The Latest Model of Modern Banking


fintech-1-18-19.pngMost people assume that fintech companies are out to take business away from banks, but what if the opposite is true?

What if, instead of being a threat, fintech companies actually open up new opportunities for banks?

That’s what a handful of banks are exploring right now. They’re doing so by essentially white-labeling deposit insurance, regulatory expertise and access to credit platforms.

You can think of it as a partnership that leverages a fintech company’s strengths on the front end of the customer experience, with attractive and refined digital interfaces, as well as a bank’s strength on the backend, by providing access to safe and secure financial products.

It’s a classic win-win situation.

One bank pursuing this course is TAB Bank, an online bank based in Ogden, Utah, with $711 million in assets.

We came to the conclusion that we would build our strategy around how we think the market will look in two to five years, not how it behaves today,” says Curt Queyrouze, president of TAB. “What we determined was that once consumers try a digital interaction, they stay in that lane.”

Queyrouze has been cultivating this model for years.

The 20-year-old online bank has “sponsored” non-banks before who wanted access to the Visa and MasterCard credit platforms, says Queyrouze. Then TAB began working with marketplace lenders and offering traditional transaction accounts—in other words, white-labeling banking services to its partners.

“To the extent we can be the infrastructure for that cash account that attaches to whatever payment systems are out there, yeah, there’s a lot of benefit to that,” says Queyrouze. “As traditional banks we can hold that money, we can insure it and then we can take that money and turn around as the traditional banking model has always been and lend out that money, (or) use it in other ways to create profitable margin.”

The Bancorp Bank is pursuing a similar course. The $4.4 billion online bank headquartered in Delaware makes it clear what their model is all about: enabling non-bank companies to offer bank-like products.

“Take a close look behind some of the world’s most successful companies: that’s where you’ll find The Bancorp,” the company boasts.

The Bancorp backs Varo Money, for example, a mobile app offering users insured deposits, fee-free ATM withdrawals, interest-bearing savings accounts and personal loans in 21 states. (Varo Money was among the first fintechs to apply for the new national charter offered by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last year.)

Yet another bank pursuing a similar strategy is Cross River Bank, a New Jersey-based bank with $1.2 billion in assets.

Getting back to TAB, another epiphany came to Queyrouze in late 2018 at one of the biggest financial services conferences of the year.

Queyrouze thought about all the money being spent to lure new customers by both banks and non-banks.

As Queyrouze saw it, this gave TAB two potential paths to follow.

One would require a massive marketing budget to compete against bigger banks and fintech companies in the competition to acquire customers. The other was to stick to what it knew on the backend—namely, banking—while leveraging the strength of fintech companies on the frontend.

While we do have the option to market against this tide, we also have the opportunity to build a banking infrastructure to align with the fintech world and provide banking services to support their client base,” says Queyrouze.

In short, small banks like TAB don’t have the resources to compete in the digital realm against larger peers. Nor can they pump money into a national marketing blitz to grow their customer base.

But they can stick to what they do just as well as any bank regardless of size—banking—and let fintech partners handle the rest.

Breaking Down The Three Options With Fintech


fintech-1-2-19.pngThere are three ways to consider expanding into new lines of business, improving operational capabilities, or tapping new markets. Should you build, buy, or partner?

Technology is disruptive, and established companies struggle with the best way to adapt to the changing trends.

Fortunately, there are options. Fintech partners, big and small, offer a variety of financial products and services utilizing the latest technology that can be white-labeled or simply acquired.

In addition, the talent pool of technologists is expanding, giving financial institutions access to the necessary skills should they choose to build internally. When determining whether to build, buy, or partner, these institutions must consider their core competencies and competitive advantages, as well as their culture, structure, and access to capital.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for financial institutions, partnering with fintechs can be most beneficial and provide needed flexibility for the long term.

Consider the choice to build. First, an institution must recruit and fill a team of product managers, engineers, and other highly skilled positions that demand significant compensation. An up-front investment must be made to support software development, testing, security and maintenance. The speed to market is typically slower if an institution chooses to build, elevating the risk the product or service will be out-positioned by the time of launch.

While true that some of the largest financial institutions have managed to develop popular new digital products and applications internally, they are the exception. Those banks also typically had the surplus capital to put to work.

The “buy” option presents challenges as well. Few credit unions and community banks have the financial clout to acquire a fintech company. Those that do will face numerous hurdles integrating the acquisition into their existing operations, technology stack and company culture.

There are certainly examples of successful fintech acquisitions by financial institutions, but unless the acquirer is prepared for a lengthy and resource-consuming process, this may not be the most viable option.

Partnering can often be the most cost-effective and efficient alternative. There is no shortage of turnkey solutions that allow community banks to automate products and services, enabling them to provide the kind of digital experience consumers have come to expect.

Partnering with a fintech also provides the financial institutions with an option to test before investing in a build or buy strategy later. For institutions seeking a stopgap solution, partnering can meet current needs and buy time to consider long term alternatives.

It’s not hyperbole to suggest the technological challenges and threats facing banks are existential. Those that do not adapt quickly face the risk of becoming irrelevant. Fortunately, whether it is build, buy, or partner, there are myriad solutions that allow institutions to provide an attractive digital experience without relinquishing their core competencies and competitive advantages.

A Regulator’s Advice on Vetting Tech Companies


regulator-12-13-18.pngAs a microcosm of the banking sector and the broader economy, North Carolina provides an interesting glimpse at some of the trends and issues impacting banks nationwide.

“North Carolina’s banks are strong and benefiting from a robust economy,” says Ray Grace, who has served as the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks since 2013. “A sign of the good times for banking here is the interest we’ve seen in this cycle from out-of-state banks buying their way into North Carolina markets.”

Out-of-state banks making recent acquisitions in North Carolina include Columbia, South Carolina-based South State Corp., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based F.N.B. Corp., and two Tennessee banks: Pinnacle Financial Partners, in Nashville, and First Horizon National Corp., in Memphis.

As the state’s banks consolidate, there is interest in opening new banks—the first since the financial crisis.

North Carolina also boasts a burgeoning technology sector, including the bank operating system nCino, based in Wilmington, and payment solutions provider AvidXchange, digital banking provider Zenmonics and IT consulting firm Levvel—all based in Charlotte.

In this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, Grace explains why he’s seeing more interest in opening de novo banks in the state, shares his advice for banks exploring fintech partnerships and weighs in on prospective challenges for the industry.

BD: North Carolina just chartered its first de novo bank in a decade, with American Bank & Trust in Monroe, North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer reported you believe there’s more interest in opening new banks in your state. What’s driving that interest, and do you expect more activity to result from that interest?

RG: During the so-called Great Recession, the traditional economic drivers for bank formations disappeared. The economic downturn increased credit risks from borrowers, monetary policy wrung the margins out of lending, and the predictable tightening of the regulatory screws increased both the cost and the complexity of banking. Normally, we would have seen a faster return of de novo activity, but this was of course no normal recession, and fittingly, it was no normal recovery. Rather than the “V-shaped” recovery we had seen following previous downturns, this was the dreaded “L-shaped” variety, prolonging the drought.

On the heels of an epic consolidation trend, many North Carolina markets, including some that had been historically very supportive of community banks, lost those banks. As with previous consolidation episodes, this has left voids in these markets, particularly in rural areas. At the same time, we have seen a strong, decisive uptick in the economy through much of the state, a gradual return to normalizing interest rates, and, mirabile dictu, the beginnings of a swing of the regulatory pendulum toward a somewhat less restrictive environment. All these factors have contributed to the return of industry profitability and made the banking model attractive once again.

BD: Banks have been increasingly working with fintech firms to better expand and improve their own products and services, but properly vetting younger tech companies can be tricky. Do you have any advice for banks exploring fintech partnerships?

RG: Banks will need to embrace new technologies if they are to remain viable. That said, they need to focus on being cutting edge, but not bleeding edge. There is a dizzying array of gee-whiz products being introduced now, and it’s important to be careful in what you choose to implement.

Like a lot of advice, mine is more easily given than followed, but start with the fundamentals. What [or] who are your markets? What are you offering those markets and customers in the way of products and services, and why? What is trending, and in what directions? How does all this fit in with your business plan? Does your business plan still make sense? If not, change it.

In light of the foregoing, is your management team and board adequate to your bank’s current and future needs? For example, do you have a chief technology officer? A tech-savvy director or two?

Know what is available, [and] study and carefully assess the alternatives that fit the needs of your business plan. Discard applications or products that do not enhance customer value and the quality of their experience—while not breaking the bank.

What existing bank systems must be accessed by the new application? What firewalls or other protections are provided for access, data and systems security?

What is the financial strength of the company you are contracting with? What is their capacity to support the application? Do they have a track record with other banks? What would be the consequences to your operations in the event of failure of the vendor? Who owns the code in that event, and who could take over support?

Not long ago, there were any number of fintech startups with interesting offerings but limited resources and infrastructure, which made them risky to engage with. The good news is that’s changing, and clearly it is better to deal with companies that have some legs, financially and organizationally.

BD: Is there anything else you think is important that boards be aware of heading into 2019?

RG: Change, or the failure to meet its challenges, is the single greatest existential risk to banking as we know it. However, boards cannot afford to lose focus on more traditional risks. There is an old banking axiom that the worst of loans are made in the best of times. These are some pretty good times, and we are beginning to see some troubling signs that memories are short. Among those I would cite are the rising prevalence of “covenant light” loans and other structural concessions on the commercial side, and 100 percent financing in both the commercial and mortgage lending spaces. Some in Washington are again talking about the need to increase access to affordable housing. Déjà vu all over again?

Interest rates are likely to continue to rise, albeit at a modest rate. I think this is a good thing for the industry and the economy, but it will require an increased emphasis on sound funds management policies and practices on both sides of the balance sheet.

Our banking industry has always faced challenges: the Great Depression, disintermediation and the thrift crisis of the 80s, the repeal of Regulation Q, the Great Recession and resultant Dodd Frank Act, and a host of others. Yet, the industry has survived and reinvented itself time and again. Unfortunately, banks have also been the target of damaging criticism from Washington, sometimes for good reason but too often for political motivation. Restoring the public trust tarnished by this criticism will play a critical role in ensuring the industry’s future. We need to be reminded that banks are special. That they are the only industry that “creates” money. And that they are the place where people have traditionally gone when they wanted to buy a home or a car, or start a business. In a very real sense, banks are where people go to make their dreams come true. That’s a powerful story. It’s up to banks to tell it and to make it so.

Banks Need A Digital Advisory Dance Partner


fintech-12-6-18.pngFor many consumers, their relationships with financial institutions can be highly personal. They often choose a bank because that’s where their family has done business, or because they’ve done their own due diligence and made a personal choice.

That gives people have a certain level of loyalty to their chosen organizations.

Due to the highly sensitive nature of financial relationships, trust is essential to maintaining them. But with the rise of technology, and the demand for financial organizations to adopt and adapt, many are faced with the risk of their own attention diverting from their core strength — building and maintaining customer relationships.

This is understandable for a few reasons. In order for banks to acquire new clients and retain their existing ones, they need to meet customers where they are, whether that means offering mobile apps or digital services beyond the core of a typical banking relationship.

A great example of this is the demand for digital wealth management. Consumers are increasingly looking for services that enable them to manage their wealth online, and the proof is in the numbers.

Assets on digital platforms stand at approximately $397 billion and are expected to more than triple, eclipsing $1.4 trillion by 2022, according to the data service Statista.

For financial institutions looking to capture a piece of this growth, speed to market is a vital differentiator. While many might consider designing and launching their own digital advisory platform in-house, the risks are significant both internally and externally. For consumers, in the time it might take for a financial institution to build its offering from start to finish, many might seek out a provider that can meet their needs immediately.

For institutions, asking staff to focus on work outside of their specialty might cause them to leave for more nimble firms that can leverage technology to empower and not distract their workforce.

The solution to both challenges? Outsource non-core technology capabilities, such as digital advisory services, to proven, enterprise-ready third parties that understand the banking space. This approach helps retain talent while simultaneously enabling banks to support a higher volume of higher value customers.

Done right, outsourcing to sophisticated digital advisory providers allows banks to retain existing customers while also focusing its efforts on attracting new ones. It opens new opportunities to deepen engagement and further monetize existing relationships through upselling. It also opens the possibility for growth into new market segments — the much talked about notion of increasing wallet share.

Offering digital advisory shouldn’t cost much to support. Sophisticated third-party solutions offer easy access to wealth management for digitally savvy customers, enabling them to self-serve with minimal assistance. These solutions, in turn, allow banks to service these types of clients with less overhead.

Choosing the right approach for offering a digital wealth platform comes down to institutional preparedness. Designing and developing a solution in-house takes time and money. Partnering with a third party that supports white-labeled technology allows for quick and easy implementation, allowing you to harness the provider’s talent as your own.

One thing to keep in mind when hiring a vendor is whether or not they have deep experience in both the wealth management and the banking spaces. This means finding trusted providers that have taken the time to integrate with multiple banking cores and custodians, as well as diverse payment systems and best-in-breed portfolio managers.

Having the right pipes in place ensures implementation flows seamlessly, without any clogs in the process.

Additionally, banking institutions entrenched with legacy systems can feel comfortable partnering with a third-party provider that is pre-vetted and has established relationships with core providers, the only way that new technologies can be deployed at the speed of customer demand.

Building Partnerships That Work



More banks are exploring relationships with technology companies, but there are distinct differences between a vendor and a true partner. Steve Brennan, the senior vice president of lending technology at Validis, explains what banks should seek in a partner and in turn, shares how banks can be good partners.

Ultimately, partners should work toward being successful together. This video outlines how a bank can ensure a good outcome results from these relationships.

  • What Banks Should Seek in a Partner
  • How To Be a Good Partner
  • Fostering Technology Adoption

Should You Buy, Sell Or Do Neither?


acquire-10-23-18.pngShould you acquire or be acquired? Some community banks are electing to do neither, and instead are attempting to forge a different path – pursuing niche business models. Each of these business models comes with its own execution and business risks. All of them, however, come with the same regulatory risk – whether the bank’s regulators will challenge or be supportive of the changes in the business model.

Some community banks are developing partnerships with non-bank financial services, or fintech, companies – companies that may have created an innovative financial product or delivery method but need a bank partner to avoid spending millions of dollars and years of time to comply with state licensing requirements. These partnerships not only drive revenue for the bank, but can also – if properly structured – drive customers as well. WebBank is a prime example of the change this model can bring. As of the close of 2007, WebBank had only $23 million in assets and $1 million in annual net income. Ten years later, WebBank had grown to $628 million in assets and $27.5 million in annual net income, a 39 percent annualized growth in both metrics.

Following the recession, bank regulators have generally been supportive of community banks developing new business models, either on their own or through the use of third party technology. As the OCC notes, technological changes and rapidly evolving consumer preferences are reshaping the financial services industry at an unprecedented rate, creating new opportunities to provide customers with more access to new product options and services. The OCC has outlined the principles to prudently manage risks associated with offering new products and services, noting that banks are motivated to implement operational efficiencies and pursue innovations to grow income.

Even though the new business model may not involve an acquisition, the opening of a new branch, a change in control, or another action that requires formal regulatory approval, a bank should never forge ahead without consulting with its regulators well before launching, or even announcing, its plan. The last thing your board will want is a lawsuit from unhappy investors if regulators shut down or curb the projected growth contemplated by a new business model.

Before introducing new activities, management and the board need to understand the risks and costs and should establish policies, procedures and controls for mitigating these risks. They should address matters such as adequate protection of customer data and compliance with consumer protection, Bank Secrecy Act, and anti-money laundering laws. Unique risks exist when a bank engages in new activities through third-party relationships, and these risks may be elevated when using turnkey and white-label products or services designed for minimal involvement by the bank in administering the new activities.

The bank should implement “speed bumps” – early warning indicators to alert the board to issues before they become problems. These speed bumps – whether voluntary by the bank or involuntary at the prompting of regulators – may slow the bank’s growth. If the new business model requires additional capital, the bank should pay close attention to whether the projected growth necessary to attract the new investors can still be achieved with these speed bumps.

Bank management should never tell their examiners that they don’t understand the bank’s new business model. Regardless of how innovative the new business model may be, the FDIC and other bank regulators will still review the bank’s performance under their standard examination methods and metrics. The FDIC has noted that modifying these standards to account for a bank’s “unique” business plan would undermine supervisory consistency, concluding that if a bank effectively manages the strategic risks, the FDIC’s standard examination methods and metrics will properly reflect that result.

Banks also need to be particularly wary of using third-party products or services that have the effect of helping the bank to generate deposits. Even if the deposits are stable and low-cost, and even if the bank does not pay fees tied to the generation of the deposits, the FDIC may say they are brokered deposits. Although the FDIC plans to review its brokered deposit regulations, it interprets the current regulations very broadly. Under the current regulations, even minor actions taken by a third party that help connect customers to a bank which offers a product the customer wants can cause any deposits generated through that product to be deemed brokered deposits.

Community banks definitely can be successful without acquiring or being acquired. However, before choosing an innovative path a bank should know how its regulators will react, and the board should recognize that although regulators may generally be supportive, they do not like to be surprised.

Three Strategic Considerations for Bank Boards About Fintech Charters


strategy-10-4-18.pngStrategic planning is one of the most important roles of a financial institution’s board of directors. Since the 2008 financial crisis, financial institution boards have dealt with the emergence of fintechs as a primary consideration in developing their strategic plans. A few large financial institutions have opted to build fintech capabilities, but the majority of financial institutions have determined that the best strategy is either to invest in or partner with a fintech firm through an outsourcing process.

On July 31, 2018, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced it would begin accepting applications filed by fintech firms for “special purpose” federal bank charters. While not unexpected given the conversations around this topic in recent years, the announcement garnered immediate and passionate responses from the interested constituents. Whichever strategy has been adopted and implemented in their firm, financial institution boards should consider the impact a “special purpose national bank charter” may have on their relationship with a fintech firm, or how newly chartered fintechs may change their strategic plan.

First: Re-evaluate Your Strategy
Financial institution boards should first consider if their strategy should change based on an assumption that fintech firms would become chartered special purpose banks. Applying the standard SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) approach to their strategic planning, the board might determine that what once was a strength for a financial institution (direct access to customers, ability to accept deposits) could become a threat as chartered fintechs obtain bank powers, while weaknesses (stricter regulatory oversight and related infrastructure expense) become strengths or opportunities. This shift in the playing field for fintech and financial firms should become a basis for deciding if the build, invest or partner strategy is still the best fit for the financial institution.

Second: Evaluate Your Options
Whether the board determines that their current strategy is appropriate or needs to be reconsidered, their decision will be influenced by the ability to and cost of change. The board should review the existing relationships that are in place and determine the feasibility of changing strategy. While building may be the best answer, the cost of building fintech expertise may not be a valid strategic option, given the expertise required and the size of investment. Likewise, finding a new vendor or outsourcing partner may be relatively easy, but exiting a current contract may be difficult or costly if there isn’t a valid contractual reason for termination.

Third: Focus on Execution
In their review of options the board should have been exposed to any shortcomings or important factors in executing the adopted strategy. Once the strategic approach has been decided, the basis of that decision must be taken into account in the execution. The possibility of a fintech firm obtaining a bank charter should be the cornerstone of execution. Directors should ask themselves whether getting a bank charter should be a basis for terminating a financial institution’s relationship with a fintech firm. If so, the terms should be clearly stated including financial outcomes and operational details. For example, any fintech investments or contracts should make it clear the financial institution will maintain the customer relationships and the related data. In addition, the arrangement should have appropriate non-solicitation and non-competition clauses to protect the financial institution in the event the fintech becomes a competitor. If the fintech firm can terminate the relationship, the financial institution should ensure there is an adequate conversion process that will allow it to pursue a different strategy or to migrate to a new strategic partner with minimal interruption to its customers.

It is not expected that fintech firms will rush to obtain charters or that charters will be granted to fintech firms in the near future. Significant barriers still remain for fintech firms to obtain charters. The application, review and examination process for obtaining a new (or de novo) charter is arduous and time consuming. In addition, newly chartered special purpose banks would need to build extensive regulatory infrastructure and would be subject to additional oversight and supervision during their early existence. Nevertheless, the OCC’s announcement will provide fintech firms with additional strategic options and a foothold for bringing further disruption to the financial services industry. Financial institution boards should be prepared to strategically respond to that challenge.

What Banks Need to Know About Fintech Partnerships


The idea that banks and fintechs need to compete with each other is unfounded and restrictive to both parties.

Both fintechs and banks have a lot to gain by collaborating, and very little to lose. For fintechs, the most widely cited reasons for partnering with banks, according to Capgemini, include enhanced visibility by partnering with established brand names, achieving economies of scale and gaining customer trust.

fintech-reasons.png

For banks, the benefits are much more tangible, and their impact on the bottom line can be immediate.

The European Business Review explained it well: “By tapping into expertise, traditional banks stand to move much more swiftly and effectively than they otherwise could to introduce new products, streamline processes, enhance customer experience, and increase revenues.”

Looking at increased revenues, Accenture claims banks can potentially gain three to five percent by partnering with fintechs, with gains coming from enhanced customer acquisition, more fee-based revenue, better pricing accuracy, and a lower cost of risk.

When approaching a partnership with a fintech, there are a few things banks should be cognizant of in order to ensure success:

1.  Serve your customers first
First and foremost, your customers should be at the center of everything you do, including your partnerships with fintechs. How well you are serving your customers dictates your success more than anything else, and every fintech partnership represents an opportunity to further build and solidify customer loyalty.

For this reason, it’s important to partner with fintechs that will address customer pain points the most effectively. There are a lot of fintechs for banks to choose from in the process of finding partners, and the degree to which a partnership with a fintech will improve the life of customers should weigh in heaviest in your decision making.

2.  Think holistically about your partnership
If you want your partnership with a fintech to be a success, you need to think deeper than your initial partnership agreement. Especially in sell-through partner channels, setting time aside to have your sales and support teams familiarize themselves with the typical FAQs and support procedures will ensure your go-to-market strategies are aligned, and you are promoting the product or service as effectively as possible in the smallest amount of time.

3.  Ongoing collaboration is necessary for success
The nature of your fintech partner’s business is bound to change and evolve. For this reason, it is essential to keep up with the best ways to sell their product or service to your customers.

Many fintechs host training and workshops for the banks they partner with, and offer marketing resources to help banks promote the value of their service. Take advantage of these things to ensure you are getting the most out of your partnerships.

Accounts Payable (AP) Automation is one example of a way a fintech partnership can become a strategic advantage for a bank.

MineralTree has seen banks build customer loyalty while simultaneously driving interchange revenue due to a few core changes, which include:

  1. The private-labeled solution streamlines a workflow for bank customers that has traditionally been very manual, paper-based, and filled with frustration.
  2. The updated workflow simplifies the process for bank customers to pay vendors through the commercial card program run by their banks.
  3. Banks are able to integrate with their customer’s business at a deeper level by addressing pain within the operations of their customers’ businesses.

Also, with AP Automation still approaching a tipping point in adoption, banks have an opportunity to drastically differentiate themselves by offering a solution that is truly disruptive.

Regardless of which types of services or products you believe can bring value to your customers, the opportunity to partner with fintechs makes the process of introducing them and quickly realizing their benefits much easier.

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.

New Big Bank Digital Ventures Could Threaten Community Banks


big-banks-8-14-18.pngAs if community banks don’t have enough to worry about, along comes Finn. And Access. And in the not-too-distant future, Greenhouse. All three are new digital banking platforms that have been introduced or are being test run by some of the country’s largest banks—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citizens Financial Group and Wells Fargo & Co., respectively—and they mark a significant escalation in the digital banking space, with more new entrants to come. For example, Citigroup—at $1.9 trillion in assets, the country’s third largest bank—announced in late March that it plans going nationwide with a new mobile banking platform, although it hasn’t disclosed an exact release date.

The digital banking space is already crowded with countless fintech neobanks that work with bank partners behind the scenes to offer banking services along with unique personal financial management capabilities to millennials and other digitally-savvy consumers. Included in the mix are somewhat older challenger banks, like Simple, which is owned by BBVA Compass Bancshares (which is itself owned by Spanish banking conglomerate Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria); well-established direct banks like Bank of Internet USA, a subsidiary of $10 billion asset BOFI Holdings, which started operations in 1999; and unique players like Marcus, a digital platform launched in 2016 by investment bank Goldman Sachs, which combines an automated consumer loan capability with various deposit products—all aimed at a lower-brow customer base than Goldman has traditionally focused on.

“There is not a single incumbent bank in the U.S. with more than 20 branches who would surprise me if they launched a digital subsidiary,” says Peter Wannemacher, an analyst at Forrester Research who focuses on digital strategy in the financial services space. “What I mean by that is, I think every bank in America is considering this option.”

Why so much activity now when digital banking—including mobile—isn’t exactly new? “Incumbent banks are under a lot of pressure,” Wannemacher says. “Some of that’s market pressure. A lot of it is internal pressure. That is, their boards or their C-level executives desperately want to be relevant and be talked about in the digital space.”

Finn, which is branded as “Finn by Chase,” was launched nationwide by JPMorgan Chase (the largest U.S. bank with $2.5 trillion in assets) in June of this year as an all-mobile bank that is separate and distinct from its existing consumer banking product set, including its branch, online and mobile banking distribution channels. Finn includes a checking account with a debit card, a savings account, remote deposit and a multi-featured financial management tool set. Melissa Feldsher, a managing director who heads up the Finn operation, says that Chase is responding to what its research showed was “an unmet need” by a “smaller growing portion of the country that was truly looking for an end-to-end mobile banking experience.” Feldsher says that Finn is specifically targeting all “digitally savvy” consumers rather than just millennials, although she adds that those individuals “will tend to skew younger.”

Wells Fargo, the third largest U.S. bank with $1.9 trillion assets, is developing its own standalone mobile banking app, called Greenhouse. “Greenhouse is currently in a limited customer and team member pilot, and will expand to several states for iPhone users later this year on the Apple App store,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “We will determine the national rollout following the pilot.” According to published reports, Greenhouse offers a spending account for paying bills, a savings account, debit card and financial management tools. Like Finn, this is a separate offering than what Wells customers receive through its consumer bank.

Taking a somewhat different approach is $155 billion asset Citizens Financial, the country’s 13th largest bank, which in July launched Citizens Access, described as a “nationwide direct-to-consumer digital bank” that will operate separately from its branch operation. Unlike Finn and Greenhouse, Access will only offer savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Citizens Access President John Rosenfeld says direct bank deposits are growing three to five times faster than brick-and-mortar deposits nationally. “This is an opportunity to extend our footprint [so] we can now reach all 50 states,” he says, “whereas we couldn’t do that before with our branch-based web product,” which Rosenfeld says was only available in Citizen’s traditional market. “We didn’t have the capability to open accounts outside the states we were in. Now we do,” he adds.

As large banks target consumers nationwide with these new direct banking ventures, community banks will be under pressure to up their game. “The larger banks are investing more in digital capabilities … and I think that community banks, to compete, are going to have to really evolve their digital capabilities,” Rosenfeld says.