7 Indicators of a Successful Digital Account Opening Strategy

How good is your bank’s online account opening process?

Many banks don’t know where to begin looking for the answer to that question and struggle to make impactful investments to improve their digital growth. Assessing the robustness of the bank’s online account opening strategy and reporting capabilities is a crucial first step toward improving and strengthening the experience. To get a pulse on the institution’s ability to effectively open accounts digitally, we suggest starting with a simple checklist of questions.

These key indicators can provide better transparency into the health of the online account opening process, clarity around where the bank is excelling, and insight into the areas that need development.

Signs of healthy digital account opening:

1. Visitor-to-Applicant Conversion
The ratio of visits to applications started measures the bank’s ability to make a good first impression with customers. If your bank experiences a high volume of traffic but a low rate of applications, something is making your institution unappealing.

Your focus should shift to conversion. Look at the account opening site through the eyes of a potential new customer to identify areas that are confusing or distract from starting an application. Counting the number of clicks it takes to start an online application is a quick way to evaluate your marketing site’s ability to convert visitors.

2. Application Start-to-Completion
On average, 51% of all online applications for deposit accounts are abandoned before completion. It’s key to have a frictionless digital account opening process and ensure that the mobile option is as equally accessible and intuitive as its web counterpart.

If your institution is seeing high abandonment rates, something is happening to turn enthusiasm into discouragement. Identifying pain points will reveal necessary user flow improvements that can make the overall experience faster and more satisfying, which should translate into a greater percentage of completed applications.

3. Resume Rate on Abandoned Applications
The probability that a customer will restart an online application they’ve abandoned drastically decreases as more time passes. You can assess potential customers’ excitement about opening accounts by measuring how many resume where they left off, and the amount of time they take between sessions.

Providing a quick and intuitive experience that eliminates the friction that causes applicants to leave an application means less effort trying to get them to come back. Consider implementing automated reminders similar to the approach e-commerce brands take with abandoned shopping carts in cases where applications are left unfinished.

4. Total Time to Completion
The more time a person has to take to open an account, the more likely they’ll give up. This is something many banks still struggle with: 80% of banks say it takes longer than five minutes to open an account online, and nearly 30% take longer than 10 minutes. At these lengths, the potential for abandonment is very high.

A simple way to see how customers experience your digital application process is to measure the amount of time it takes, including multi-session openings, to open an account, and then working to reduce that time by streamlining the process.

5. Percent of Funded Accounts
A key predictive factor for how active a new customer will be when opening their new account is whether they choose to initially fund their account or not. It’s imperative that financial institutions offer initial funding options that are stress-free and take minimal steps.

For example, requiring that customers verify accounts through trial deposits to link external accounts is a time-consuming process involving multiple steps that are likely to deter people from funding their accounts. Offering fast and secure methods of funding, like instant account authentication, improves the funding experience and the likelihood that new users will stay active.

6. Percent of Auto-Opened Accounts
Manual intervention from a customer service rep to verify and open accounts is time-consuming and expensive. Even with some automation, an overzealous flagging process can create bottlenecks that forces applicants wait longer and bogs down back-office teams with manual review.

Financial institutions should look at the amount of manual review their accounts need, how much time is spent on flagged applications, and the number of bad actor accounts actually being filtered out. Ideally, new online accounts should be automatically opened on the core without any manual intervention—something that banks can accomplish using powerful non-document based verification methods.

7. Fraud Rate Over Time
A high percentage of opened accounts displaying alarming behavior means there may be a weakness in your account opening process that fraudsters are exploiting. To assess your bank’s ability to catch fraud, measure how many approved accounts turn out to be fraudulent and how long it takes for those accounts to start behaving badly.

The most important thing for financial institutions to do is to make sure they can detect fraudulent activity early. Using multiple verification processes is a great way to filter out fraudulent account applications at the outset and avoid headaches and losses later.

The Battle for the Small Business Customer

Increasingly, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are looking for digital banking and financial solutions to address specific needs and provide the experience they expect.

The preference for digital has allowed fintechs and big tech firms to compete with financial institutions for these relationships. While the broadened competitive landscape creates new challenges, this migration to digital channels creates new opportunities for banks of all sizes to compete and win in the SMB market. But first, banks need to think differently and redefine what’s possible.

Many banks have a one-size-fits-all approach to SMB banking. This approach is based on the shaky premise that what SMBs need are consumer banking products with slight variations. This leaves SMBs with two choices: Leverage the bank’s existing online retail banking products — an option that is easy to understand and use, but lacks the specific financial solutions they need — or use the bank’s more-complex digital commercial banking products. The impersonal experience most SMBs experience as a result of this approach can leave them feeling unsatisfied and underappreciated. But banks can capitalize on this underserved market by combining modern technology with a targeted segmentation strategy.

Businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up over 98% of American businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2021 Small Business Profile. About half of SMBs feel their primary financial institution doesn’t understand their needs, according to Aite’s 2021 study, “Delivering the Experience Small Businesses Expect.”

Banks need to deliver more tailored solutions and experiences to differentiate themselves from competitors. To start, they should ask and honestly answer some key questions:

  • In what target markets (size, industry and location) can we compete and win?
  • What are the needs of the businesses in these target markets, beyond traditional banking?
  • What partners will we need to meet the needs of these account holders?

The answers start with the bank’s business strategy — not its technology strategy. Banks need to think in terms of outcomes first before creating the technology strategy that will help them achieve those outcomes.

SMBs Want Experiences Built for Them
User experience matters to SMBs; winning their business depends on providing fast, user-friendly, tailored experiences. They increasingly expect a single view of both their business and personal relationships with the bank.

But using nonbank firms has increased complexity for these SMBs. Banks have an opportunity to aggregate these relationships and provide a comprehensive set of solutions through fintech partnerships. They can tailor digital experiences that address the needs of each of their SMB by integrating their banking solutions with their fintech partner solutions.

Taking a customer-centric approach that pairs account capabilities to business needs allows banks to make their SMB customers feel appreciated, increasing loyalty. For example, a dentist practice may need products and services focused on managing cash flow, accessing credit and wealth management options. Gig economy participants can be focused on payments and nontraditional services through the fintech marketplace, such as bookkeeping or time tracking and scheduling.

The current leading digital services providers enjoy strong customer loyalty because they’ve created positive experiences and value for each customer. SMBs are leaving banks — or are deeply considering switching banks — because of these institutions’ inability to provide what they want: banking experiences and solutions that help them run their businesses more effectively.

SMBs need a compelling business case when selecting a bank; the bank must convince these businesses that it’s prepared to do what’s needed to meet their growing and evolving financial requirements. Banks that fail to focus on broadening partnerships and delivering a wider range of financial solutions through an extensible digital platform may have difficulty retaining existing business customers or attracting future new ones. As a result, these institutions may also find themselves with a higher-than-average percentage of less-valuable customers.

Conversely, those banks that offer solutions SMBs need, in an experience they expect, will emerge as leaders in the space. Banks need to understand the targeted segments where they can compete and win — and then deliver with a fast, easy, relevant, end-to-end digital experience. We’ve written an e-book, “The Battle for the Small Business Customer,” that offers an in-depth look at the factors shaping SMB banking today and ways banks can deliver a compelling business case.

Banks that can do this will be able to grow market share in the SMB market; banks that don’t can expect shrinking revenue and profitability. The time is now to redefine what’s possible in the SMB market.

Harness the Power of Tech to Win Business Banking

The process for opening a consumer account at most financial institutions is pretty standard. It’s not uncommon for banks to provide a fully digital account opening experience for retail customers, while falling back on manual and fragmented processes for business accounts.

Common elements in business account opening include contact forms, days of back-and-forth communication or trips to a branch, sending documents via secure email systems that require someone to set up a whole new account and a highly manual document review process once the bank finally receives those files. This can take anywhere from days to multiple weeks for complex accounts.

Until very recently, the greatest competitor for banks in acquiring and growing business accounts was other banks. But in recent years, digital business banks have quickly emerged as a more formidable competitor. And these digital business banks empower users to open business accounts in minutes.

We researched some of the top digital business banks to learn more about how these companies are winning the business of small businesses. We discovered there are three key ways digital banks are rapidly growing by acquiring business accounts:

1. Seamless, intuitive user experiences. Business clients can instantly open accounts from a digital bank website. There’s no need to travel to a branch or pick up a phone; all documents can be submitted online.
2. Leveraging third-party technology. Digital banks aren’t building their own internal tech stacks from the ground up. They’re using best-in-class workflow tools to construct a client onboarding journey that is streamlined from end to end.
3. Modern aesthetics. Digital business banks use design and aesthetics to their advantage by featuring bright and engaging colors, clean user interfaces and exceptional branding.

The result? Digital banks are pushing their more traditional counterparts to grow and innovate in ways never before experienced in financial services.

Understanding what small businesses need from your bank
A business account is a must-have for any small business. But a flashy brand and a great user experience aren’t key to opening an account. Small businesses are really looking for the right tools to help them run their business.

While digital banks offer a seamless online experience, community banks shouldn’t sell themselves short. Traditional banks have robust product offerings and the unique ability to deal with more complex needs, which many businesses require. Some of the ways businesses need their financial institutions to help include:

  • Banking and accounting administration.
  • Financing, especially when it comes to invoices and loan repayment.
  • Rewards programs based on their unique needs.
  • Payments, specifically accepting more forms of payment without fees.

It’s important to keep in mind that your bank can’t be all things to all clients. Your expertise in your particular geography, industry or offerings plays a huge role in defining your niche in business banking. It’s what a lot of fintechs — including most digital banks — do: identify a specific niche audience and need, solve the need with technology, and let it go viral.

While digital banks might snap up basic small and medium businesses, the bar to compete in the greater market is not as high as perceived — especially when it comes to differentiated, high-risk complex entities. But it requires a shift in thinking, and the overlaying the right tech on top of the power of a community based financial institution.

It’s important that community bank executives adopt a smart, agile approach when choosing technology partners. To avoid vendor lock-in, explore technologies with integration layers that can seamlessly plug new software into your bank’s core, loan origination system, digital banking treasury management system and all other platforms and services. This means your bank can adopt whatever new tech is best for your business, without letting legacy vendors effectively dictate what you can or can’t do.

Your level of success in winning at digital banking comes down to keeping the client in focus and providing the best experiences for their ongoing needs with the right technology. While the account itself might be a commodity, the journeys, services and offerings your bank provides to small businesses are critical to growing and nurturing your client base.

Small Business Checking, Repositioned

This is part two of a two-part post diving into the future of small business checking. Read part one, Small Business Checking, Reimagined.

Increasingly, small businesses see digital payment solutions as both a way to get paid faster and to satisfy customers who now prefer to pay that way. Indeed, this capability has become indispensable for most small businesses. And for banks, it is the key to capturing even more small and medium-sized business relationships moving forward.

However, there is one problem: Banks don’t offer a simple solution to help their small business customers meet this fundamental need. As a result, small business owners have had to resort to outside options (four of which we explored in part one). Over time, this reliance on fintech challengers can lead to disintermediation for the bank, as the non-banks begin to replace the financial institution with their own offerings.

At this point you may be wondering: Does my bank already offer this kind of solution, or something that’s similar enough? The answer, most likely, is no — or not yet.

The reality is that the ideal solution for a small business owner is a steep change from the small business accounts of today. Current accounts are built on transactional functionality. The many supporting, and sometimes dizzying, features that go along with it, such as transaction fees, minimum balances and item allowances, may be important to the bank, but miss the mark for a small business.

Simply put, small business owners need bank accounts designed for a very specific reason: to receive digital payments and easily track their critical cash flow in the process.

To be truly relevant, this reimagined small business checking account needs to include the following three crucial components:

  • Digital payment acceptance, including credit cards, and online invoicing, set up and ready for the small business owner to start getting paid faster into the very same account.
  • Manage and track customer payments, ranging from incoming, coming due, and past due, right inside the digital platform that’s comprises their checking account.
  • Expertise and high-touch support that a business owner can expect from a longstanding and trustworthy institution. This is an important differentiator, and one that fintech challengers can’t come close to matching.

This checking account product offers two significant benefits. For a small business owner, it represents exactly what they have been searching for: a complete small business solution that features receivables functionality, offered by the same trusted institution that they’ve come to rely on for so many other needs.

And for banks, this new account allows them to embrace a mindset focused on customer workflows and solving real-world challenges. It could even signal a way forward, and open the door to many more opportunities. Promoting such a markedly different product, however, would require some care. Unlike a typical account, with its mandatory list of bulleted features, a reimagined solution like this one requires positioning that highlights its problem-solving capabilities.

A generic framework for our hypothetical account, organized by customer need first and benefit(s) second, could go:

Get paid, the way they want to pay
Make it easy for paying customers. Accept online payments and credit cards, or send personalized digital invoices. Either way, get paid directly into your bank account for easy access to funds.

Better control of your cash flow
Track and manage it all automatically: incoming, coming due and past due customer payments. Know exactly who has paid and when, and get an up-to-date view of your cash flow.

Do it all, all in one place
More than a checking account. Everything you need for your small business is included with your account. And there’s no need to set up multiple accounts across multiple platforms — one easy enrollment is all you need.

You don’t have to go it alone
Because a great digital experience is only the beginning. Every successful business needs an accessible financial partner — your bank is available and ready to help.

Of course, a reimagined small business checking account needs to be designed and launched with supporting capabilities in mind. Look for partners that can help your institution go to market with a proven solution — inclusive of the product capabilities and go-to-market services — that enable small business owners to get paid, while staying ahead of the competition.

Learn more about Autobooks and download your free small business resources here.

A Community Bank’s Pursuit of Coast-to-Coast SBA Lending


lending-7-11-18.pngTraditional processes for underwriting and originating small business loans can be expensive and onerous for the typical financial institution, making it difficult to make these loans profitable. But Stuart, Florida-based Seacoast National Bank—through its partnership with SmartBiz, based in San Francisco—is already experiencing significant growth in SBA loan volume by automating the process and accessing a nationwide pool of prospective customers. In fact, the $5.9 billion asset bank plans to crack the Small Business Administration’s list of the top 100 SBA lenders by the end of this year.

It’s hard to argue with the results so far: Data from the SBA reveals the bank’s average number of loan approvals for 2018—43 per quarter as of June 22—are almost equal to the total number of SBA loans the bank approved (46) in all of 2017. Of the 129 SBA loans approved by Seacoast so far this year, almost 100 were generated through SmartBiz, according to the bank. SBA loan volume is at $33.9 million so far for the year—more than double the amount approved by the bank last year.

Seacoast started working with SmartBiz about a year ago, due to its interest in the fintech firm’s ability to provide access to a broad, national base of potential customers, says Julie Kleffel, executive vice president and community banking executive at Seacoast.

Eight banks currently participate in SmartBiz’s loan marketplace. Each bank outlines its credit policies and desired customer criteria with SmartBiz, which allows it to serve as a matchmaker of sorts between customer and lender. “We’re able to send the right borrowers to the right bank,” says SmartBiz CEO Evan Singer. Roughly 90 percent of the customers matched to the company’s partner banks are ultimately approved and funded, which benefits both the customer and the bank, which is less likely to waste time and resources underwriting a loan that it ultimately won’t approve.

Seacoast’s underwriters have the final say on whether the loan is approved, and they close the loan, says Kleffel. The guaranteed portion of the loan is sold on the secondary market, with Seacoast keeping the unguaranteed portion. (Under the SBA 7(a) loan program, the SBA pays off the federally guaranteed portion if the loan defaults.)

Kleffel says the two entities have a “collaborative” relationship and spent time early on learning how the other does business. Together, “we provided a way to better serve both our existing clients as well as new clients [SmartBiz is] introducing us to,” she says.

Seacoast currently ranks 108th on the SBA’s list of top lenders, putting the top 100 within sight. Access to more customers through SmartBiz has contributed to the bank’s SBA loan growth, but a more efficient process means the bank can handle the increased volume. The traditional 30- to 45-day process has been cut to 11 or 12 days, according to Kleffel. Ultimately, the bank would like to approve SBA loans within 10 days of submission.

Singer credits Seacoast for making the most of the partnership. “The leadership at the bank has really embraced innovation, and you can see what they’re doing out in the marketplace to meet customer needs,” he says, adding that the experienced SBA team the bank has in place is another key differentiator.

Seacoast aims to treat these new customers just as well as the customers it would attract more traditionally through its Florida branches. Each new customer receives a call from a Seacoast banker, introducing them to the bank. The same banker “works directly with them all the way through closing and post-closing, so that they’re appropriately brought into the Seacoast family with the same level of care” as any other customer, says Kleffel, with an eye to retaining and growing the relationship.

Seacoast has accomplished this growth without hiring new staff. SBA loan origination is currently supported by just five employees, including a department manager. Supporting that level of loan volume and growth would require double that without SmartBiz on board. The partnership, Kleffel says, “has allowed us to pull through more revenue, faster, with [fewer] people and a better customer experience.”

ChoiceOne and Autobooks Bring Rural Customers into the Digital Age


sba-6-20-18.pngAdom Greenland works with a lawn care specialist who was running his business in a way reminiscent of a bygone era. He’d leave a carbon copy invoice on the counter when he finished his work, Greenland would cut a check and some three weeks later, the small-business owner would finally be compensated for the work he had done weeks prior.

That arrangement is one that still exists in many rural areas, but Greenland, the chief operating officer at $642 million asset ChoiceOne Bank, headquartered in Sparta, Michigan, saw an opportunity to help rural customers like his lawn care specialist usher themselves into the 21st century by partnering with Autobooks.

ChoiceOne found itself in a position that many banks in the country have found themselves in at some juncture in the last several years: recognizing the need to make a move to remain competitive with booming fintech firms popping up all over the place. Located in a largely rural area in western Michigan—Grand Rapids, with about 200,000 residents, is the largest city in its area—the bank has been a fixture for its rural community but is slowly moving into urban markets, Greenland says. Its specialties include agricultural and small business borrowers that are comfortable with antiquated practices that often aren’t driven by technology. But in an increasingly digital world, Greenland says the move was made to make both the bank and its commercial customers competitive by improving its existing core banking platform to digitize treasury services for commercial customers.

ChoiceOne chose Autobooks to digitize its small business accounting and deposit process in 2017, a journey the bank began three years ago after realizing that the technology wave rolling over the banking industry was going to be essential for the bank’s future. But identifying potential partners and wading into the due diligence process was at times frustrating, Greenland says. “Everything was either, you had to pay a quarter-million dollars and then had to hope to sell it to somebody, or it was just 10-year-old technologies that weren’t significantly better than what we already had.”

Autobooks, through an array of application programming interfaces, or APIs, essentially automates much of the bank’s existing treasury services such as invoicing, accounting and check cashing processes. The system sits on top of the bank’s existing banking platform from Jack Henry, but works with FIS and Fiserv core systems as well.

With just 12 branches in a predominantly rural market, Greenland says this has become a game changer for the bank and its customers.

“My sprinkler guy could have been doing this a long time ago, but this will accelerate the adoption of technology [by] my rural customers,” Greenland says. “It’s bringing my customers to the next century in a really safe and easy way.”

The partnership between Autobooks and ChoiceOne generates revenue for both companies through fees. It is a similar arrangement to that of Square, QuickBooks or PayPal, the competitors Greenland is trying to outmaneuver while integrating similar accounting, invoicing and payments functionalities.

So far, the partnership has been able to reduce the receivables time by about two weeks, and automates many time-consuming tasks like recurring invoicing, fee processing and automatic payments. It also cuts expenses for the bank’s customers that have been using multiple third-party providers for similar services, which has driven loyalty for the bank. ChoiceOne hasn’t generated significant revenue from the partnership—Greenland says it’s at essentially a breakeven point—but the loyalty boost has been the biggest benefit, an attribute that’s becoming increasingly important as competition for deposits rises.

And the results are visible for small businesses, like Greenland’s sprinkler technician. “For that kind of business, this thing is absolutely revolutionary.”

Gaining a Digital Competitive Advantage



The average small business owner uses technology every day to run the enterprise—and the same is expected of the financial institution, explains Chris Rentner of Akouba Credit. Banks that adopt technology will have a competitive edge in the market.

  • Why Banks Should Explore Fintech Partnerships
  • What Small Business Customers Expect From Their Bank

The Little Bank That Could


strategy-9-23-16.pngSoon after Josh Rowland’s family bought Lead Bank in Garden City, Kansas, in 2005, the small financial institution felt the full impact of the financial crisis. The loan portfolio was in bad shape. Several employees lost their jobs. The entire experience lead to a lot of soul searching.

“It was really existential,’’ Vice Chairman Rowland says. “What do we survive for? What’s the point of a community bank? The situation was that dire. We had to really decide whether we should give it up.”

After much discussion, the family decided to hire Bill Bryant as the chief executive officer to help clean up the bank, now with $164 million in assets, and really focus on its niche: small business owners. A lot of community banks say they are serving small business owners, but Lead Bank decided to go a step further. In 2011, it launched a business advisory division for the purpose of coaching small business owners on cash flows, provide part-time or interim chief financial officers, and advice on strategic planning and even mergers and acquisitions. Rowland says a lot of small businesses could use advisory services, especially if they can’t afford to hire a full-time CFO. Lead Business Advisors has senior managing director Patrick Chesterman, a former energy executive for a large propane company and Jacquie Ward, a trainee analyst. The bank overall made a profit of $500,000 in the first six months of the year and saw assets grow 30 percent in the last year and a half, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

But the investment in advisory services is not a quick payback. Rowland says the division is not profitable yet. The challenges include marketing the program to a business community more accustomed to relying on trusted accountants or lawyers for such advice. Banks naturally have a lot of financial information and expertise, but they fail to provide it to their clients. “We ought to be figuring out every possible way to deliver that kind of financial expertise to Main Street business,” he says.

The tactic is an unusual one for community banks, which might have a wealth management division but not a business advisory division per se. And it’s expensive. Baker Boyer, a $571 million bank in Walla Walla, Washington, has been offering business advisory services as part of its wealth management division for years. But it has taken some 15 years to restructure the bank to offer such services, says Mark Kajita, president and chief executive officer. The average personnel expense per employee for the bank is roughly $80,000 annually with six lawyers on staff and the bank’s efficiency ratio is 73 percent, higher than the peer average of 66 percent.

However, the bank made $2.5 million in profits during the first half of 2016, with half of that coming from the wealth and business advisory division. Kajita says what made it possible was the fact that the bank is family owned and can invest in the long term without worrying about reporting quarterly financial results to pubic shareholders.

Community banks of that size have a real need to create a niche,’’ says Jim McAlpin, a partner at Bryan Cave in Atlanta who advises banks. “Historically, community banks have been focused on the small businesses of America, and to offer services to those small businesses is a great strategy.”

Joel Pruis, a senior director at Cornerstone Advisors in Phoenix, says banks have done themselves a disservice by relinquishing advisory services to CPAs and attorneys. “In terms of empowering lenders, in terms of providing more advice, we definitely need more of that,’’ he says. “Bankers need to be seen as a resource and an expert in the financial arena instead of just application takers.”

For Rowland, rethinking the role of the community bank is fundamental to its survival. “I don’t know how we expect to keep doing the same things and expect different results,’’ he says. People don’t feel their bank is adding any value for them, he says. “If that’s our industry’s problem that we haven’t given them an experience, that’s our fault,’’ Rowland says. “We have taught them over years and years that our services are so cheap, they ought to be free.”