Rebuilding Trust Through Technology


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After many years in banking, we have heard every kind of criticism leveled at banks by angry consumers and politically inspired public servants. Most recently, Wells Fargo & Co.’s cross-sell scandal threw another log on the fire of contempt that many consumers have for banks. Despite a few very bad ethical lapses, it is always shocking how many banks get painted as bad actors when consumers and communities benefit directly from their business models. This benefit is not limited to the beloved stories of the community bank setting up a scholarship fund or a day of caring painting crew, or even the billions of dollars committed to Community Reinvestment Act activities by the industry. As noble as those efforts are, they pale in comparison to what banks really do.

Millions of consumers use the banking payments rails for free. Keeping a very small amount of money in a checking account can allow a consumer to reap the benefits of direct payroll deposit, free bill pay, free remote deposit capture and free ATM access in their bank’s network. Amazingly, should the consumer face a loss of funds due to hacking, the bank (which is not being paid for this service) often makes the consumer whole. The day-to-day systems that most consumers use are remarkably affordable.

Still most Americans do not trust banks. The most frequent complaints tend to fall in one of three areas: a lack of transparency; slow and difficult user experiences; and the promotion of products that do not fit the need of that particular individual. There are ways technology can combat these common complaints and even help ameliorate the ethical lapses that have tarnished banking.

Paperless application and smart data technology can make the application easier and more convenient for consumers and businesses alike. They can also speed up the time that is required for approval. It is often the credit activities that get banks tarred and feathered. It is understood that consumers and businesses turned down for requested credit will feel the sting of that rejection—particularly when the banks takes an inordinate amount of time to deliver its decision. More prompt decision making is helpful for all consumers.

Sophisticated data and AI systems could be built into the technology that would guide bankers to a right-sized product offering in real time. They can even enable online comparisons of products that gives the consumer a better idea of the available options and how well they fit with the consumers’ long-term goals. A few rogue bank models worked better for the bank if the customer failed than if they succeeded have given consumers the right to question if the advice that is offered by their bank is in their best interest. Recently a bank CEO, off the record, compared that experience of some bank customers to his experience buying a cellular data plan for his family. “I kept on wondering it the plan [the salesman] was touting was the best for the phone company or for his commission or actually for me. Banking can’t be like that; we have to make this better.” Fortunately, there is technology that is already making it easier for banks to understand what their customers need and to serve that need more transparently.

Transparency is going to be key. Having a customer click the “I have read this box” will not work in the long term. Online tools including the use of video, chatbots and embedded quizzes can make disclosure easier for consumers.

Regulatory technology is just developing, but there is the possibility that regtech will lower compliance costs and streamline disclosure. Some of the new technologies will provide internal bumpers that can help prevent rogue behavior from an employee. What a bank has for its regulators it will also have for its internal risk management team. Detecting ethical breaches before they become systematic or catastrophic will be more possible.

Several banks are going a step further towards building consumer trust. They are using their online platforms to support their customers financial health. Bank of America Corp. just rolled out a spending aggregation tool that allows consumers to see where their money goes and budget for the future. It even allows consumers to add data from non-Bank of America accounts. It is a smart way for Bank of America to get a better understanding of their customers while providing a useful tool that requires no effort to use.

It is easy to see fintech providers as competitors. Looking at online lenders and digital investing platforms as the enemy because they compete directly with banks is a common perspective. It is also possible to think of these companies as innovators that will help us rethink how to make our customers trust us again. Many of these fintech innovators are eager to work with banks that want to provide better banking experiences. These innovations may be the way banks return to delighting their customers and building loyalty.

A Quicker Way to Get Debit and Credit Cards to Your Customers


credit-cards-11-30-16.pngAs consumers continue to embrace online and mobile banking channels, financial institutions are reevaluating the branch’s role in modern banking. Historically, branches have served at the forefront of the financial institution and customer relationship. Even though digital account solutions provide new levels of convenience and flexibility, the branch remains a vital channel facilitating interpersonal interactions between financial institution and customer, and fosters greater in-depth communication between the two.

Instant issuance is establishing itself as a proven program to attract more customers to the branch. Instant issuance systems allow financial institutions to print credit and debit cards on-demand inside the branch, for new customers or when an existing customer needs a replacement card. When branches enable on-demand printing of credit and debit cards, both issuers and customers win. Banks that take the additional step in providing permanent payment cards on the spot realize a much stronger return on investment in terms of customer acquisition, satisfaction and loyalty.

New programs, like instant issuance, draw customers, especially millennials, because it reduces the wait time in receiving access to their funds. Contrary to common perception, cash is a large draw for millennials. According to a GoBanking Rates survey released in 2016, 60 percent of millennials still prefer to be paid in cash, which means the millennial reliance on debit cards will remain strong, presenting a natural opportunity to actively engage millennials more effectively in their branches.

While millennials may appear to operate much differently than prior generations, their core expectations are much the same. They seek convenience and want their financial institutions to provide new and innovative technologies that keep pace with the technologically driven world in which they live.

In today’s world, where bank customers are subject to card data breaches with alarming regularity, protecting customer data is paramount to the success of any financial institution initiative. Instant issuance provides an opportunity for financial institutions to lead the conversation around EMV® integration and security. EMV provides heightened security by embedding microprocessors inside debit and credit cards, replacing the magnetic stripe card.

Financial institutions that implement scalable, cost-effective solutions that are EMV-enabled are better able to educate customers on changes to the transaction process. As EMV adoption has been a source of uncertainty and concern for financial institutions, retailers and consumers alike, instant issuance provides a convenient method for providing much-needed knowledge around the shift.

Instant issuance proves to be a secure and affordable way for financial institutions to realize the value of their branch investment. By drawing customers into the branch and getting credit and debit cards to market quicker, issuers are keeping payment cards top-of-wallet and increasing interchange revenue.

As the branch continues to reassert itself as a strategically important banking channel, financial institutions that leverage instant issuance as a strategic differentiator and recognize its role in driving customer activity within their branches will be better positioned to exceed customer expectations.

To learn more about millennial payment trends, download the whitepaper, “What Small-to-Midsize Financial Institutions Can Learn From Millennials.”

EMV® is a registered trademark or trademark of EMVCo LLC in the United States and other countries.

One Bank’s Digital Transformation Journey


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Last week Chris Skinner, a FinXTech advisor and fellow contributor, talked about the difficulties of banks shifting to digital, and shared the following: “It is radically different thinking, and is a cultural outlook, rather than a tech project.”

As the head of Radius Bank’s Virtual Bank, I work with a team that has been through the digital transformation process. And I can attest to the above statement: The shift to digital is far more than a project. It’s a total reconstruction of a bank’s culture, organization and systems. It is no easy task but the upside opportunity is big.

Digital transformation is perhaps the most important challenge facing banks at the moment. The penetration of the financial services industry by financial technology and the proliferation of alternative banking solutions presents the stalwarts with a choice: change, or else. Banks are realizing that the adoption of sophisticated, personalized technologies is no longer a “nice to have,” but rather a “need to have.” Never before has the customer experience been more critical to a bank’s success than it is today. I feel lucky that the Radius Bank team understood this early on, and set on a course aligned with this new way of banking.

When I first joined Radius Bank at the end of 2008, we were a small, commercial-focused community bank with six branches in Boston and New York. Mike Butler, the Bank’s CEO and president (and a member of the FinXTech Advisory Board), asked me to join him to help build the virtual bank. We recognized that the traditional model wouldn’t be able to address changing consumer demands. In light of that, we set out to build a bank focused on the future rather than the past.

Over the past several years, our Virtual Bank has actually become our primary retail banking strategy. While we’ve maintained one flagship financial center in Boston, our focus on customer experience, product development and technology offerings all starts with and focuses on the digital channel. We’ve made significant investments in technology to build a forward-thinking and responsive virtual banking platform that has allowed us to onboard and serve many new customers from across the country without the need to visit a branch.

We also realized a while back the importance of fintech partnerships. Let’s face it: Consumers today have more choices in terms of managing their finances than ever before, and many of them are choosing to put their trust in nonbanks. For us it has been about finding the right fintech firms to work with, and over the last three-plus years we’ve launched strategic partnerships with fintechs in areas such as mobile payments, investment management, student loans and alternative lending.

We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, but the transformation to a digital bank is a journey that’s never complete. It requires ongoing support from top leadership, including our board of directors and management team, and a creative, nimble team that brings marketing, sales, risk and IT together to build an infrastructure focused on security and scalability.

I’m eager to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained throughout our digital transformation process. I’m also eager to learn from my peers in banking and fintech about what’s next. FinXTech asked me to participate to represent the banking perspective, but as I’ve outlined above we’re not your traditional community bank. We sit at the intersection of financial institutions and technology companies—an increasingly productive cradle of innovation and disruption.

I look forward to engaging in these important conversations with you.

Use Good/Better/Best for Checking Success


checking-accounts-10-28-16.pngShop for a new car, a cell phone plan, a cable TV package or a major appliance these days and you’ll find one consistent and very successful product strategy–Good/Better/Best (GBB).

GBB is a three-tiered strategy conceptually defined as follows:

  1. Good: A basic level of value for price sensitive customers. Good offers a minimal amount of added value to differentiate yourself from your competitors and/or to marginally satisfy comparison shoppers. For example, coach class airline tickets would fit in this category.
  2. Better: An in-between level of value for customers who appreciate some level of value and are willing to pay a certain price to receive it, because they are still a bit price sensitive. The amount of value added above Good depends on the product type and marketplace, but the incremental level of value must be noticeable. For example, business class airline tickets would be better than coach but not as expensive as first class.
  3. Best: An advanced level of value for those customers who are actively looking for maximum added value. Price sensitivity is not a priority. The amount of value added above Better has to be all that is economically possible to add and still maintain acceptable profit margins or strategic goals. First class airline tickets would be a Best option when flying.

Every successful GBB design works when the product offerings build on each other. Your Good product is fundamental. Better is Good plus more. Best is Better plus more. GBB provides choices by comparison, easily showing how the price changes when different features are added or subtracted. As a result, buyers will be content that they decided to buy only as much as they needed. The power behind GBB is simplicity and familiarity.

While buyers appreciate choice, too many choices are counterproductive. The paradox of choice theory holds that too many options discourages rather than encourages buyers to buy. Why? Because it increases the effort that goes into making a buying decision. So buyers decide not to decide and don’t buy your product. Or if they do buy, the effort to make the decision often diminishes from the enjoyment derived from the product. In short, buyers do not respond well to choice overload and GBB keeps it simple. It’s very familiar to think in terms of three when buying things. Popular use of GBB product design by retailers for commonly purchased items has conditioned the typical buyer to be at ease with this product design.

GBB simplicity also works well for the sellers of the product. There are only three options to understand and communicate to a buyer. Plus, sellers feel credible as GBB appeals to a wider market, providing something for everyone without requiring everyone to just buy the premium option.

So how does this all relate to your consumer checking line-up strategy? Actually, it’s very natural, because you can align your GBB checking products with the three types of checking account buyers:

  1. A fee averse buyer wants free checking if it’s available or the cheapest account you offer.
  2. A value buyer is most focused on account benefits and is willing to pay for the account if there’s a perceived fair exchange of value.
  3. An interest buyer demands some yield on their deposits and also expects to be rewarded for being a productive or loyal customer.

In addition, nearly all three checking products under a GBB structure generate enough average annual revenue to cover the annual costs to service a typical checking account relationship, except for totally free checking.

Here’s how that breaks down, along with the comparative average annual revenue from each GBB checking product type and typical distribution of these accounts in a checking portfolio:

Product Strategy Buyer Type Checking Product Type Average Annual Revenue Percentage Range of Total Accounts
Good Fee Averse Totally Free
or
Conditionally Free
(minimal requirement to avoid fees)
$308
 
$390
 
30%-50%
Better Value Flat Monthly Fee $563 25%-40%
Best Interest Interest $636 10%-15%

Source: StrategyCorps’ Brain database tracking the financial performance of nearly 5 million checking accounts. Average annual revenue is the total of all checking related fees (including debit interchange) per respective account type and the allocated net interest income from the account type’s respective annual average DDA balance.

So what does a GBB-based checking line-up look like for a financial institution like yours? Here’s a sample GBB checking line-up in action as shown on sales/marketing materials.

As your financial institution works to have a more successful checking line-up that’s modern, customer engaging, competitively different and optimally financially productive, learn from the successful product design strategy of GBB. Don’t overthink it, over complicate it or, in general, overdo it. Your customers will be happier and your bottom line will be healthier.

Five Predictions About Banking’s Future


techonology-10-7-16.pngWhat does the future hold? As I referenced in an earlier article, I gave a presentation about the future of banking at Bank Director’s third annual Bank Board Training Forum in Chicago Sept. 29-30, and promised that I would share some of my thoughts with you after the conference. I might end up being completely wrong, of course, but here are my predictions and I’m sticking with them.

Technology
Going forward, I think we will begin to see the ascendancy of digital distribution channels in retail banking. Driving this change will be the continued digitalization across the entire economy, combined with the integration of millennials into the world of work, mortgages and parenthood at an accelerating rate. We occasionally refer to millennials as “digital natives” since they grew up on video games, cell phones and the Internet, and banks will have to provide a robust digital option if they want to keep them as customers. The bank branch isn’t dead, but I see it becoming increasingly less important over the next decade.

Disruption
The long-term future of the website lenders is unclear to me since they rely primarily on private equity investors and the capital markets for their funding, which is much less reliable over the course of an entire economic cycle than bank deposits. The question for them is whether they can take an economic punch in a recession. The payments competitors are here to stay because what they really want isn’t a banking relationship with customers so much as access to their data, including their financial data, because it enables them to bombard those customers with highly differentiated and customized offers on merchandise. And much of the technology of web site lenders and payments competitors will eventually be adopted by the banking industry. This is certainly true in the mobile space, but also in areas like commercial loan underwriting, which remains a laborious, people-intensive process. In this sense, the future of traditional banking is fintech.

Economy
This is probably one of the safer predictions that I made: There will be at least one recession between now and 2026. We are now in the seventh year of an economic expansion which, believe it or not, is the fourth longest going back to 1945. Nothing in this world lasts forever, and the current expansion won’t either.

Consolidation
This is probably my boldest (or craziest) prediction: There will be 4,558 banks as of December 30, 2026. Here’s how I got to that number. The annual consolidation rate over the last couple of years has been approximately 3 percent. There are a little over 6,000 banks today, and if you assume the industry will continue to consolidate at that rate for the rest of the decade, you get close to that 4,558 number. However, I factored in one more variable—one year in which a recession resulted in a consolidation rate closer to 5 percent to account for a spike on bank failures, assisted transactions through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and relatively healthy banks hedging their bets by pairing up with a stronger merger partner. I’m sure I will be wrong about the exact number for banks in 2026, but there’s no question that there will be significantly fewer of them.

Demographics
By 2026, the last of the baby boomers will be heading towards retirement, most of the banks will have Gen X CEOs (the oldest of whom will be in their late 50s to very early 60s) and millennials will be moving into senior management positions. Gen X’ers and millennials are much more intuitive when it comes to digitalization issues generally, and I expect that their ascendance will only accelerate the digitalization of banking and personal finance. And of course, millennials will also be the single largest consumer demographic by 2026, so they will be eating their own cooking when it comes to digital banking.

Finally, I anticipate that something no one expects to occur (and therefore won’t predict) will end up having a huge impact on the industry. We had already seen the emergence of smart phones in 2006, but the ubiquitous iPhone wouldn’t be introduced until 2007, and 10 years ago how many people expected the mobile phone to revolutionize banking?

What do you think the next big thing will be?

What Makes Umpqua Branches Unique


Umpqua Bank has one of the top branch designs in the nation, according to a recent ranking by Bank Director. Umpqua Bank’s Brian Read, executive vice president for retail banking, talks to Bank Director Editor Naomi Snyder about the company’s unique vision for its branches, which the company calls “stores.”

This video includes a discussion on:

  • What Makes the Stores Unique
  • What a Universal Banker Does
  • Whether Bank Branches Have a Future in a Digital Age

How Do You Build/Grow A Business…By Growing Loyalty


You’re a community bank and your customers love you, right? So why do bankers worry that customers–and deposits–will flee to high-yield online accounts when rates rise? Or maybe it’s the possibility of disruptive technologies that has so many bankers nervous. In this session from Bank Director’s 2016 Growing the Bank Conference, Joe Bartolotta, executive vice president and director of strategic partnerships at Eastern Bank, headquartered in Boston, explains the activities that undermine customer loyalty and expose banks to startups and other institutions that could threaten their bottom line.

Highlights from this video:

  • The Value of Loyalty
  • Examples of “Banks Behaving Badly”
  • How Banks Create Loyalty

Presentation slides


A Better Way To Sell To Your Customers


Helping consumers meet the milestones in their lives could generate more revenue and loyalty for your institution. Tom White of iQuantifi explains why goal-based selling is a better way to connect your customer to the right product.

  • Why Goal-Based Selling Is an Effective Approach
  • Advantages for the Bank
  • Meeting the Needs of Millennials
  • Partnering With Fintech Firms

What Do Banks Need? More Loyalty


customer-loyalty-6-1-16.pngWhat do some of the great companies that have disrupted entire industries have in common? Think about companies such as Zappos.com, an online shoe retailer that has grown to be one of the world’s largest shoe retailers, now owned by Amazon. How about Uber and Lyft? They’ve crushed the taxi business. How about Apple, with its legions of customers more than happy to pay two or three times what competitors charge for their products? Not only have these companies simplified the buying process, but they have generated something many companies lack: customer loyalty.

As part of his speech last week at Bank Director’s Growing the Bank conference, Joseph Bartolotta, an executive vice president at $9.6 billion asset Eastern Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, talked about these companies and the importance of loyalty. Loyalty will generate increased spending from your customers, make them less sensitive to price and more likely to refer other customers. Loyalty will also lower your costs and reduce customer turnover, he said.

What have companies like Uber and Zappos done to generate loyalty? Zappos has a 365-day return policy and will pay the costs of return shipping. Not only are Uber and Lyft generally cheaper to use than taxis, they have a payments experience that is extremely smooth precisely because there is no payments experience, Bartolotta pointed out. The companies send you a receipt via email after your ride is over, and there is nothing to sign or approve. Apple creates products that are expensive, but their loyal customers swear they are better than anything else.

Banking, with a few exceptions, doesn’t necessarily generate a lot of loyalty. In a Gallup poll in 2015, only 25 percent rated the honesty and ethics of bankers high or very high—behind funeral directors, accountants and journalists. (But don’t despair, bankers rated higher than real estate agents, stockbrokers and members of Congress.)

Bartolotta listed a couple of practices that he thinks have hurt the customer experience in banking. A common industry practice of ordering check and debit transactions from the highest dollar amount to the lowest generated a high level of overdraft fees in the years leading up to the financial crisis, but it led to widespread customer dissatisfaction. Customers revolted and filed class action lawsuits. Another is the practice of a continuous overdraft fee that occurs until the customer comes out of a negative balance.

Bartolotta also tries to steer away from the use of asterisks and fine print in company marketing materials and brochures. Bankers may say, for example, “Yes sir, we disclosed this to you at the time of the account opening. It was in the document you received.” Communication, including in such documents, should be in plain language, avoiding acronyms and industry lingo, such as “RDC” for “remote deposit capture.”

In addition, banks should do everything they can to avoid making customers jump through hoops. If you are contemplating a new product or service, bring a literal chair into the room where the discussion is taking place and label it “customer,” he said. Make sure, in other words, the customer is always a part of the discussions about any products and services you provide.

What banks generate loyalty as described? Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bancshares does with its bank’s asterisk-free checking account. The checking account for The Huntington National Bank is free with no minimum balances. Anyone who overdrafts the account gets a notice and a 24-hour grace period to right the error before being charged a fee.

Bartolotta used his own mutual as another example. Eastern Bank had been sending emails to customers who closed accounts asking them why they were leaving. They got back several responses from customers who said, ‘I didn’t close my account. You did.’” It turned out that Eastern Bank, like a lot of banks, was charging a recurring fee on inactive accounts and then closing those accounts when they ran a zero balance. Many customers never opened their account statements and didn’t know what was going on. To change this, Eastern Bank began warning customers when they were about to be charged an inactivity fee, and giving them options to avoid the fee and even close the account, if they chose. The helpfulness was a huge improvement.

There’s room for improvement in the reputation that the banking industry enjoys. A lot of small, community banks already follow these customer-friendly practices. It would helpful if the entire industry did.

Some Banks Offer Digital Appointment Booking, But It’s Rare


mobile-appointment-3-18-16.pngIf a customer wants a haircut, chances are that individual can go online and schedule an appointment at a local salon. But if the same person wanted to schedule online a convenient time to sit down with a banker to discuss a loan, that customer likely can’t do the same. A bank’s website should be a strong prospecting tool for banks, but despite the drive to digital, many banks don’t offer a way to go online to schedule an appointment. Shouldn’t banks offer an easy way to direct the customer from the web to the branch?

Few banks offer digital appointment booking, according to the research firm Celent. According to a Celent survey conducted in October 2014, just 36 percent of North American financial institutions above $50 billion in assets offer online appointment booking to their customers. For institutions below $50 billion, online booking is even rarer, at less than 5 percent.

Bank of America was an early adopter of online appointment booking, starting with its mortgage lenders in 2008. The bank has since expanded to allow customers to book appointments within its mobile app as well, and customers can arrange appointments for a score of products, including checking and savings accounts, credit cards, investments, financial planning, small business banking and various loans. Prospective customers just choose a product area, select an in-person or phone meeting, and type in their zip code to find a nearby branch. From there, the client can select a date and time. “We do 21,000 appointment requests a week now through either smartphone or the website,” Bank of America’s head of digital banking, Michelle Moore, told the Associated Press in February 2016.

Users of digital appointment scheduling in the U.S. include Wells Fargo & Co., Regions Financial Corp. and PNC Financial Services, and small community banks such as Santa Barbara, California-based Montecito Bank & Trust, with in $1.2 billion in assets, and $577 million asset Paducah Bank & Trust Co., based in Paducah, Kentucky.

“You’ve got to figure out how to be smarter in engaging customers, and digital appointment booking is one way to do it,” says Celent Senior Analyst Bob Meara. “Make it easy to click to call, or have an online chat with somebody or to make an appointment in a branch.” Celent reports that Bank of America’s digital appointment features were developed in-house, but vendor solutions are available that can easily tie into a bank’s current infrastructure.

“We’re in this on-demand economy,” says Gary Ambrosino, president and CEO of TimeTrade, based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Clients that use TimeTrade’s online appointment scheduling technology include retail banks, healthcare companies, universities and retailers.

Prompting a potential customer to make an appointment online makes that person more likely to follow through with bringing their business to the bank. A customer may be looking for a loan late at night, and want more information. “It makes sense to have a link” for scheduling a time to come in to see a banker, says Meredith Deen, president of Alpharetta, Georgia-based FMSI, a branch performance technology provider serving the banking industry.

Bank marketing teams also gain valuable data—even if that customer skips the appointment. “They just handed you their name, their phone number, [and] their email,” along with information on the products and services that the customer is interested in, says Glenn Shoosmith, CEO of BookingBug, an online booking platform based in London, with offices in the United States. “That’s the marketer’s dream set of information, and you’re getting that for free.”

Scheduling appointments online means that bankers can meet at a time that’s convenient for the customer. By doing so, branches can better schedule their day, reducing traffic at peak times and instead creating a steady flow, so ideally even walk-in customers will have a better experience. Banks can also make better, more profitable use of specialized employees that float between branches, who can now potentially see more customers within a day, says Deen. And bankers can better prepare for their day, by knowing exactly why the customer is coming in, and the product that customer is interested in.

Adoption among Montecito Bank & Trust’s customers has been slow, according to Megan Orloff, director of marketing. However, she expects that to change when the bank improves its website. To ensure the success of such appointment platforms, bank marketing teams could advertise their availability to customers, and ensure that it’s easy to find and use on the bank’s website or app. The financial institutions that offer digital appointment booking now remain in rare company—which means newcomers easily will stand out in a competitive marketplace.