How Bank Executives Can Address Signs of Trouble

As 2021’s “roaring” consumer confidence grinds to a halt, banks everywhere are strategizing about how best to deal with the tumultuous days ahead.

Jack Henry’s annual Strategic Priorities Benchmark Study, released in August 2022, surveyed banks and credit unions in the U.S. and found that many financial institutions share the same four concerns and goals:

1. The Economic Outlook
The economic outlook of some big bank executives is shifting. In June 2022, Bernstein Research hosted its 38th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference where some chief executives leading the largest banks in the U.S., including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Morgan Stanley, talked about the current economic situation. Their assessment was not entirely rosy. As reported by The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon called the looming economic uncertainty a “hurricane.” How devastating that hurricane will be remains a question.

2. Hiring and Retention
The Jack Henry survey also found 60% of financial institution CEOs are concerned about hiring and retention, but there may be some hope. A 2022 national study, conducted by Alkami Technology and The Center for Generational Kinetics, asked over 1,500 US participants about their futures with financial institutions. Forty percent responded they are likely to consider a career at a regional or community bank or credit union, with significant portion of responses within the Generation Z and millennial segments.

3. Waning Customer Loyalty
The imperative behind investing in additional features and services is a concern about waning customer loyalty. For many millennials and Gen Z bank customers, the concept of having a primary financial institution is not in their DNA. The same study from above found that 64% of that cohort is unsure if their current institution will remain their primary institution in the coming year. The main reason is the ease of digital banking at many competing fintechs.

4. Exploding Services and Payment Trends
Disruptors and new competition are entering the financial services space every day. Whether a service, product or other popular trend, a bank’s account holders and wallet share are being threatened. Here are three trends that bank executives should closely monitor.

  • The subscription economy. Recurring monthly subscriptions are great for businesses and convenient for customers: a win-win. Not so much for banks. The issue for banks is: How are your account holders paying for those subscriptions? If it’s with your debit or credit card, that’s an increased source of revenue. But if they’re paying through an ACH or another credit card, that’s a lost opportunity.
  • Cryptocurrency. Your account holders want education and guidance when it comes to digital assets. Initially, banks didn’t have much to do with crypto. Now, 44% of execs at financial institutions nationwide plan to offer cryptocurrency services by the end of 2022; 60% expect their clients to increase their crypto holdings, according to Arizent Research
  • Buy now, pay later (BNPL). Consumers like BNPL because it allows them to pay over time; oftentimes, they don’t have to go through a qualification process. In this economy, consumers may increasingly use it to finance essential purchases, which could signal future financial trouble and risk for the bank.

The Salve for It All: The Application of Data Insights
Banks need a way to attract and retain younger account holders in order to build a future-proof foundation. The key to dealing with these challenges is having a robust data strategy that works around the clock for your institutions. Banks have more data than ever before at their disposal, but data-driven marketing and strategies remains low in banking overall.

That’s a mistake, especially when it comes to data involving how, when and why account holders are turning to other banks, or where banks leave revenue on the table. Using their own first-party data, banks can understand how their account holders are spending their money to drive strategic business decisions that impact share of wallet, loyalty and growth. It’s also a way to identify trouble before it takes hold.

In these uncertain economic times, the proper understanding and application of data is the most powerful tool banks can use to stay ahead of their competition and meet or exceed account holder expectations.

How Legacy Systems, Tech Hold Bank Employees Back

The recent explosion in financial technology firms has allowed banks to make massive strides in improving the customer experience.

The most popular solutions have focused on making processes and services faster and easier for customers. For example, Zelle, a popular digital payments service, has improved the payments process for bank customers by making transfers immediate — eliminating the need to wait while those funds enter their checking account. There are countless examples of tools and resources that improve the bank customer experience, but the same cannot be said for the bank staffers.

Bank employees often use decades-old legacy systems that require weeks or months of training, create additional manual work required to complete tasks and do not communicate with each other. Besides creating headaches for the workers who have to use them, they waste time that could be better spent meaningfully serving customers.

The Great Resignation and tight labor market has made it difficult to find and retain workers with adequate and appropriate experience. On top of that, bankers spend significant amounts of time training new employees on how to use these complicated tools, which only exacerbates problems caused by high turnover. The paradox here is that banks risk ultimately disengaging their employees, who stop using most of the functionality provided by the very tools that their bank has invested in to help them work more efficiently. Instead, they revert to over-relying on doing many things manually.

If bank staff used tools that were as intuitive as those available to the bank’s customers, they would spend less time in training and more time connecting with customers and delivering valuable services. Improvements to their experience accomplishes more than simply making processes easier and faster. As it stands now, bank teams can spend more time than desired contacting customers, requesting documents and moving data around legacy systems. This manual work is time-consuming, robotic and creates very little profit for the bank.

But these manual tasks are still important to the bank’s business. Bankers still need a way to contact customers, retrieve documents and move data across internal systems. However, in the same way that customer-facing solutions automate much of what used to be done manually, banks can utilize solutions that automate internal business processes. Simple, repetitive tasks lend themselves best to automation; doing so frees up staff to spend more of their time on tasks that require mental flexibility or close attention. Automation augments the workers’ capabilities, which makes their work more productive and leads to a better customer experience overall.

There are good reasons to improve the experience of bank employees, but those are not the only reasons. Quality of life enhancements are desirable on their own and create a greater opportunity for employees to serve customers. When deciding which tools to give your staff, consider what it will be like to use them and how effectively they can engage customers with them.

Asking the Right Questions About Your Bank’s Tech Spend

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, finds 81% of bank executives and board members reporting that their technology budget increased compared to 2021, at a median of 11%. Much of this, the survey indicates, ties to the industry’s continued digitization of products and services. That makes technology an important line item within a bank’s budget — one that enables bank leaders to meet strategic goals to serve customers and generate organizational efficiencies.

“These are some of the biggest expenditures the bank is making outside of human capital,” says John Behringer, risk consulting partner at RSM US LLP. The board “should feel comfortable providing effective challenge to those decisions.” Effective challenge references the board’s responsibility to hold management accountable by being engaged, asking incisive questions and getting the information it needs to provide effective oversight for the organization.  

Banks budgeted a median $1 million for technology in 2022, according to the survey; that number ranged from a median $250,000 for smaller banks below $500 million in assets to $25 million for larger banks above $10 billion. While most believe their institution spends enough on technology, relative to strategy, roughly one-third believe they spend too little. How can boards determine that their bank spends an appropriate amount?

Finding an apples to apples comparison to peers can be difficult, says Behringer. Different banks, even among peer groups, may be in different stages of the journey when it comes to digital transformation, and they may have different objectives. He says benchmarking can be a “starting point,” but boards should delve deeper. How much of the budget has been dedicated to maintaining legacy software and systems, versus implementing new solutions? What was technology’s role in meeting and furthering key strategic goals? 

A lot of the budget will go toward “keeping the lights on,” as Behringer puts it. Bank of America Corp. spends roughly $3 billion annually on new technology initiatives, according to statements from Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan — so roughly 30% of the bank’s $11 billion total spend.

For banks responding to the survey, new technology enhancements that drive efficiencies focus on areas that keep them safe: For all banks, cybersecurity (89%) and security/fraud (62%) were the top two categories. To improve the customer experience, institutions have prioritized payments capabilities (63%), retail account opening (54%), and consumer or mortgage lending (41%).

Benjamin Wallace says one way board members can better understand technology spend is to break down the overall technology cost into a metric that better illustrates its impact, like cost per account. “For every customer that comes on the board, on average, let’s say $3.50, and that includes the software, that includes the compensation … and that can be a really constructive conversation,” says Wallace, the CEO of Summit Technology Group. “Have a common way to talk about technology spend that you can look at year to year that the board member will understand.”

Trevor Dryer, an entrepreneur and investor who joined the board of Olympia, Washington-based Heritage Financial Corp. in November 2021, thinks boards should keep the customer top of mind when discussing technology and strategy. “What’s the customer’s experience with the technology? [W]hen do they want to talk to somebody, versus when do they want to use technology? When they do use technology, how is this process seamless? How does it align with the way the bank’s positioning itself?” If the bank sees itself as offering high-touch, personal service, for example, that should be reflected in the technology.

And the bank’s goals should drive the information that floats back to the boardroom. Dryer says $7.3 billion Heritage Financial has “great dashboards” that provide important business metrics and risk indicators, but the board is working with Chief Technology Officer Bill Glasby to better understand the impact of the bank’s technology. Dryer wants to know, “How are our customers interacting with our technology, and are they liking it or not? What are the friction points?” 

Some other basic information that Behringer recommends that bank leaders ask about before adopting new technology include whether the platform fits with the current infrastructure, and whether the pricing of the technology is appropriate. 

Community banks don’t have Bank of America’s $11 billion technology budget. As institutions increase their technology spend, bank leaders need to align adoption with the bank’s strategic priorities. It’s easy to chase fads, and be swayed to adopt something with more bells and whistles than the organization really needs. That distracts from strategy, says Dryer. “To me, the question [banks] should be asking is, ‘What is the problem that we’re trying to solve for our customers?’” Leadership teams and boards that can’t answer that, he says, should spend more time understanding their customers’ needs before they go further down a particular path. 

The best companies leverage technology to solve a business problem, but too many management teams let the tail wag the dog, says Wallace. “The board can make sure — before anyone signs a check for a technology product — to press on the why and what’s driving that investment.” 

Forty-five percent of respondents worry that their bank relies too heavily on outdated technology. While the board doesn’t manage the day-to-day, directors can ask questions in line with strategic priorities. 

Ask, “’Are we good at patching, or do we have a lot of systems where things aren’t patched because systems are no longer supported?’” says Behringer. Is the bank monitoring key applications? Have important vendors like the core provider announced sunsets, meaning that a product will no longer be supported? What technology is on premises versus hosted in the cloud? “The more that’s on prem[ises], the more likely you’ve got dated technology,” he says.

And it’s possible that banks could manage some expenses down by examining what they’re using and whether those solutions are redundant, a process Behringer calls “application rationalization.” It’s an undertaking that can be particularly important following an acquisition but can be applied just as easily to organic duplication throughout the organization. 

A lack of boardroom expertise may have members struggling to have a constructive conversation around technology. “Community bank boards may not have what we would consider a subject matter expert, from a technology standpoint,” says Behringer, “so they don’t feel qualified to challenge.” 

Heritage Financial increased the technology expertise in its boardroom with the additions of Dryer and Gail Giacobbe, a Microsoft executive, and formed a board-level technology committee. Dryer led Mirador, a digital lending platform, until its acquisition by CUNA Mutual Group in 2018. He also co-founded Carbon Title, a software solution that helps property owners and real estate developers understand their carbon impact. 

Experiences like Dryer’s can bring a different viewpoint to the boardroom. A board-level tech expert can support or challenge the bank’s chief information officer or other executives about how they’re deploying resources, whether staffing is appropriate or offer ideas on where technology could benefit the organization. They can also flag trends that they see inside and outside of banking, or connect bank leaders to experts in specific areas. 

“Sometimes technology can be an afterthought, [but] I think that it’s a really critical part of delivering banking services today,” says Dryer. “With technology, if you haven’t been in it, you can feel like you’re held captive to whatever you’re being told. There’s not a really great way to independently evaluate or call B.S. on something. And so I think that’s a way I’ve been trying to help provide some value to my fellow directors.”  

Less than half of the survey respondents say their board has a member who they’d consider a tech expert. Of the 53% of respondents who say their board doesn’t have a tech expert, just 39% are seeking that expertise. As a substitution for this knowledge, boards could bring in a strategic advisor to sit in as a technologist during meetings, says Wallace. 

On the whole, boards should empower themselves to challenge management on this important expense by continuing their education on technology. As Wallace points out, many boards play a role in loan approvals, even if most directors aren’t experts on credit. “They’re approving credit exposure … but they would never think to be in the weeds in technology like that,” he says. “Technology probably has equal if not greater risk, sometimes, than approving one $50,000 loan to a small business in the community.”

The ways in which banks leverage technology have been featured recently in Bank Director magazine. “Confronting the Labor Shortage” focuses on how M&T Bank Corp. attracts and trains tech talent. “Community Banks Enter the Venture Jungle” examines bank participation in fintech funds; a follow-up piece asks, “Should You Invest in a Venture Fund?”  Some institutions are evaluating blockchain opportunities: “Unlocking Blockchain’s Power” explores how Signature Bank, Customers Bancorp and others are leveraging blockchain-based payments platforms to serve commercial customers; risk and compliance considerations around blockchain are further discussed in the article, “Opportunities — and Questions — Abound With Blockchain.” 

Technology is an important component of a bank’s overall strategy. For more information on enhancing strategic discussions, consider viewing “Building Operational Resiliency in the Midst of Change” and “Board Strategic Leadership,” both part of Bank Director’s Online Training Series.   

Bank Director’s 2022 Technology Survey, sponsored by CDW, surveyed 138 independent directors, chief executive officers, chief operating officers and senior technology executives of U.S. banks below $100 billion in assets to understand how these institutions leverage technology in response to the competitive landscape. Bank Services members have exclusive access to the complete results of the survey, which was conducted in June and July 2022. 

7 Key Actions for Banks Partnering With Fintechs

A longer version of this article can be read at RSM US LLP.

Many banks are considering acquiring or partnering with existing fintechs to gain access to cutting-edge technologies and remain competitive in the crowded financial services marketplace.

There are many advantages to working with fintech partners to launch newer services and operations, but failing to properly select and manage partners or new acquisitions can have the opposite effect: additional risks, unforeseen exposures and unnecessary costs. Partnership opportunities may be a focus for leadership teams, given the significant growth and investments in the fintech space over the last decade. Consumer adoption is up: 88% of U.S. consumers used a fintech in 2021, up from 58% in 2020, according to Plaid’s 2021 annual report; conventional banks’ market share continues to drop.

Planning is everything when partnering with or acquiring a fintech company. Here are seven key actions and areas of consideration for banks looking for such partnerships.

1. Understand your customers on a deeper level: The first step before considering a fintech partner or acquisition is to understand what your consumers truly want and how they want those services delivered. Companies can pinpoint these needs via surveys, customer focus groups, call centers or discussions and information-gathering with employees.

Organizations should also explore the needs of individuals and entities outside their existing customer bases. Gathering data that helps them learn about their customers’ needs, lifestyle preferences and behaviors can help banks pinpoint the right technology and delivery channel for their situation.

2. Understand leading-edge technological advancements: While fintech partnerships can give a traditional bank access to new cutting-edge technologies, leaders still need to understand these technologies and the solutions. This might involve helping teams gain fluency in topics such as artificial intelligence that can improve credit decisioning, underwriting processes and fraud detection, automation that speeds up service delivery responses and customer onboarding, data analysis and state-of-the-art customer relationship management tools and more.

3. Prepare for culture shock: Fintechs, particularly those in start-up mode, will be used to operating at a different pace and with a different style than typical banks. Fintechs may behave more entrepreneurially, trying many experiments and failing often and fast. This entrepreneurial mindset has implications for how projects are organized, managed, measured, staffed and led.

4. Take a 360-degree view of risk: Fintechs may not have been subject to the same strict compliance as banks, but as soon as they enter a partnership, they must adhere to the same standards, regulations and controls. Any technology-led, third-party partnership comes with the potential for additional risks in areas such as cybersecurity, data privacy, anti-money laundering and myriad other regulatory compliance risks. Banks need to have a solid understanding of the viability and soundness of the fintech they might partner with, as well as the strength and agility of the leadership team. They should also ensure the new relationship has adequate business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

From vendor selections and background checks to mutual security parameters and decisions around where servers will be located, all potential exposures are important for banks to assess. A new fintech relationship could open new avenues for outside threats, information breaches and reputation damage.

5. Don’t underestimate the management lift needed:Acquiring or partnering with a fintech or third-party vendor involves significant management work to meet customer needs, keep implementation costs in line and merge technologies to ensure compatibility between the two organizations.

Employees at each company will likely have different approaches to innovation, which is one of the major benefits of teaming up with a fintech company; your organization can rapidly gain access to cutting-edge technologies and the overall agility of a startup. But management needs to ensure that this union doesn’t inadvertently create heartburn among employees on both sides.

6. Build ownership through clear accountability and responsibility: A fintech partnership requires management and oversight to be effective. Banks should consider the ownership and internal staffing requirements needed to achieve the full value of their investment with a fintech organization.

Don’t underestimate the time and effort needed to develop and deploy these plans. Based on the automation levels of the solution implemented, these resources may need dedicated time on an ongoing basis for the oversight and operations of the solution as well.

7. Stick to a plan:While in a hurry to launch a service, leadership teams may gloss over the whole steps of the plan and critical items may fall off. To combat this, banks should have a robust project plan that aligns with the overall innovation strategy and clear definitions around who is responsible for what. A vendor management program can help with this, along with strategic change management planning.

Balancing the demands of innovation with a thorough and thoughtful approach that considers customer behaviors, risks, resources and plans for new solutions will make fintech partnerships go as smooth as possible. Institutions would do well to incorporate these seven key areas throughout the process of a potential third-party partnership to ensure the maximum return on investment.

FinXTech’s Need to Know: Construction Lending

Demand for housing hit a high unlike any other during the pandemic. While demand grew, the number of acquisition, development and construction (ADC) loans in bank portfolios grew parallel alongside it. Construction and development loans at community banks increased 21.2% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Quarterly Banking Profile.

As a subset of the commercial real estate (CRE) lending space, banks are accustomed to the timely process that construction lending requires. But are banks prepared for the influx of risk that can accompany this growth?

Mitigating construction risk is a bit like attempting to predict the future: Banks not only have to evaluate creditworthiness, but they also have to predict what the project will be worth upon completion. With another interest rate hike expected later this month, being able to accurately price projects is becoming more complicated — and more vital.

Here are three ways financial technology companies can help banks in their attempt to fund more ADC projects.

Software can automate the drawing process. Construction lending features the unique ability for builders to “draw” cash from their loan throughout the project. Spacing out the draw schedule protects banks from losing large amounts of money on projects that go cold, and also allows proper due diligence and inspection to be on rotation.

CoFi — formerly eDraw — specifically focuses on this process. Bank associates access all budgets, invoices, approvals and construction draw records in one web-based system. The bank’s borrowers and builders also can access the software through customer-facing accounts. A builder requests funds by uploading invoices, and CoFi then notifies the bank that their approval is required for the funds to be disbursed.

Once the bank approves the disbursement, the borrower is notified. Banks can also dispatch inspectors to the property using CoFi. After confirming that construction progress is in line with the draw requests, the inspector can upload their report directly into CoFi. With all of the proper approvals in place, the bank can release funds for the payment request. All actions and approvals are tracked in a detailed, electronic audit trail.

CoFi also has a construction loan marketplace banks can plug into.

Multiple parties and industries can collaborate in real time through web-based solutions Nashville-based Built Technologies operates as a construction administration portal, coordinating interactions and transactions between the bank, the borrower, the contractor, third-party inspectors and even title companies in one location. 

Legacy core banking technology wasn’t designed to completely support construction loans, which moved the tracking of these types of loans into spreadsheets. Built’s portal eliminates the need for these one-way spreadsheets. The moment a construction loan is closed, instead of a banker creating a spreadsheet with a specific draw budget, they can design one digitally in Built and reconcile it throughout the duration of the project.

Builders can even request draws from their loan through their phones, using Built’s mobile interface. 

Fintechs can better monitor portfolios, identify errors and alert banks of risk areas, compared to manual review only. ADC loans are fraught with intricate details, including valuations that fluctuate with the market — details that can’t always be caught with human eyes.

Rabbet uses machine learning and optical character recognition (OCR) when reviewing documents or information that is inputted to its platform, the Contextualized Construction Draw format (CCDF). It also continually monitors and flags high-risk situations or details for borrowers, including overdrawn budgets, liens or approvals. Any involved party — developer, builder or bank — can input budget line items into the platform. Rabbet then links relevant supporting documents or important metrics to that item, which is information that is typically difficult for lenders to track and verify.

Storing loan calculations and documents in one place can translate to faster confirmations for borrowers and easier reconciliation, reporting and auditing for the bank.

In July 2022, Built announced the release of its own contractor and project monitoring solution, Project Pro. The technology helps banks keep track of funds, identify risk areas such as missing liens or late payments, and stay on top of compliance requirements.

Banks with a heavy percentage of construction loans on their balance sheet need to keep notice of all elements attached to them, especially in a rapidly changing economic environment. Technology can alleviate some of that burden.

CoFi, Built Technologies and Rabbet are all vetted companies for FinXTech Connect, a curated directory of technology companies who strategically partner with financial institutions of all sizes. For more information about how to gain access to the directory, please email finxtech@bankdirector.com.

Leveraging Embedded Fintech for Small Businesses

Small businesses are increasingly looking for more sophisticated financial solutions, like digital payments. Yet, many community banks haven’t adapted their products and services to meet these demands. Banks that don’t address their small business clients’ pain points ultimately risk losing those customers to other financial providers. Derik Sutton, vice president at Autobooks, describes how community banks can bridge that gap with embedded fintech.  

  • How Small Business Needs are Changing
  • Confronting Competition 
  • First Steps to Embedded Fintech 

Autobooks’ cloud-based platform is built on Microsoft Azure.  

6 Tactics to Win Customer Engagement

One topic that’s commonly discussed in financial institution boardrooms is how to serve customers and meet their expectations. This topic is especially pertinent now that consumer expectations are at an all-time high.

Bank consumers want delightful, simple customer experiences like the ones they get from companies like Uber Technologies and Airbnb, and they’re more than willing to walk away from experiences that disappoint. As a result, financial institutions are under immense pressure to engage and retain customers and their deposits. Bankers cannot afford to stand idly by and watch a generation of customers increasingly lean on fintechs for all their financial needs.

Fortunately, your financial institution can take action to win the battle for customer engagement — some are already doing so with initial successes. Incumbents like Bank of America Corp. use financial assistants powered by artificial intelligence to assist customers, and fintechs such as Digit offer an auto savings algorithm to help people meet their financial goals. These efforts and features bring the disparate components of a consumer’s financial life together through:

  • An intense focus on the user experience.
  • Highly personalized experiences.
  • “Do it for me” intelligent features.
  • The right communications at the right time.
  • Intuitively-built and highly engaging user interfaces.

How can your bank offer experiences like these? It comes down to equipping your financial institution with the right set of data and tools.

1. Data Acquisition: Data acquisition is the foundation of customer experience.
The best tools are based on accurate and comprehensive data. The key here is that your bank needs to acquire data sourced not only from your institution, but to also allow customers to aggregate their data into your experience. The result is that you and your customers can see a full financial picture.

2. Data Enrichment: Use data science to make sense of unstructured data.
Once your bank has this data, it’s critical that your institution deploys an enrichment strategy. Advanced data science tactics can make sense of unstructured and unrecognizable transaction data, without needing to add data scientists to bank staff. Transforming these small and seemingly unimportant bits of the user experience can have a huge overall effect.

3. Data Intelligence: Create personalized and timely user experiences from the data.
By consistently looking at transactional data, data intelligence tools can identify different patterns and deliver timely, unique observations and actionable insights to help consumers improve their financial wellbeing. These are the small, but highly personalized user experiences that fintechs have become known for.

4. Data Productization: Provide a user interface with advanced pre-built features.
One of the most difficult things for a bank to pull off is data productization. The right tooling and advanced, pre-built features allow banks to unite data and analysis and encapsulate it into intuitively designed digital experiences. This way, consumers can engage naturally with your bank and receive relevant, personalized products and services they need from you. Digital notifications can be part of your strategy, and many customers opt in to receive them; case in point is that 90% of the customers using a Goals-Based Savings application from Envestnet opt into notifications.

5. AI Automation: Utilize AI to enhance self-service capability.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask someone to cancel a check at anytime? Or type in a question and get the answer on the spot? Tools like AI-powered virtual assistants with an automation layer make it simple for consumers to do all this and more, wherever they are. Financial institutions using the Virtual Financial Assistant from Envestnet have automated up to 87% of contact center requests with a finance domain-specific AI.

6. Trusted Partners: Leverage partner to compete.
Competing with fintechs often means, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” But leveraging trusted partners is a tried and true strategy. Your bank’s partner could be a traditional financial institution you’ve pooled assets with to create and embed financial technology deep into your experience. It could be a fintech focused on business-to-business capabilities. Or it could be a partner offering world-class data aggregation as well as analytics and innovative tools to enhance your customer experience.

Fintechs have done a phenomenal job at connecting the disjointed components of consumers’ financial lives through amazing customer experiences. Your financial institution can do the same. By using the right data and tools and partnering up, your bank can deliver the personalized experiences consumers expect, delight and empower them to take control of their finances and future.

5 Ways Banks Can Keep Up With Consumer’s Digital Demands

As technology progresses, more financial institutions will face scrutiny from consumers seeking features powered by advanced digital banking platforms.

Consumers are actively searching for banks that value them by giving them remote, customized experiences. Many banks have seen record growth in digital banking usage in recent years, according to a Deloitte Insights report. While this might create a challenge to many financial institutions, it can also be an opportunity to further build relationships with consumers. Below are five things banks should do to proactively respond to customers’ digital needs in their next stage of growth.

1. Analyze Consumer Data
Gaining real-time insights from consumer data is one way banks can start improving customer experiences. Analyzing data allows banks to see how, when and where consumers are spending their money. This data is a gold mine for creating custom approaches for individuals or recommending products that a consumer could benefit from. This electronic trail of customer information can ultimately lead to more personalized financial strategies, better security features and more accurate insights as to what digital banking features will be needed in the future.

2. Humanize The Digital Experience
Financial Institutions are being given a chance to humanize their digital banking platforms. Banks can build and strengthen relationships with their consumers by customizing their mobile experience — right down to the individual. Listening to feedback and valuing a customer’s experiences can create productive and useful relationships. It is important to take a customer-centric approach, whether in-person or through digital platforms. Financial institutions can use consumer purchase history to create custom reward offerings — like 10% off at their favorite coffee shop or rewards on every purchase — that lay the foundation for a bespoke, valuable experience.

3. Understand Digital Trends
According to Forbes, 95% of executives say they are looking for new ways to engage their customers. Financial institutions that remain complacent and tied to their legacy systems can expect to fall behind their competitors if they do not keep up with advancing digital trends. Consumers increasingly shop around and compare account offerings and benefits; they are choosing customizable, digital solutions. Banks that don’t, or refuse to, keep up with digital trends will lose these relationships. As technology expands, so do the needs of consumers —it is up to banks to keep up with those needs.

4. Utilize Advance Card Features
Technology’s rapid advancement means that the digital features that banks can take advantage of have also advanced. Consumers want features that correspond with their everyday financial management strategies and spending. Virtual cards with state-of-the-art security features are just one of the many digital solutions available to banks. Adjustable settings, like the ability to block and unblock merchants, create family hubs, set spending limits for individuals and family members, are just a few of the ways that banks can differentiate their card programs.

5. Keep Evolving
Many banks use legacy systems that are outdated, expensive and difficult to uproot. This technology strategy holds them back from being on a level playing field with their competitors. However, partnering with fintechs that can integrate with their current systems is one way that banks can keep up with digital trends — without the upfront cost of installing an entirely new system.

According to a FICO study, 70% of U.S. bank customers report that they would be “likely” or “very likely” to open an account at a competing provider if that provider offered services that addressed their unmet needs. Today, consumers do not just prefer digital banking: They expect it. Banks that cannot provide their consumers with customizable digital options are at a disadvantage.

Why Embedded Finance Is the Next Area of Digital Revolution

The four decades after the internet made information readily accessible has led to inventions and innovations like smart devices, mobile apps and the ability to be constantly connected. Today, companies are focusing on harnessing technology to build smoother, richer and deeper customer experiences.

As the information age evolves to the experience age, the next digital revolution will be embedded finance. Embedded finance enables any brand, business or merchant to rapidly, and at a low cost, integrate innovative financial services into new propositions and customer experiences. Embedded finance is driven by consumers’ desire for more convenient and frictionless financial services. Several use cases that underline the demand for embedded financial experiences include:

  • Billing payments as part of the experience. Businesses are already using payment options, like buy now, pay later, to differentiate their offering, increase sales and empower buyers at checkout.
  • Growing popularity of Point-of-Sale financing. The volume of installment-based, flexible payment and instant credit options has increased significantly in the past five years, indicating a desire for instant access to short-term borrowing.
  • Mainstreaming of digital wallets. As more people use their mobile phones to purchase products and services, it makes sense that consumers want to access other financial services seamlessly within apps.

There is potential for embedded finance in almost every sector; in the U.S. alone, embedded finance is expected to see a tenfold revenue increase over the next five years. Financial institutions are in a position to provide branded or white-label products that non-banks can use to “embed” financial services for their customers. Banks must evolve rapidly to take advantage of this new market opportunity.

The front-runners will be institutions that can offer digital real-time payments or instant credit with minimal friction and optimum convenience to customers. But providing this requires new core technologies, cloud capabilities and flexible application programming interfaces, or APIs and other infrastructure to support new business models. Banks will also have to become much more collaborative, working closely with fintechs that may own or intermediate the customer relationship.

Embedded finance allows nonbank businesses to offer their customers additional financial services at the point of decision. Customers can seamlessly pay, redeem, finance or insure their purchase. This can look like buying, financing, and insuring a TV from a store’s shopping app, securing a mortgage through the estate agent’s website as part of a house purchase or obtaining health insurance from a fitness app. This does not mean that every retailer or e-commerce business will become a bank, but it does mean that many more will be equipped with the potential to offer more financial capabilities to customers as a way to compete, differentiate and engage more effectively.

In May 2021, Mambu surveyed 3,000 consumers and found the following:

  • 81% would be interested in purchasing health insurance via an app, and almost half of these would pay a small premium.
  • 60% would prefer to take out an education loan directly from their academic institution rather than a bank.
  • 86% would be interested in purchasing groceries from a cashier-less store.

How these capabilities are delivered and consumed is changing constantly. Consumers want to use intuitive and fast financial services via online and mobile banking channels. Digitalization and cloud services are reinventing back-office functions, automating and streamlining processes and decision-making. At the same time, legislation, open banking and APIs are driving new ecosystems. These changing markets and increased competition make it more difficult for banks to meet evolving customer demands, prevent churn and sustain growth.

We are living in the world of the continuous next. Customers expect financial service providers to anticipate and meet their requirements — sometimes even before they know what they want — and package those services in a highly contextual and personalized way. At the same time, new digital players are setting up camp in the bank space. Tech giants are inching ever closer to the banking market, putting bank relationships and revenue pools are at risk. On an absolute basis, this could cost the industry $3.7 trillion, according to our research.

Incumbent banks need to adopt a foundation oriented toward continuous innovation to keep pace with changing customer preferences. Embracing innovations such as embedded finance is one way that banks can unlock new opportunities and raise new revenue streams.

3 Ways to Drive Radical Efficiency in Business Lending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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