Understanding Customers’ Finances Strengthens Relationships

As the current economy shifts and evolves in response to inflationary pressures, and consumer debt increases, banks may encounter an influx of customers who are accruing late charges, overdue accounts and delinquencies for the first time in nearly a decade.

Banks have not been accustomed to seeing this level of volume in their collections and recovery departments since the Great Recession and have not worked with so many customers in financial stress. To weather these economic conditions, banks should consider automated systems that help manage their collections and recovery departments, as well as guide and advise customers on how to improve their financial health and wellbeing. Technology powered with data insights and automation positions banks to successfully identify potential weakness early and efficiently reduce loan losses, increase revenue, minimize costs and have the data insights needed to help guide customers on their financial journey.

Consumer debt increased $52.4 billion in March, up from the increase of nearly $40 billion the previous month. Financial stress and money concerns are top of mind for many households nationwide. According to a recent survey, 77% of American adults describe themselves as anxious about their financial situation. The cause of the anxiety vary and stem from a wide range of sources, including savings and retirement to affording a house or child’s education, everyday bills and expenses, paying off debt, healthcare costs and more.

While banks traditionally haven’t always played a role in the financial wellness of their customers, they are able to see patterns based on customer data and transactional history. This viewpoint enables them to serve as advisors and help their customers before they encounter a problem or accounts go into delinquency. Banks that help their customers reduce financial stress wind up strengthening the relationship, which can entice those customers into using additional banking services.

Using Data to Understand Customer’s Financial Health
By utilizing data insights, banks can easily identify transaction and deposit patterns, as well as overall expenses. This allows banks to assess their customer risk more efficiently or act on collections based on an individual’s level of risk and ability to pay; it also shows them the true financial health of the customer.

For example, banks can identify consumers in financial distress by analyzing deposit account balance trends, identifying automated deposits that have been reduced or stopped and identify deposit accounts that are closed. Banks can better understand a consumer’s financial health by collecting, analyzing and understanding patterns hidden in the data.

When banks identify potentially stressed customers in advance, it can proactively take steps to assist customers before loans go delinquent and accounts accrue late fees. Some strategies to accommodate customers facing delinquency include offering free credit counseling, short-term or long-term loan term modifications, and restructuring or providing loan payment skip offers. This type of assistance not only benefits the financial institution — it shows customers they are valued, even during tough economic times.

Data enables banks to identify these trends. But they can better understand and utilize the data when they integrate it into the workflow and apply automation, ultimately reducing costs associated with the management of delinquencies, loss mitigation and recoveries and customer relationship management. A number of banks may find that their outdated, manual systems lack the scalability and effectiveness they’ll need to remain competitive or provide the advice and counsel to strengthen customer relationships.

Banks are uniquely positioned to help consumers on their journey to improve their financial situation: They have consumer information, transaction data and trust. Banks should aim to provide encouragement and guidance through financial hardships, regardless of their customers’ situation. Augmenting data analysis with predictive technology and automated workflows better positions banks to not only save money but ensure their customers’ satisfaction.

How Banks Can Benefit From Adopting Automation for Month-End Close

The finance industry is no exception when it comes to the general shift toward automation in daily life.

Automation is a powerful tool that eliminates repetitive manual processes, whether it’s to improving the bottom line by increasing productivity and output or offering better service to bank customers. One area of the business that bank executives and boards should absolutely take full advantage of automation is back-office accounting. Here are some of the top benefits banks can gain from automating the month-end close process.

Perhaps the most immediate benefit of automation for banks is the amount of time they can expect to save. Many bank accounting and finance teams are not closing on a timeline they or their CFOs are satisfied with. The month-end close is not something that can be skipped, which means allocating the time it takes for a full close can encroach into other projects or duties. Executives who have worked as accountants know that if the month-end close is not done on time, stressful days turn into late nights in the office. Automating areas of the close, such as balance sheet reconcilements, can free up time for more high value work such as analysis.

It is not uncommon for bank accounting teams to run lean. Cracks in the month-end close can lead to an overburdened workload, burnout and mistakes. When accountants work under stressful conditions, exhaustion that results in an error can be common. Even one mistake on a spreadsheet can create a material cost for the bank; it’s amazing how the tiniest miscalculation can multiply exponentially. One way to reduce human error is to automate processes with a program that can complete recurrent work using algorithms.

An additional pain banks must consider is compliance: external auditors, regulators and more. Things can start to go downhill if the finance team doesn’t properly generate a paper trail. That’s assuming they have, in fact, properly completed the close and balance sheet reconcilements. When a bank takes shortcuts or makes errors in their accounting, it can result in heavy fines or in extreme cases, even sanctions. In this context, automating the month-end close assumes the ethos of ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.’ Digitizing the month-end close and supporting documents makes it easier to locate important data points and lessens the potential for discrepancies in the first place.

Lastly, accounting automation can help minimize a bank’s fraud risk. Fraud can go undetected for a long time when banks don’t perform due diligence during the month-end close. Reconciling accounts every month will make it easier to spot any red flags.

Companies that take advantage of available, advanced technology available have more chances to keep up with the ever-shifting business landscape. Bank accounting teams can benefit hugely by automating month-end close.

Where Banks Can Find Tech Talent

Even as the labor market cools, the need for tech talent remains particularly acute. The problem for banks is that they compete not just with other banks, credit unions and financial technology companies for data scientists, software engineers and product designers. 

“The reality is, when we start talking about engineers, designers, product individuals, every company on the face of the planet is hiring those types of talents,” says Nathan Meyer, head of innovation strategy at $545 billion Truist Financial Corp. 

That’s why Meyer and several other bankers are turning to the Georgia Fintech Academy, a unique program that trains college students across the University System of Georgia for technology jobs in financial services. Students in 26 institutions such as Georgia State, Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State, totaling 340,638 enrolled as of fall 2021, can work toward a certificate in financial services from a mix of nine undergrad courses and six graduate level courses. They might be majoring in computer science or business and taking those classes as electives. To complete the certification work, they need to finish three classes and complete an internship. The goal of the program is to help students find jobs in financial technology with employers across the nation. 

Normally, Generation Z students don’t gravitate to a career at Truist, BankSouth in Greensboro, Georgia, or Ally Financial, all of which are involved in the program, says Tommy Marshall, executive director of the Georgia Fintech Academy. Nor have they heard of the fintechs that have used the program, such as core providers FIS, Fiserv, or U.S. Bancorp’s payment processor Elavon. “If you say Square or CashApp, they’ll say yes, or Venmo, they’re there,” he says. 

Banks could improve their message to attract college students, says Meyer. “We’ve just started to do a better job around telling the story of banking, and helping students understand why it’s important,” he says. 

And the need is great. Marshall estimates that bigger banks are hiring 800 to 1,000 people from college campuses every year for technology jobs. Meyer says that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Truist needs to hire hundreds of software engineers annually and adds that even the business side of banking needs people who have an understanding of technology, as well as people who can articulate the technology needs to upper management. 

And it’s not just big banks that are hiring. Even community banks are looking for tech talent as they transform digitally. Kim Kirk, the chief operations officer for $2 billion Queensborough National Bank & Trust Co. in Louisville, Georgia, is looking for application program management and business intelligence folks. When she started working at the bank more than six years ago, a lot more employees performed mundane, clerical tasks. The bank’s business intelligence director now focuses on getting a better handle on customer information across the different departments and visualizing that data. “The talent you need is quite a bit different than what you needed maybe even five years ago,” Kirk says. 

This fall, she hopes to work with Fintech Academy students on a way to use predictive analytics to foresee when a customer is going to close an account. “We really need a way to be able to get a 360-degree view of our customers,” she says. 

Meyer, meanwhile, was interested to the program as a way to recruit racially and ethnically diverse prospects to Truist, so the bank’s employee base looks like the communities it serves. Truist has its heaviest branch concentration in the Southeast, following the consolidation of SunTrust Banks and BB&T Corp. in 2019, but it also crawls up the Eastern Seaboard into Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Marshall estimates that 71% of the students in the Fintech Academy belong to minority racial or ethnic groups and a third are women, due to the nature of the schools inside the Georgia university system. In its three years of operation, the Georgia Fintech Academy has placed 1,600 students in internships or jobs.

Although Marshall says other universities offer certificates in fintech, they’re mostly associated with graduate degrees or executive-level education, and won’t nearly meet the demand for talent. Outside of Georgia, the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship in London has noncredit courses, and Duke University, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University all have programs. 

“There’s no other school system in the United States of America doing anything like what we’re doing now,” asserts Marshall.

Bank Director magazine’s third quarter 2022 issue has an additional article for subscribers on what banks are doing to attract and retain technology talent. 

Using Embedded Finance to Grow Customers, Loans

Embedded finance is all around us, whether you know it or not.

Embedded finance is a type of transaction that a customer conducts without even realizing it — without any disruptions to their customer experience. Companies like Uber Technologies, Amazon.com, and Apple all leverage embedded finance in innovative ways to create impactful customer engagements. Today’s consumers are increasingly used to using embedded financial products to pay for a ride, buy large items and fill in cash-flow gaps.

But the explosion of embedded finance means that financial transactions that used to be the main focus of customer experiences are moving into the background in favor of more intuitive transactions. This is the whole point of embedded lending: creating a seamless customer experience centered around ease-of use, convenience and efficiency to enable other non-financial experiences.

Embedded lending extends embedded finance a step further. Embedded lending’s invisibility occurs through contextual placements within a product or platform that small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) already use and trust. Because of embedded experiences, SMBs can get easier, faster access to capital.

All of this could put banks at a disadvantage when it comes to increasing their reach and identifying more and more qualified, high-intent SMBs seeking capital. But banks still have compelling options to capitalize on this innovative trend, such as:

  • Joining embedded lending marketplaces. Banks can capitalize on embedded lending’s ability to open up new distribution channels across their product lines. Banks can not only protect their services but grow core products, like payments and loans, by finding distribution opportunities through embedded lending partners that match businesses looking for credit products and lenders on a marketplace.

Banks can take advantage of this strategy and generate sustained growth by using platforms, like Lendflow, that bring untapped distribution opportunities into the fold. This allows them to easily reach qualified, high-intent businesses seeking capital. Even better, their applications for credit occur at their point of need, which increases the likelihood they’ll qualify and accept the loan.

  • Doubling down on traditional distribution channels. Another viable growth strategy for banks is to double down on providing better financial services and advice through traditional channels. Banks possess the inherent advantage of being in a position to not only supply products and services, but also provide ongoing advice as a trusted financial partner. Incorporating additional data points, such as payroll and cash flow data or social scoring, into their underwriting processes allows banks to leverage their unique position to develop more personalized products, improve customer experience and better support customers.

Embedded lending platforms can aggregate and normalize traditional and alternative data to help banks improve their credit decisioning workflows and innovate their underwriting processes.

  • Reverse engineering on digital banking platforms. Banks can replicate this approach by embedding fintech products into their existing mobile app or digital banking platforms. Consider a bank that decides to provide shopping access through their online portals. In a case like this, a customer may apply for a car loan through the digital bank portal. The bank can then connect that customer to a local car dealership with whom they have a partnership — and potentially maintain revenue share arrangements with — to complete the transaction.

Lenders’ Crossroads Choice
Embedded finance’s effective invisibility of its services and products poses the biggest threat — or opportunity — to banks and traditional lenders. The convenience and ease of access of embedded financial products through platforms that customers already know and trust is an ongoing challenge traditional financial services providers. Yet embedded lending doesn’t have to be a threat for banks. Instead, banks should think of embedded lending as an opportunity to innovate their product lines and expand their reach to identify underserved small and medium-sized businesses in highly profitable industries.

Embedded lending opens a new world of underwriting possibilities because it relies on smarter data use. Platforms can pull data from multiple third-party sources, so lenders can efficiently determine whether or not a customer is qualified. With better data and smarter data use, fewer qualified customers get turned away, saving lenders time, cutting down underwriting costs and increasing conversion rates.

The Easiest Way to Launch a Digital Bank

New fintechs are forcing traditional financial institutions to acclimatize to a modern banking environment. Some banks are gearing up to allow these fintechs to hitchhike on their existing bank charters by providing application programming interfaces (APIs) for payments, deposits, compliance and more. Others are launching their own digital brands using their existing licenses.

Either way, the determining factor of the ultimate digital experience for users and consumers is the underlying technology infrastructure. While banks can spawn digital editions from their legacy cores through limited APIs and cobbled-up middleware, the key questions for their future relevance and resilience remain unanswered:

  1. Can traditional banks offer the programmability needed to launch bespoke products and services?
  2. Can they compose products on the fly and offer the speed to market?
  3. Can they remove friction and offer a sleek end-to-end experience?
  4. Can they meet the modern API requirements that developers and fintechs demand from banks?

If the core providers and middleware can’t help, what can banks use to launch a digital bank? The perfect springboard for launching a digital bank may lie in the operating system.

Removing friction at every touchpoint is the overarching theme around most innovation. So when it comes to innovation, why do banks start with the core, which is often the point in their system with the least amount of flexibility and the most friction?

When it comes to launching a digital bank, the perfect place for an institution to start is an operating system that is exclusively designed for composability — that they can build configurable components to create products and services — and the rapid launch of banking products. Built-in engines, or engines that can take care of workflows based on business rules, in the operating system can expedite the launch of financial services products, while APIs and software development kits open up the possibility for custom development and embedded banking.

That means banks can create products designed for the next generation of consumers or for niche communities through the “composability” or “programmability” offered by these operating systems. This can include teen accounts, instant payments for small and medium-sized business customers that can improve their cash flow, foreign exchange for corporate customers with international presence, domestic and international payments to business customers, tailored digital banking experiences; whatever the product, banks can easily compose and create on the fly. What’s more, they also have granular control to customize and control the underlying processes using powerful workflow engines. The operating system also provides access to centralized services like compliance, audit, notifications and reporting that different departments across the bank can access, improving operational efficiency.

Menu-based innovation through operating systems
The rich assortment of microservices apps offered in operating systems can help banks to launch different applications and features like FedNow, RTP and banking as a service(BaaS) on the fly. The process is simple.

The bank fills up a form with basic information and exercises its choice from a menu of microapps compiled for bankers and customers. The menu includes the payment rails and networks the bank needs — ACH, Fedwire, RTP, Swift — along with additional options like foreign exchange, compliance, onboarding and customer experiences like bulk and international payments, to name a few.

The bank submits the form and receives notification that its digital bank has been set up on a modern, scalable and robust cloud infrastructure. The institution also benefits from an array of in-built features like audit, workflows, customer relationship management, administration, dashboards, fees and much more.

Setting up the payment infrastructure for a digital bank can be as easy as ordering a pizza:

  1. Pick from the menu of apps.
  2. Get your new digital brand setup in 10 minutes.
  3. Train employees to use the apps.
  4. Launch banking products to customers.
  5. Onboard fintech partners through For-Benefit-Of Accounts (FBO)/virtual accounts.
  6. Offer APIs to provide banking as a service without the need for middleware.

The pandemic has given new shape and form to financial services; banks need the programmability to play with modular elements offered on powerful operating systems that serve as the bedrock of innovation.

Identifying Customer Needs, Sans Small Talk

For such a seemingly trivial aspect of social gathering, small talk has provided significant economic value to banks over the years.

Transactions allowed bank staff to interact with customers and to learn about their lives, anticipate their needs, provide information or a listening ear, or to offer a well-timed referral to a personal banker or loan officer. Even when those conversations didn’t result in new business, they still cultivated a relationship and trust.

Consumers Stop Conversing
The pandemic hastened what was already a longtime trend: Consumers want a bank with a branch nearby, but most prefer not to visit that nearby branch unless they must.

In 2020, the cohort of customers who still preferred the branch received a new incentive to begin using their bank’s mobile app — safety. Branch sign-up lists and capacity caps only made using a branch that much more inconvenient. Although some customers have returned to visiting the branches, the pendulum shifted for many who are now acclimatized to digital banking.

Customers now also clearly prefer to do digital research on banking products, according to 600 banking customers polled by Total Expert.
They say they’re nearly twice as likely to search for a lender online versus contacting a lender directly. They are four times more likely to search online rather than ask a real estate agent for a referral for a mortgage lender. And they go to their financial institution’s website first when they have a new financial need.

Web activity, however, is not a two-way conversation. Unlike a teller who can ask follow-up questions, interpret customer responses and make referrals to a personal banker or mortgage loan officer, knowing what customers need depends on their activity: applying, initiating a chat, filling out a form or contacting a banker. Customers are increasingly “going dark” on small talk; where they do show interest, the bank must wait for them. Bank leaders should be wondering how to revive two-way, active conversations.

But where to start? Consumers can sense sales quotas in a branch. And they can’t be forced to fill out a form on a website any more than they can be forced to volunteer their financial needs. Banks must look to another way of conversing: data.

Data as Conversation Starter
Customers volunteer opportunities to serve them every day through their data. As account holders and borrowers, they provide significant information to their bank in exchange for financial services.

Understanding and using this data, though, has long seemed too intricate for local, community-focused banks. Advances in technology have changed that; using data to inform and to initiate customer engagement is far more attainable than ever before. Banks are moving back into active engagement because data allows them to intuit needs not vocalized by customers.

For example, every bank has an address for their retail depositors’ home. But when does that matter? It’s central to selling a home; when a customer’s home goes up for sale, the address is listed on a Multiple Listing Service (MLS), and it sends a signal to their bank. Customers selling a home often buy a new one, or they need to safely invest the proceeds of the sale. The MLS listing is the customer vocalizing a set of possible needs. Once a bank catches that signal, technology can allow staff to advise, interpret, engage or refer, depending on the bank’s strategy.

Even outside of mortgages, knowing a customer is selling a home can be both a revenue and relationship opportunity. The National Association of Home Builders found that customers are more than 2.5 times more likely to make large purchases within a year of buying a new home — items like appliances, furniture and home improvements — compared to consumers who did not. Would these customers appreciate savings through credit card rewards? Do they want to use their equity to buy appliances? Were they waiting until their new mortgage closed to purchase a commuter car? Even simple, widely available data points can become the basis for highly engaging and productive interactions between a bank and its customers.

Eighty-four percent of Americans report stress about their finances, according to a recent ValuePenguin survey; bank customers want help reaching their financial goals. Banks may not be able to stop the decline in small talk, but they can revive and even surpass it with new tools made for banking. There are so many more opportunities for banks to use their data to anticipate needs and to engage customers about their desired outcomes. The upside is lifelong loyalty within each customer relationship.

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.

Digitizing Documentation: The Missed Opportunity in Banking

To keep up in an increasingly competitive world, banks have embraced the need for digital transformation, upgrading their technology stacks to automate processes and harness data to help them grow and find operational efficiencies.

However, while today’s community and regional banks are increasingly making the move to digital, their documentation and contracting are still often overlooked in this transformation – and left behind. This “forgotten transformation” means their documentation remains analog, which means their processes also remain analog, increasing costs, time, data errors and risk.

What’s more, documentation is the key that drives the back-office operations for all banks. Everything from relationship management to maintenance updates and new business proposals rely on documents. This is especially true for onboarding new clients.

The Challenges of Onboarding
Onboarding has been a major focus of digital transformation efforts for many banks. While account opening has become more accessible, it also arguably requires more customer effort than ever. These pain points are often tied back to documentation: requesting multiple forms of ID or the plethora of financial details needed for background verification and compliance. This creates friction at the first, and most important, interaction with a new customer.

While evolving regulatory concerns in areas such as Know-Your-Customer rules as well as Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering compliance have helped lower banks’ risks, it often comes at the expense of the customer experience. Slow and burdensome processes can frustrate customers who are accustomed to smoother experiences in other aspects of their digital lives.

The truth is that a customer’s perception of the effort required to work with a bank is a big predictor of loyalty. Ensuring customers have a quick, seamless onboarding experience is critical to building a strong relationship from the start, and better documentation plays a key role in better onboarding.

An additional challenge for many banks is that employees see onboarding and its associated documentation as a time consuming and complicated process from an operations perspective. It can take days or even weeks to onboard a new retail customer and for business accounts it can be much worse; a Deloitte report suggests it can take some banks up to 16 weeks to onboard a new commercial customer. Most often, the main problems in onboarding stem from backend processes that are manual when it comes to documentation, still being largely comprised of emails, word documents and repositories that sit in unrelated silos across an organization, collecting numerous, often redundant, pieces of data.

While all data can be important, better onboarding requires more collaboration and transparency between banks and their customers. This means banks should be more thoughtful in their approach to onboarding, ensuring they are using data from their core to the fullest to reduce redundant and manual processes and to make the overall process more streamlined. The goal is to maximize the speed for the customer while minimizing the risk for the bank.

Better Banking Through Better Documentation
Many banks do not see documentation as a data issue. However, by taking a data-driven approach, one that uses data from the core and feed backs into it, banks transform documents into data and, in turn, into an opportunity. Onboarding documents become a key component of the bank’s overall, end-to-end digital chain. This can have major impacts for banks’ operational efficiencies as well as bottom lines. In addition to faster onboarding to help build stronger customer relationships, a better documentation process means better structured data, which can offer significant competitive advantages in a crowded market.

When it comes to documentation capabilities, flexibility is key. This can be especially true for commercial customers. An adaptable solution can feel less “off the shelf” and provide the flexibility to meet individual client needs, while giving a great customer experience and maintaining regulatory guidelines. This can also provide community bankers with the ability to focus on what they do best, building relationships and providing value to their customers, rather than manually gathering and building documents.

While digitizing the documents is critical, it is in many ways the first step to a better overall process. Banks must also be able to effectively leverage this digitized data, getting it to the core, and having it work with other data sources.

Digital transformation has become an imperative for most community banks, but documentation continues to be overlooked entirely in these projects. Even discounting the operational impacts, documents ultimately represent the two most important “Rs” for banks – relationships and revenue, which are inextricably tied. By changing how they approach and treat client documentation, banks can be much more effective in not only the customer onboarding process, but also in responding to those customer needs moving forward, strengthening those relationships and driving revenue now and in the future.