3 Ways to Drive Radical Efficiency in Business Lending

Community banks find themselves in a high-pressure lending environment, as businesses rebound from the depths of the pandemic and grapple with inflation levels that have not been seen for 40 years.

This economic landscape has created ample opportunity for growth among business lenders, but the rising demand for capital has also invited stiffer competition. In a crowded market, tech-savvy, radically efficient lenders — be they traditional financial institutions or alternative lenders — will outperform their counterparts to win more relationships in an increasingly digitizing industry. Banks can achieve this efficiency by modernizing three important areas of lending: Small Business Administration programs, small credits and self-service lending.

Enhancing SBA Lending
After successfully issuing Paycheck Protection Program loans, many financial institutions are considering offering other types of SBA loans to their business customers. Unfortunately, many balk at the risk associated with issuing government-backed loans and the overhead that goes along with them. But the right technology can create digital guardrails that help banks ensure that loans are documented correctly and that the collected data is accurate — ultimately reducing work by more than 75%.

When looking for tools that drive efficiency in SBA lending, bank executives should prioritize features like guided application experiences that enforce SBA policies, rules engines that recommend offers based on SBA eligibility and platforms that automatically generate execution-ready documents.

Small Credits Efficiencies
Most of the demand for small business loans are for credits under $100,000; more than half of such loans are originated by just five national lenders. The one thing all five of these lenders have in common is the ability to originate business loans online.

Loans that are less than $100,000 are customer acquisition opportunities for banks and can help grow small business portfolios. They’re also a key piece of creating long-term relationships that financial institutions covet. But to compete in this space, community institutions need to combine their strength in local markets with digital tools that deliver a winning experience.

Omnichannel support here is crucial. Providing borrowers with a choice of in person, online or over-the-phone service creates a competitive advantage that alternative lenders can’t replicate with an online-only business model.

A best-in-class customer experience is equally critical. Business customers’ expectations of convenience and service are often shaped by their experiences as consumers. They need a lending experience that is efficient and easy to navigate from beginning to end.

It will be difficult for banks to drive efficiency in small credits without transforming their sales processes. Many lenders began their digital transformations during the pandemic, but there is still significant room for continued innovation. To maximize customer interactions, every relationship manager, retail banker, and call center employee should be able to begin the process of applying for a small business loan. Banks need to ensure their application process is simple enough to enable this service across their organization.

Self-Service Experiences
From credit cards to auto financing to mortgages, a loan or line of credit is usually only a few clicks away for consumers. Business owners who are seeking a new loan or line of credit, however, have fewer options available to them and can likely expect a more arduous process. That’s because business banking products are more complicated to sell and require more interactions between business owners and their lending partners before closing documents can be signed.

This means there are many opportunities for banks to find efficiency within this process; the right technology can even allow institutions to offer self-service business loans.

The appetite for self-service business loans exists: Two years of an expectation-shifting pandemic led many business borrowers to prioritize speed, efficiency and ease of use for all their customer experiences — business banking included. Digitizing the front end for borrowers provides a modern experience that accelerates data gathering and risk review, without requiring an institution to compromise or modify their existing underwriting workflow.

In the crowded market of small business lending, efficiency is an absolute must for success. Many banks have plenty of opportunities to improve their efficiency in the small business lending process using a number of tools available today. Regardless of tech choice, community banks will find their best and greatest return on investment by focusing on gains in SBA lending, small credits and self-service lending.

Completing the Credit Score Picture

Traditional credit scores may be a proven component of a bank’s lending operations, but the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic has their many shortcomings.

Credit scores, it turns out, aren’t very effective at reacting to historically unprecedented events. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York even went so far as to claim that credit scores may have actually gotten “less reliable” during the pandemic.

Evidence of this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Americans’ credit scores, for the most part,  improved during the pandemic. This should be good news for bankers looking to grow their lending portfolios. The challenge, however, is that the reasons driving this increases should merit more scrutiny if bankers are accurately evaluate borrowers to make more informed loan decisions in a post-pandemic economy.

For greater context, the consumers experiencing the greatest increases in credit score were those with the lowest credit scores — below 600 — prior to the pandemic. As credit card utilization dropped during the pandemic, so too did credit card debt loads for many consumers, bolstering their credit scores. In some instances, government-backed stimulus measures, including eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to student loan payment deferrals, have also helped boost scores. With many of these programs expiring or set to retire, some of the gains made in score are likely to be lost.

How can a bank loan officer accurately interpret a borrower’s credit score? Is this someone whose credit score benefitted from federal relief programs but may have struggled to pay rent or bills on time prior to the pandemic and may not once these program expire? Compared to a business owner whose income and ability to remain current on their bills was negatively affected during the pandemic, but was a safe credit risk before?

There are also an increasing number of factors and valuable data points that are simply excluded from traditional credit scores: rent rolls, utility bills and mobile phone payment data, which are all excellent indicators of a consumer’s likelihood to pay over time. And as more consumers utilize buy now, pay later (BNPL) programs instead of credit cards, that payment data too often falls outside of the scope of traditional credit scoring, yet can provide quantitative evidence of a borrower’s payment behavior and ability.

So should bankers abandon credit scores? Absolutely not; they are a historically proven, foundational resource for lenders. But increasingly, there is a need for bankers to augment the credit score and expand the scope of borrower data they can use to better evaluate the disjointed, inaccurate credit profiles for many borrowers today. Leveraging borrower-permissioned data — like rent payments, mobile phone payments, paycheck and income verification or bank statements —creates a more accurate, up-to-date picture of a borrower’s credit. Doing so can help banks more safely lend to all borrowers — especially to “near prime” borrowers — without taking undue risk. In many cases, the overlay of these additional data sources can even help move a “near prime” borrower into “prime” status.

While the pandemic’s impact will continue reverberating for some time, bankers looking to acquire new customers, protect existing customer relationships and grow their loan portfolios will need the right and complete information at their disposal in an increasingly complex lending environment. Institutions that expand their thinking beyond traditional credit scoring will be best positioned to effectively grow loans and relationships in a risk-responsible way.

How Open Banking Will Revolutionize Business Lending

There has been much chatter about open banking over the last couple of years, and for a good reason. If it stays on its current growth trajectory, it could revolutionize the financial services sector worldwide, forcing changes to existing business models.

At this stage, many business bankers, and the small commercial clients they serve, are not ready to move to an open banking system. Banks have traditionally enjoyed a monopoly on their consumers’ financial data — and they do not want to lose it. Small business owners might worry that their data is shared with financial services providers other than their banks.

Open banking can seem risky, but it offers benefits to both lenders and borrowers. 2022 could be an excellent opportunity for this perception to catch up to reality and make open banking the norm in the business lending space.

Open banking is a banking practice that uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to give third-party providers access to consumer financial data. This access allows financial institutions to offer products that are tailor-made to consumers’ needs. This approach is more attractive than other ways that consumers have traditionally aggregated their financial data. For instance, screen scraping transfers screen display data from one application to another but can pose security risks. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology requires substantial human resources to read PDF documents to extract information. And data entry is both time-consuming and has a high likelihood of errors.

Using APIs addresses many of the problems that exist with other data aggregation methods. The data is transmitted directly — no need to share account credentials — eliminating the security risk inherent with screen scraping. And since there is no PDFs or data entry involved, bankers do not need to use many resources to check the accuracy of the data.

Still, bankers may wonder: Why do we need to move to an open banking system?

Business lending works today, but there is significant room for improvement. The main issue is the lack of centralized data. Lenders do not have enough data to approve loans to creditworthy borrowers or identify other products the client could receive. On the other side, small business owners endure a slow and cumbersome process because they must provide their data to each lender, one by one. An open banking system allows lenders to offer borrowers better terms and creates an easier application process for borrowers.

Misconceptions could complicate adoption. In an Axway survey, half of the respondents did not think that open banking was a positive development. They had concerns about the constant monitoring of financial activity (33%), losing control over access to their financial data (47%) and financial institutions using their data against their interests (27%).

But open banking gives consumers more control over their financial data, not less. Since open banking is a new concept, there is a significant gap between perception and reality. There is, understandably, a hesitancy among the public to share their data, which emerges when consumers are directly asked about it. But as services like Personal Capital and Credit Karma clearly show, consumers will overwhelmingly opt for open banking services because they can use their financial data to gain via more straightforward analysis or track their spending.

This is the promise of open banking in the business finance space. Small business owners want to focus their attention on non-administrative tasks and connecting their financial data to services that bring them faster access to capital with less paperwork is a clear benefit they are excited to get.

Services like Plaid and Envestnet Yodlee connect customer data directly with financial institutions and are widespread in the small business lending market. More than half of small business owners already choose to use these services when applying for financing, according to direct data reported by business lending companies.

Banks, on the other hand, will need to make a couple of adjustments to thrive in an open banking ecosystem. They will need to leverage the bevy of consumer financial data they have to offer more customizable financial products, as the system’s open nature will lead to more competition. To analyze all that data and provide those customer-centric products, banks should consider using a digital lending platform, if they aren’t already. Open banking is set to disrupt the financial services sector. Financial institutions can set themselves up for sustainable success by embracing the movement.

A Look Ahead to 2022: The Year of Digital Lending

2021 has been a year of challenge and change for community bankers, especially when it comes to lending.

Banks modernized and digitized significant portion of loan activity during the pandemic; as a byproduct, customers have begun to realize the inefficiencies in traditional lending processes. Community financial institutions that hope to stay ahead in 2022 should prioritize the incorporation of digital and automated loan processes.

Although the need to digitize commercial lending has long been a point of discussion, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) sparked a fire that turned talk into action for many institutions. Bankers quickly jumped in to help small businesses receive the funding they needed, whether that meant long hours, adopting new technologies or creating new processes. The amount of PPP loans processed in that small window of time would not have been possible without many bankers leveraging trusted technology partners.

One result of this approach was enhancing transparency and boosting efficiencies while helping small businesses at the same time. Many in the banking industry saw firsthand that, despite the commonly held belief, it is possible to digitize lending while maintaining personal, meaningful relationships. Bankers do not have to make a choice between convenience and personal connection, and we expect to see more institutions blend the two going forward.

Bankers also have a newfound familiarity with Small Business Administration programs following the wind down of the PPP. The program marked many institutions’ first time participating in SBA lending. Many now have a greater understanding of government guaranteed lending and are more comfortable with the programs, opening the door for continued involvement.

Embracing digitization in lending enhances efficiencies and creates a more seamless experience not only for the borrower, but for employees institution-wide. This will be especially important as the “Great Retirement” continues and bank executives across the country end their careers with no one in place to succeed them. To make the issue even worse, recruiting and maintaining technology talent has become increasingly difficult — even more so in rural markets. Such issues are leading some banks to sell, disrupting the businesses and communities that rely on them.

Partnering with technology providers can give institutions the bandwidth to effectively serve more small businesses and provide them with the customer experiences they have come to expect without increasing staff. Adopting more digital and automatic aspects in small business lending allows banks to reduce tedious manual processes and optimize efficiencies, freeing up employee time and resources so they can focus on strategy and growth efforts. Not to mention, such a work environment is more likely to attract and retain top talent.

Using technology partners to centralize lending also has benefits from a regulatory compliance standpoint, especially as potential changes loom on the horizon. Incorporating greater digitization across the loan process provides increased transparency into relevant data, which can streamline and strengthen a bank’s documentation and reporting. The most successful institutions deeply integrate lending systems into their cores to enable a holistic, real-time view of borrower relationships and their portfolio.

Community institutions have been a lifeline for their communities and customers over the last two years. If they want to build off that momentum and further grow their customer base, they must continue to lean into technology and innovation for lending practices. Developing a comprehensive small business strategy and digitizing many aspects of commercial, small business and SBA lending will position community banks to optimize their margins, better retain their talent and help their communities thrive.

What’s Driving Interest in Bank Primacy?

Becoming a valued client’s primary commercial bank — or primacy –– has been a hot topic during our daily conversations with bankers. At some point during those discussions, how to define and achieve primacy is bound to come up.

But primacy is not a brand-new concept. So why has it vaulted in recent months to the top of the to-do list at many commercial banks? We dug into the PrecisionLender pricing database to look for potential explanations.

The lending environment since the start of the pandemic in 2020 has not been a friendly one for bankers that build relationships purely around credit. Thanks to decreases in rates that weren’t always accompanied by similar declines in funding costs, the return on equity for credit-only relationships has declined more than 200 basis points in the past 24 months.

Cohort Group of Credit-Only Relationships

Profitability Trends

At the same time, deposits aren’t helping banks. In the previous market cycles, deposits were extremely attractive: They were a way to maintain, or even improve, spreads by lower funding costs. But right now, deposit costs aren’t really much lower than other wholesale funding options. Even though these relationships have experienced significant deposit growth in the past two years, that’s only been enough for banks to tread water when it comes to return on equity.

We then looked at a third group of commercial relationships. This group started off as credit only, but expanded to include both deposits and ancillary fee-based business. This group is the type of primary relationship that banks are now focused on winning: clients who keep a substantial portion, if not all, of their accounts with the same institution. The return on equity payoff is handsome – an average increase of about 190 basis points over the past two years.

Cohort Group of Relationships – Cross-Sell Growth

Profitability Trends

Bankers will often argue there are situations where it’s worth it to book a credit-only deal. We looked a variety of banks, from a wide range of geographies and asset sizes, and found that to be true — but only in a very select set of situations.

Credit-Only Accounts: Spread Over COF vs. ROE by Size



Depending on the bank’s targets for return on equity, small business loans can be profitable even without cross-selling other products or reservices. But as loan sizes rise and margins narrow, the return on credit-only relationships drops markedly. In some cases, such as Bank B, bankers may end up booking large loans that actually have a negative return on equity. But perhaps that relationship is only meant to stay credit-only for a brief time. Even if the return isn’t great initially, it can be worth it to land the initial, credit-only relationship with the hopes of expanding later, right?

In theory, yes. In reality, credit-only is not a temporary status for a considerable number of commercial relationships. Winning ancillary business takes time; sometimes it never happens. Nearly a third of credit-only relationships started between 2016 and 2019 have yet to add any non-credit accounts. We found 15% of relationships started more than 10 years were still credit-only today.

Credit-Only Incidence as of August 2021

By Relationship Start Date

In previous research, we’ve found that banks have historically failed to reprice credits over time, even when anticipated cross-selling opportunities did not materialize. This left the portfolio with underperforming relationships that dragged down performance for years.

The case for credit-only relationships gets even weaker when compared to broader relationships that encompass credits, deposits and fee-based services. Obviously, bankers know “broader is better,” but they not have realized just how much better these relationships are for the portfolio.

Credit-Only vs. Broader Relationships

Relationship ROE by Size of Credit Relationship



Taken together, this data explains why primacy is the topic du jour at many commercial banks. Simply lending your way past the stress that 2020 put on your bank’s portfolio isn’t an option; it can actually be a game of diminishing returns that could drag on for years. Adding deposits — something banks have had no trouble doing over the past two years — may only be enough to keep your bank running in place. To make a significant impact on the bottom line, your bank needs to achieve primacy through broader relationships with your most-valued clients. That’s why everyone’s talking about primacy now. But the smart banks are doing more than just talking; they’re adding processes and investing in technology to make primacy a reality.

Three Steps to Building a Commercial Card Business In-House

As the economy recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, community banks will need to evaluate how to best serve their small and medium business (SMB) customers.

These companies will be seeking to ramp up hiring, restart operations or return to pre-pandemic levels of service. Many SMBs will turn to credit cards to help fund necessary changes — but too many community banks may miss out on this spending because they do not have a strong in-house commercial card business.

According to call reports from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., community banks make up half of all term loans to small businesses, yet four out of five have no credit card loans. At the same time, Accenture reports that commercial payments made via credit card are expected to grow 12% each year from 2019 to 2024. This is a significant strategic opportunity for community bankers to capitalize on the increased growth of cards and payments. Community bankers can use commercial cards to quickly capitalize on this growth and strengthen the relationships with existing SMB customers while boosting their local communities. Commercial credit cards can also be a sticky product banks can use to retain new Paycheck Protection Program loan customers.

Comparing Credit Card Program
Many community banks offer a branded business credit card program through the increasingly-outdated agent bank model. The agent bank model divorces the bank from their customer relationship, as well as any ability to provide local decisioning and servicing to their customers. Additionally, the community banks carry the risk of the credit lines they have guaranteed. In comparison, banks can launch an in-house credit card program within 90 days with modern technology and a partnership with the right provider. These programs require little to no upfront investment and don’t need additional human resources on the bank’s payroll.

Community banks can leverage new technology platforms that are substantially cheaper than previous programs, enabling issuers to launch products faster. The technology allows bank leaders to effortlessly update and modify products that cater to their customer’s changing needs. Technology can also lower customer acquisition and service costs through digital channels, especially when it comes to onboarding and self-service resources.

More importantly in agent bank models, the community bank does not underwrite, fund or keep the credit card balances on its books. It has little or no say in the issuing bank’s decisions to cancel a card; if it guarantees the loan, it takes all the risk but receives no incremental reward or revenue. The bank earns a small referral fee, but that is a fraction of the total return on assets it can earn by owning the loans and capturing the lucrative issuer interchange.

Bringing credit card business in-house allows for an enhanced user experience and improved customer retention. Community banks can use their unique insight to their SMB customers to craft personalized and tailored products, such as fleet cards, physical cards, ghost cards for preferred vendors or virtual cards for AP invoices. An in-house corporate credit card program gives banks complete access to customer data and total control over the user experience. They can also set their own update and product development timelines to better serve the changing needs of their customers.

Three Steps to Start an In-House Program
The first step to starting an in-house credit card program to build out the program’s strategy, including goals and parameters for credit underwriting. The underwriting strategy will establish score cutoffs, debt-to-income ratios, relationship values and other criteria so automated decisions reflect the policies and priorities of the bank. It is important to consider the relationship value of a customer, as it provides an edge in decision making for improved risk, better engagement and higher return. If a bank selects a seasoned technology partner, that partner may be able to provide a champion strategy and best practices from their experience.

Next, community banks should establish a long-term financial plan designed to meet its strategic objectives while addressing risk management criteria, including credit, collection and fraud exposures. It is important that bank leaders evaluate potential partners to ensure proper fraud protections and security. Some card platform providers will even share in the responsibility for fraud-related financial losses to help mitigate the risk for the bank.

The third step is to understand and establish support needs. These days, a strong account issuer program limits the bank’s need for dedicated personnel to operate or manage the portfolio. Many providers also offer resources to handle accounting and settlement, risk management, technology infrastructure, product development, compliance and customer service functions. The bank can work with partners to build the right mix of in-house and provided support, and align its compensation systems to provide the best balance of profitability and support.

Building an in-house corporate credit card program is an important strategic priority for every community bank, increasing its franchise value and ensuring its business is ready for the future.

The Community Bank Advantage to Helping Small Businesses Recover

While the Covid-19 vaccination rollout is progressing steadily and several portions of the country are making steps toward reopening and establishing a new normal, it is still too early to gauge how many small businesses will survive the pandemic’s impacts.

In a 2020 study of small firms by McKinsey & Co., it was initially estimated between 1.4 million to 2.1 million of the country’s 31 million small businesses could fail because of the events experienced in 2020 and 2021. However, a more recent report from the Federal Reserve revealed that bankruptcies during 2020 were not as bad as originally feared — with around 200,000 more business failures than average. Simply put, the true impact of the pandemic’s interruptions cannot be known until later this year or even next.

A PwC study on bankruptcy activity across the broader business sectors reveals which industries were impacted the most. Of the bankruptcies in 2020 where total obligations exceeded $10 million, retail and consumer sectors led the way, followed by energy and real estate. Together, these three sectors accounted for 63% of all bankruptcies.

Reimagining Small Business Success
While a lack of revenue has been the most critical issue for small business owners, they are also suffering from other challenges like a lack of time and guidance. Business owners have faced tremendous pressure to meet local and national guidelines and restrictions around interacting with the public, many even having to transform their business models to reach customers remotely. Such burdens often leave business owners meeting operational needs during nights and weekends.

This creates a timely opportunity for community banks to better support business customers’ recovery from this period of economic stress. Financial instituions can provide anytime, anywhere access to their accounts and financial tools, more-effective cash flow management capabilities and personalized digital advisory services to meet evolving needs. These tailored services can be supported with personal digital support to revitalize the service and relationships that have always been a competitive advantage of community institutions.

Putting Humans at the Center
A 2021 study by Deloitte’s Doblin revealed five ways financial services firms can support their business customers post-pandemic, including demonstrate that they know the customer, help them save time, guide them with expertise, prepare them for the unexpected and share the same values. These findings provide insight into how business owners prefer to bank and what they look for in a bank partner. In fact, 62% of small businesses were most interested in receiving financial advice from their financial institutions.

The Doblin study goes on to explore the activities that institutions can engage in to better serve the small business marketplace. Top findings included enabling an easier lending journey, investing in innovative, digital-led initiatives and offering personalized, context-rich engagement. These areas have been priorities for community banks, and the pandemic has accelerated the timeline for adopting a strong digital strategy. Compared to competitors including national banks, digital banks and nontraditional players, community banks are uniquely positioned to help local businesses recover by combining digital solutions with services that center the human connections within the banking relationship.

As business owners look to finance their road to recovery, it’s been repeatedly shown that they prefer a relationship lender who understands their holistic financial picture and can connect them to the right products, rather than shopping around. Business owners want a trusted partner who uses technology to make things easy and convenient and is available to talk in their moments of need. The best financial technologies strengthen human connections during the process of fulfilling transactions. These technologies automate redundant tasks and streamline workflows to reduce the mundane and maximize the meaningful interactions. When done right, this strategy creates an enhanced borrower experience as well as happier, more productive bank employees.

There’s a clear sense that the events of 2020 and 2021 will permanently shape the delivery of financial services, as well as the expectations of small business owners. The year has been a crisis-induced stress test for how technology is used; more importantly, how that technology can be improved in the months and years ahead. The pandemic, as challenging and destructive at it has been, generated a significant opportunity to reimagine the future, including the ways bankers and small businesses interact. Those community institutions that take the lessons learned and find ways to build and maintain human relationships within digital channels will be well positioned to serve their communities and succeed.

How to Reduce Application Abandonment and Grow Revenues

Banks drive significant portions of their revenues through products such as credit cards, mortgages and personal loans. These products help financial institutions improve their footprint with current customers and acquire new customers. The coronavirus pandemic has increased demand for these products, along with an excellent opportunity to improve revenues.

But applying for these offerings has become a challenge due to changes in the in-person banking environment and the limited availability of customer support outside traditional banking hours. Even though customers and prospects are attempting to apply for these products online, financial institutions are experiencing low conversions and high drop-off rates. Simple actions — such as an applicant not checking an agreement box or not having clarity about a question — are behind over 40% of the application abandonment instances.

Financial institutions can tackle such situations to improve the application journey and reduce instances of abandonment with products such as smart conversion that are powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

How Does Smart Conversion Work?
AI is being increasingly incorporated into various functions within banks to help tackle a variety of issues. Incorporating AI can enhance customer service, allowing customers to become more self-sufficient and quickly find answers to questions without long wait times or outside of bank hours.

In smart conversion, an AI-powered assistant guides applicants throughout the application process, step by step, providing tips and suggestions and answering questions the applicant may have. Smart conversion achieves this through its AI co-browsing capability. In AI co-browsing, the AI assistant snaps on to the application form and proactively helps fill out the application form if it sees a customer slow down. If an applicant has questions, it helps them at the moment of doubt and ensures they continue with the application. This enables applicants to complete the form with ease, without additional assistance from someone within the financial institution.

Say there is a portion of an application that stops an prospective customer in their tracks: They are not sure of its meaning. Smart conversion will proactively assist them with the clarification needed at that moment. Applicants can also interact with the smart conversion assistant at any time to ask questions. For applicants already in the system, the smart conversion assistant can autofill information already available about them, making the application process more seamless and efficient.

The smart conversion assistant provides complete flexibility to the bank to choose the parts of an application that should deliver proactive help to applicants. It also offers insights on the customer journey and details why applicants drop off — continually enabling financial institutions to improve the customer journey.

Better Business with Smart Conversion
Smart conversion helps financial institutions increase revenues and enhance the customer experience by assisting applicants and improving application completion rates. These tools have proven to increase conversions by up to 30% — a considerable improvement to financial institutions of any size.

Financial institutions must look at the current offerings in their technology suite and explore ways to incorporate valuable tools to become more efficient and grow. They should consider leveraging smart conversion to reduce application abandonment rates and the assistance needed from the call center or internal staff while growing revenues.

In a time when banks are fiercely competing for customers’ valuable business and relationships, AI-powered tools like smart conversion that can be set up easily and deliver results swiftly will be key.

Turn Credit Declines Into A Win-Win

The pandemic has left millions of people needing credit at a time when lending standards are tightening. The result is a lose-lose situation: consumers receive a negative credit decline experience and financial institutions miss out on a lending opportunity. How can this be turned into a win-win?

Start by deconstructing the credit decline process: Most consumers are first encouraged to apply for a loan or credit card. The application process can be invasive, requiring significant time commitment and thoughtful and accurate inputs from the applicant.

After all that, many consumers are declined with a form letter or message that has little to no advice on what actions they can take to improve their credit worthiness. It’s no wonder that credit declines receive a poor Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 50 or, often, much worse. But on the flip side, forward-looking institutions could use this opportunity to provide post-decline credit advice. This is a compelling opportunity for several reasons:

  • Improved customer satisfaction. One financial institution learned that simply offering personalized coaching, regardless of whether or not consumers used it, increased their customer satisfaction by double digits.
  • More future lending opportunities. Post-decline financial coaching can help prospective customers position themselves for future borrowing needs, even beyond the product for which they were initially declined.
  • Increased trust. Quality financial advice helps build trust. A J.D. Power study found that, of the 58% of customers who want advice from financial institutions, only 12% receive it. When consumers do receive helpful advice, more than 90% report a high level of trust in their financial institution.

Provide cost-effective, high-quality advice
Virtual coaching tools powered by artificial intelligence can help banks turn declines into opportunities. These coaches can deliver step-by-step guidance and personalized advice experiences. The added benefit is easy and consistent compliance, enabled by automation. These AI-based solutions are even more powerful when they follow coaching best practices:

  • Bite-sized simplicity. Advice is most effective when it is reinforced with small action steps to gradually nurture customers without overwhelming them. This approach helps the prospective borrower build momentum and confidence.
  • Plain language. Deliver advice in friendly, jargon-free language.
  • Behavioral nudges. Best-practice nudges help customers make progress on their action plan. These nudges emulate a human coach, providing motivational reminders and celebrating progress.
  • Gamification. A digital coach can infuse fun into the financial wellness journey with challenges and rewards like contests, badges and gifts.

Virtual financial coaching, starting with reversing credit declines, represents a huge market opportunity for banks and their customers. Learn more about the industry’s first virtual financial coach.

How One Small Player Beat Out PNC, Wells Fargo and M&T for PPP Loans

Banks took center stage in the U.S. government’s signature pandemic aid package for small businesses, the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

But into year two of the program, a nonbank has emerged as one of the top three PPP lenders. The SBA listed Itria Ventures, a subsidiary of the online commercial lending platform Biz2Credit, on Feb. 28 as the No. 3 lender in dollar value in 2021, after JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. Not only that, it was the No. 1 lender, of the top 15, in terms of total loans approved. Itria Ventures was the direct lender for 165,827 approved loans in 2021 worth $4.76 billion. Unless Congress extends the program, it runs through the end of March. The SBA updates PPP statistics every Monday so the ranking could change.

As of Feb. 28, the SBA approved $678.7 billion in low-interest PPP loans this year and last year. The potentially forgivable loans have created enormous opportunities for banks to connect with small businesses and allowed financial technology companies to make inroads into the commercial loan market.

But the significance of an obscure-sounding online marketplace lender surging past the likes of household names such as PNC Financial Services Group, M&T Bank Corp. and U.S. Bancorp for PPP dollar volume and loans wasn’t lost on Joel Pruis, a senior director for Cornerstone Advisors.

The PPP gave a much-better opportunity to these fintech companies to get involved and it gave them the volume,’’ he says. “Prior to this, it’s been tough for them to get any type of material volume.”

During the pandemic, small businesses such as restaurants and retail shops that rely on fintech lenders fell on tough times, hurting platforms that then experienced double-digit loan delinquencies in some cases. OnDeck, a prominent online lender valued at about $1.3 billion during its initial public offering in 2014, sold to Enova International last year for about $90 million. Online direct lender Kabbage sold most of its operations for an undisclosed sum to American Express Co. last year.

Biz2Credit received some negative press last year as a merchant cash advance lender that sued some of its New York borrowers struggling during the pandemic. But the company is moving away from merchant cash advance products because the customers of those loans are small businesses struggling the most right now, such as restaurants, says Biz2Credit CEO and co-founder Rohit Arora.

Biz2Credit, which is privately owned and doesn’t disclose financial information, pivoted last year to quickly ramp up its PPP lending platform and partnerships, hoping to capitalize on what Arora anticipated would be a huge government rescue package. It generates business through referrals from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and its relationship with payroll provider Paychex, which has strong connections with small businesses.

It also white-labelled its PPP platform to banks and other lenders to process small business loans without the hassles of the paperwork and monitoring. Among its customers are major PPP lender Portland, Maine-based Northeast Bank, the 11th largest PPP lender in terms of dollar value as of Feb. 28.

Other technology companies seeing a surge in business due to PPP include Numerated, which provides a commercial loan platform for banks. Numerated processed nearly 300,000 PPP loans for more than 100 U.S. lenders, totaling $40 billion as of March 1. Cross River Bank, a technology-focused bank in Fort Lee, New Jersey, that works with fintech companies to offer banking services, also rose in the ranks of direct PPP lenders this year. The $11.8 billion bank ranked fifth with $2.5 billion in PPP loans.

Arora says the SBA’s constantly changing documentation, error codes and program rules were a headache for a bank but fit into Biz2Credit’s area of expertise as a technology company. It provided banks with one platform for both PPP origination and loan forgiveness, simplifying the lending process. Given the amount of work involved, Pruis says banks that chose to handle PPP lending on their own platforms have had a tough time, especially in the program’s first round of the loan program. “It was brutal,’’ he says.

Arora says Biz2Credit is perfectly suited for PPP for another reason: Most of its loans go to very small businesses, many of them sole proprietorships or operations with fewer than 20 employees.

These borrowers often don’t have a business banking relationship, pushing them into the arms of online lenders or small banks.

Small businesses have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. The Federal Reserve’s Small Business Credit Survey for 2021 found that 53% of respondents in September and October of 2020 thought their revenue for the year would be down by more than 25%. Of the 83% of firms whose revenues had not returned to normal, 30% projected they would be unlikely to survive without additional government assistance.

“This recession has been brutal for small business,’’ Arora says. “It’s a much-worse recession than the last one for small business.”

Top PPP Lenders for 2021 PPP

Rank Lender Name Loans Approved Net Dollars Average Loan Size
1 JP Morgan Chase 81,430 $6,048,741,297 $74,281
2 Bank of America 87,696 $5,339,101,618 $60,882
3 Itria Ventures LLC 165,827 $4,756,975,303 $28,686
4 PNC Bank 28,633 $2,877,088,585 $100,482
5 Cross River Bank 106,086 $2,511,524,537 $23,674
6 M&T Bank 15,507 $2,044,126,456 $131,820
7 Zions Bank 16,593 $1,982,086,510 $119,453
8 U.S. Bank 35,663 $1,914,171,309 $53,674
9 Wells Fargo Bank 44,861 $1,892,379,160 $42,183
10 TD Bank 21,833 $1,863,067,115 $85,333
11 Northeast Bank 17,255 $1,855,213,143 $107,517
12 KeyBank 14,791 $1,708,999,583 $115,543
13 Citizens Bank 26,544 $1,531,712,319 $57,705
14 Customers Bank 54,576 $1,405,437,610 $25,752
15 Fifth Third Bank 14,390 $1,333,769,118 $92,687

Approvals through 2/28/2021. Source: SBA