innovation: Bridging The Gap



In today’s age of innovation, risk management can no longer be the office of ‘no.’ When risk managers are included in strategic discussions, they can help drive innovation and provide additional value to their organizations. In this video, Crowe’s John Epperson explains how successful banks bridge the gap between risk and innovation to truly bring value to their institutions.

  • Why Banks Should Transform Risk Management
  • Creating a Competitive Advantage Through Risk and Compliance

Realign Your Bank’s Operating Model Before It’s Too Late


core-6-19-18.pngThe banking industry and its underlying operating model is facing pressure from multiple angles. The advent of new technologies including blockchain and artificial intelligence have started and will continue to impact the business models of banks.

Meanwhile, new market entrants with disruptive business models including fintech startups and large tech companies have put pressure on incumbent banks and their strategies. A loss of trust from customers has also left traditional banks vulnerable, creating an environment focused on the retention and acquisition of new clients.

In response to looming industry challenges, banks have begun to review and adapt their business models. Many banks have already adjusted to the influence of technology, or are in the process of doing so. Unfortunately, corresponding changes to the underlying operating models often lag behind technology changes, creating a strong need to re-align this part of the bank’s core functions.

So what does “re-align” mean from an IT architecture point of view?

Impact on System
In order to keep up with the fast-paced digital innovation, investments have largely focused on end-user applications. This helped banks to be seen as innovative and more digital friendly. However, in many cases these actions led to operational inefficiencies and there are several reasons why we see this.

One is a lack of integration between applications, resulting in siloed data flow. More often, though, the reason is the legacy core, which does not allow seamless integration of tools from front to back of an organization. Further, M&A activity has led many banks to have several core legacy systems, and often these systems don’t integrate well or exist with multiple back-end systems that cater to a specific set of products. This complicates the creation of a holistic view of information for both the client and financial advisor.

There are two ways of addressing the above-mentioned challenges to remain successful in the long-run:

  1. Microservice driven architecture
  2. Core Banking System modernization

Microservice-driven architecture
Establishing an ecosystem of software partners is important to be able to excel amid rapid innovation. Banks can’t do all the application development in house as in the past. Therefore, a microservice-driven architecture or a set of independent, yet cohesive applications that perform singular business functions for the bank.

The innovation cycles of core banking systems are less frequent than innovation cycles for client- and advisor-facing applications. To guarantee seamless integration of the two, build up your architecture so it fully supports APIs, or application programming interfaces. The API concept is nothing new; however, to fully support APIs, the use of standardized interfaces will enable seamless integration and save both time and money. This can be done through a layer that accommodates new solutions and complies with recent market directives such as PSD2 in Europe.

core-banking-graphic.png

Core Banking System Modernization
Banks are spending a significant amount of their IT budget on running the existing IT systems, and this allows only specific parts go into modernization.

A simple upgrade of your core banking system version most likely won’t have the desired impact in truly digitizing processes from front to back. Thus, banks should consider replacing their legacy core banking system(s) to build the base layer of future innovation. This can offer new opportunities to consolidate multiple legacy systems, which can reduce operational expenditures while mitigating operational risks. In addition, a core banking replacement allows for the business to scale much easier as it grows.

A modern core banking system is designed and built in a modular way, allowing flexiblity to decide whether a specific module will be part of the existing core or if external solutions will be interfaced instead, resulting in a hybrid model with best-of-breed applications in an all-in-one core banking system.

Investing In Your Core Can Save You
Core banking system modernization and adoption of the microservice-driven architecture are major investments in re-aligning a bank’s operating model. However, given the rapid technological innovation cycles, investments will pay off in improved operational efficiency and lower costs.

Most importantly, re-aligning the operating model will increase the innovation capabilities, ultimately resulting in a positive influence on the top line through better client experiences.

Powering Payments For Your Business Customers



Business payments are evolving rapidly, with capabilities advanced by technology and rising expectations from business users for simple and seamless payments. In this video, Bill Wardwell of Bottomline Technologies explains:

  • The Business Payments Landscape
  • What Business Customers Want in a Solution
  • Exceeding Customer Expectations

CBW and Yantra Bring ‘Common Sense’ to Fintech Space


CBW-5-23-18.pngIt’s not common to see global fintech firms and healthcare companies eagerly partner with a small bank in Weir, Kansas, but dozens of companies from an array of industries have done just that.

But the chief technology officer who’s led the way with a unique approach to blending technology and banking describes what he’s done over the last nine years as nothing more than “common sense.”

“The wheel was revolutionary for about a minute before everybody else realized they could do it too,” said Suresh Ramamurthi, the CTO of CBW Bank and CEO of Yantra Financial Technologies, the tech firm he established to bring efficiencies to banks and other companies who want to process payments or manage risk.

The state-chartered bank with just $33 million in assets, located in small town Weir, Kansas, is about as far from a major financial hub as any place in America, but the bank helped put the town back on the map. The town first rose to prominence as the place where the flyswatter was created. CBW remains one of the only things still remaining in the town’s center. Less than 1,000 people live there, and it’s the only branch the bank operates.

Ramamurthi and his wife, Suchitra Padmanabhan, acquired the bank in 2009, mostly with personal savings. He came from a career in the tech sector which included a brief stop at Google, while Padmanabhan had a career at Lehman Brothers. CBW had a rough balance sheet, and the two had to spend some time getting the bank back on a solid footing. Ramamurthi and Padmanabhan have been featured in The New York Times and Fortune, and have earned national awards and praise for their innovative approach to banking and technology. The praise is not because they give away cookies and cider in the branch as the Times reported, or that it still is one of the primary lenders to local farmers and home buyers, but because of what they’re doing with fintech.

Ramamurthi, leaning on his experience with Google and tech background, also started Yantra Financial Technologies, a fintech firm that initially focused on speeding up the payments process, which at that time could take days or even weeks if, for example, transfers were being made around the globe. From that beginning has evolved the Y-Labs Marketplace, which enables companies, regardless of sector, to explore banking and payments, specifically, within that marketplace.

CBW and Yantra are the winners of Bank Director’s FinXTech Innovative Solution of the Year, one of three annual awards that recognizes successful collaboration between banks and fintech companies. The awards were announced at Bank Director’s FinXTech Annual Summit, held this May in Scottsdale, Arizona.

CBW and Yantra have published about 500 application programing interfaces, or APIs, which allow third-party developers to build apps and connect them to the bank’s core data systems, while maintaining compliance, which in itself could be a huge financial and legal burden. It’s how banks can keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital marketplace without developing the apps themselves, and allows banks and other firms to come to market at a 21st century pace.

That, Ramamurthi says, is where the common sense lies.

“In banking, your core competence should be in the (area) that (is) the most expensive area for banking, which is compliance,” he says. “If you can digitize all aspects of compliance, then you have an advantage.”

The Y-Labs Marketplace, which Ramamurthi runs as the CEO, has grown its client list to more than 100 that includes mostly other fintech firms like Moven and Simple—known well in the banking industry—in addition to insurance companies, a claims processor, healthcare companies and hospitals, which have used the marketplace to improve their payments systems, while also automating their compliance verifications and other tasks that are often costly and time consuming.

The bank itself remains quite small, though it continues to grow steadily and supports the local community. Ramamurthi has been widely recognized as an innovator and is upending the industry by establishing what he describes as a foundation that will eventually lead to advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning for the banking industry.

And there’s no indication that CBW or Yantra plan on slowing the effort to innovate.

Later this year, he said they plan to launch a “very special” mobile app, which he described as “a common-sense approach to how mobile apps should be for banking.”

Although Ramamurthi declined to discuss details, the app will “rethink” the relationship between customers and the bank, which has traditionally started with common retail accounts and then developed into loans and other more complicated arrangements, he said.

When It Comes to Fintech Partnerships, Look Before You Leap


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering Fintech Partnerships? Don’t Forget the Fundamentals


fintech-4-30-18.pngAs the benefits of partnerships between banks and financial technology (fintech) organizations have become more evident, bankers’ fears of being displaced by the wave of fintech startups have cooled.

Increasingly, bankers see that taking on a fintech partner can enable them to offer new products and services, develop new delivery models, and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of back-office functions.

And yet, despite the growing awareness of the value of these partnerships, dispositional mismatches between banks and fintech companies have caused banks to struggle to make these partnerships work.

One of the most common sources of discord is in the area of risk management. Bank risk and compliance professionals are wired to mitigate risk rather than to manage it. The urge to shelter banks from risk through traditional risk and compliance practices, however, can dampen the innovation that is at the core of fintech’s appeal.

Banks aiming to get more out of these partnerships should review and hone their operations, aligning business goals and risk management goals across strategy, culture and information sharing.

Strategy Trumps Granular Problem-solving
Fintech companies and banks entering into partnership agreements often fail to effectively think through and communicate about their individual corporate strategies and how the partnership fits in.

Banks might approach a partnership with a problem they would like the fintech company to solve, without clearly defining how the partnership fits into their overall business strategy.

An important first step for banks is to think of a fintech engagement as a true partnership, rather than a vendor relationship.

The two organizations should sit down together to collectively identify the objectives and goals of each organization and how the partnership can advance those goals.

Going further, both organizations should establish boundaries around what they are willing to do to achieve their objectives, what resources will be made available to deal with challenges, and what will trigger the escalation of an issue to executives’ attention.

Ultimately, the purpose of the partnership must be clearly tied to the broader strategy of each organization, and at the outset, the partners should establish a process to ensure that purpose and strategy will remain aligned.

Meet at Cultural Crossroads
Fintech companies and banks often experience a culture clash at the outset of a partnership. The more traditional culture of a bank can seem starkly different from that of an innovative and fast-moving fintech company, particularly in the area of risk tolerance. While banks often view any loss adversely, fintech companies are much more comfortable with the idea of taking a small loss in the spirit of innovation and learning.

This question of culture fit rarely is considered in the traditional vendor management process. But finding a way to align the two, often disparate, cultures is critical in forging a successful partnership.

Both parties should evaluate prospective partners’ values at the outset. Once a partnership is formed, the parties should establish a set of principles that define practices and policies that are deemed acceptable on both sides. This set of principles should be viewed not as rules per se, but as broad guidelines.

Another important aspect of culture is how both organizations treat failure. Rather than taking a punitive approach to all failures, banks should be open to the idea that some failures can be positive if they advance innovation.

Information Sharing
Fintech companies sometimes are hesitant to share their data, either because they consider it proprietary or because they simply do not know what data banks want. On the other hand, banks, particularly in light of privacy regulations, might be hesitant to share information that does not directly affect the partner relationship.

Both parties should work to overcome barriers to information sharing, as the degree of transparency in a partnership is directly related to its success. With more data, partners can better assess performance and identify unforeseen compliance risks that emerge.

As in the case of strategy and culture considerations, expectations defining the process and extent of data sharing should be set up front. Banks should consider what information they can provide to fintech partners that might not be directly related to the product – but which might help grow the strategy or solution.

Competitive Advantage Through Thoughtful Partnerships
By establishing some basic principles around strategy, culture, and information sharing, bank executives can make better decisions as they enter into partnerships with fintech companies. Poor execution on fundamentals should not be allowed to hamper the successful execution and growth of these partnerships.

Why It’s Never Been Easier to Adopt a Fintech Solution


innovation-4-9-18.pngFor many banks and financial services firms (incumbents), emerging financial technology firms (fintechs) were once viewed in two camps: flash-in-the pan, one-hit wonders or serious threats institutions should avoid. Perhaps the media was partially to blame for this “us vs. them” mentality with its prolific use of words like “disruption” or its positioning of fintechs as the only companies who embraced change or were capable of innovation. Beneath the exuberant headlines espousing the promise of these new technologies and the industries they would revolutionize, there was more than a hint of negativity, a healthy dose of fear mongering, and a pretty clear message, “Dear banks, you are not invited to the party. In fact, we are coming to crash yours.”

Although those of us who worked in banking and wealth management bristled at the tone and approach of these young companies, none of us could disagree with much of what they were saying: things were broken and radical change was afoot. Yet, there was something about the disruptor’s manifesto that seemed a little naïve, a bit misguided and certainly incomplete.

There was the assumption that financial institutions were resistant to change or opposed to innovation; neither of which, I would argue, were entirely true. For a myriad of reasons companies wanted change. The unspoken matter was how could they realize it in a cost effective and compliant way without disrupting any core processing or custodial technologies. Would these technologies integrate cleanly?

Fast forward to 2018
Much has changed. Many of the disruptive fintechs with their go-it-alone, direct-to-consumer business models have pivoted to business-to-business service models and now service the very companies and industries they set out to upend. Similarly, banks who either ignored the boisterous fintechs or chose to build internally are rethinking their strategies and engaging with start-ups.

What has changed?
The quick answer is everything. The disruptors have not only proven their technologies, but the market has begun demanding their services. Furthermore, the speed of innovation, adoption and deployment has quickened at such a rate that what was once deemed new or disruptive is suddenly table stakes.

Having experienced how difficult it is to create brand identity and how expensive it is to acquire clients, many fintechs have turned their focus to servicing institutional clients. Fintechs have a deeper understanding of the complex business activities and regulatory and compliance processes with which financial services must adhere and are designing their technologies accordingly. The technology is often preconfigured, ready to integrate into existing back-end processes, and deployable at a large scale.

Us vs. Them Becomes We
Fintechs are easier to partner with and their solutions have become easier to adopt. No longer is innovation limited to the banks or organizations with large IT budgets and staffs. FinTechs have made innovation available to all financial firms, with prices and engagement models that meet most budgets.

The nimble nature of fintechs has allowed them to adapt to changes and fine-tune their technology at a much quicker rate, bringing the most scalable solutions to the market. With an emphasis on engagement and a seamless experience for both clients and institutions, fintechs are no longer serious threats but rather trusted partners bringing a necessary business function to institutions.

Lastly, and equally important, the value proposition for incumbents to adopt digital solutions is clearer and far more comprehensive than previously articulated or understood. Fintechs make it easier for institutions to launch new business services such as wealth management or lending solutions to diversify product offerings, deepen client engagement, enhance client acquisition and strengthen loyalty. This not only helps grow the overall business, but many incumbents have realized significant cost savings through the automated processing solutions these new technologies offer and the elimination of manual back-end processes. As a result, businesses are seeing improved efficiency ratios and in some cases, higher valuations.

To conclude, a new breed of fintechs has emerged, many with the same face, most with a new sophistication and a deeper understanding of integration but all with the mission to empower. Transformation through collaboration is an impressive phenomenon, one that every firm should take advantage of and fintechs provide that opportunity.

Innovation Spotlight: First State Bank of St. Charles


innovation-1-10-18.pngCundiff Luanne.pngLuanne Cundiff, President and CEO
After beginning her career with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Luanne Cundiff joined First State Bank of St. Charles in 1995. She currently serves as President and CEO. With 25 years of industry experience, Cundiff has driven the $371 million asset bank’s steady and significant growth, its expansion into new markets and its introduction of innovative products and technologies. Passionate about the future of community banking, Cundiff leads a team of 225 banking professionals from the institution’s headquarters in St. Charles, Missouri.

What recent discussions have you had with your board around innovation?
Our commitment is always to increase personal service and enhance customer experience. Innovation is a driving force in meeting customer needs. First State Bank’s board is invested in and supportive of our approach. With an eye on the future, we have in-depth discussions to determine how we want to develop service channel enhancements to benefit customers. When considering new technology in an ever-changing market, we have to think about both business and personal clients and ask, “What is the best choice for customers?” Our decisions are focused on innovation that enhances efficiency and increases our ability to provide great service.

How have you used technology to help diversify revenue opportunities at First State Bank of St. Charles? Who helps implement your innovation strategy?
We have built diversity in our revenue streams. First State Bank achieved record-setting mortgage production with a 16 percent rise in home loan volume last year, and investment assets under management increased 4.5 percent. New technology plays a large role in increasing noninterest income in our mortgage and investment services divisions. We rely on the expertise of a variety of teams, headed by our IT strategist, to determine the best approach to integrating new technology. Our higher diversification of income is strengthened with increased operational efficiencies and productivity. In the future, it’s critical that we continue to adapt as payment systems evolve, and look to innovation that remains focused on the customer experience. During service enhancements, we strive to make the transition as seamless as possible to the customer. Through further enrichment of processes, we are optimistic for continued success.

In March 2017, you visited the White House to discuss the unique challenges facing community banks. What were some of your takeaways from that meeting?
Community banks represent such a critical segment of our economy, so I was honored to represent all community banks at such an important meeting. We discussed the regulatory constraints on banks and offered a rare perspective on the challenges financial institutions face today due to that burden. The need for tailored regulation was emphasized along with the critical role banks play in helping our economy thrive. Other topics included regulatory changes to increase small business and mortgage lending, the impact of the compliance burden, and the need to ensure regulatory capital standards are aligned with actual risks and conducive to credit availability. It was evident that the administration had a clear focus on getting feedback from all participants on what regulatory changes are needed. Discussions [about the] Dodd-Frank [Act] and the make-up [of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] continue, focusing on how to revise banking regulations that restrict economic growth while maintaining appropriate consumer protections. Altering the regulatory landscape for banking is a challenge and takes time, but these are vital, ongoing discussions that must always take place.

Tax Certainty in Uncertain Times


innovation-12-13-17.pngWarning: This is NOT another article about how tax reform may or may not affect your bank.

Disappointed? We can still talk tax! Instead, let’s talk about tax incentive and reduction programs that positively affect financial institutions and fintech businesses, and will go unscathed by tax reform.

Domestic innovation, quality jobs and capital investment are beneficial to the economy. To promote these economic benefits, the U.S. government financially supports and entices companies to engage in certain behaviors in exchange for tax credits, deductions and tax abatements. The behaviors that policy makers want to encourage include:

  • Developing new software and technology;
  • Creating and maintaining jobs in the U.S.;
  • And investing in facilities and other capital.

Tax and incentive programs are available to companies planning to incorporate any of the above into a growth strategy, and will offset the cost of such investments by reducing cash taxes and the effective tax rate.

A diverse menu of tax programs—many of which are regionally specific—are designed to incent corporate behavior. The below examples highlight a few of these programs.

The Federal Research Tax Credit
The Federal Research Tax Credit (RTC) is a well-established planning tool utilized by U.S. companies engaged in traditional technology development. It is rapidly becoming a similarly valuable planning tool for financial institutions and fintech companies investing in technology-enabled services.

How does it work? Companies claim an annual tax credit based on the cost of the technology development and process enhancements, regardless of whether the development was outsourced or in-house. The rate of return ranges between 5 and 8 percent of the cost, and there is an increased benefit when the company simultaneously claims a state credit.

If you thought this credit was only for product developers and scientific research companies, you are not alone. Financial institutions and other financial service providers reliant upon software platforms and web-based programs underutilize this tax planning opportunity.

Historically, the guidance as to how the RTC applied to financial service technology was murky, and as a result, financial institutions often opted not to apply the credit due to the inherent audit risk. But in 2016, Department of the Treasury regulations finally caught up to include such activities as eligible for the RTC. Companies that have invested in technology focused on financial modeling and enterprise tools, data security mechanisms, and modules developed to provide improved services may want to strategically reevaluate this credit.

Jobs & Investment Location Incentives
Speak with any state or local economic development group, and they will tell you that job creation and capital investment are top priorities to fuel economic growth. To meet this goal, each state has its own menu of programs designed to incent companies to create and maintain jobs, and invest in facilities and capital.

Recall the huge incentive packages recently lobbed to Amazon in hopes of landing its second headquarters, which promises 50,000 jobs and massive real estate development in the community that Amazon ultimately chooses. Although the Amazon project is truly a white whale for most states, development groups regularly put together similar packages, and the value offered is reflective of the anticipated impact of the project.

How do these incentives work? Companies lock in location incentives prior to engaging in development. The threshold for discussion is generally 20 or more jobs, coupled with capital investment. The program names differ in each state, but the gist is the same. If a company embarks on a strategy to build new facilities or improve current facilities, create jobs, or even maintain its current headcount—which could be relocated elsewhere—the state is motivated to support companies to ensure that growth stays within the state.

The jobs and investment incentives generally take the form of income or withholding tax reductions, refundable tax credits, property tax abatements and even cash grants. Although these incentives often seem like a black box, obtaining financial packages for proposed growth is quite likely. Leverage is gained through strategic discussions prior to initiating the project.

Investments made to improve processes, services and technology, or to add quality jobs and invest in your business’ facilities often give rise to direct and indirect tax savings. Our taxing systems will continue to reward such behaviors. The key to maximizing savings is strategically matching the behavior with the relevant program.