There’s no shortage of widgets, services and partners that your institution could use. But there isn’t a universal metric to decide which ones you should use.
The only way you’ll know is to evaluate, based on your institution’s goals, constraints and appetite for growth. In my career, I’ve worked alongside hundreds of financial institutions, listening deeply and learning how they evaluate vendors and tools. I’d like to share eight questions that can help your institution build the right kind of momentum and avoid distraction. I separate these questions between “tool questions” and “vendor questions” — two areas are closely linked but very distinct.
5 Questions to Find Out if a Tool Is Right for Your Institution
1. Does it raise or lower operational risk?
Becoming a successful banker demands a basic grasp of risk management. But too often, I’ve seen successful bankers underestimate the risk of keeping the status quo and overestimate the risk of doing something new. If your institution has a high chance of subsequent growth that outweighs marginal increases in risk, then you could still lower the bank’s overall risk while increasing revenue.
2. Can it increase efficiency for an existing process?
Despite the glorious speed of computers, most banks still have to use some combination of manual work paired with automation to accomplish certain tasks. Banks commonly maintain their escrow and subaccounts on spreadsheets; every month, one or more team members has to print statements and stuff envelopes. There is higher value work for your commercial bankers to focus on. Ask your staff to flag these types of manual processes and then look for tools to eliminate busywork or tedious compliance tasks.
3. Can it allow the team to develop clients in new industry verticals, or confidently approach existing clients to win more of their business?
Your bank can’t be everything to every client, but you can identify the services or product functions that appeal to high-value industries, such as property management, 1031 exchanges, municipalities and healthcare. Even if your institution has previously passed on certain types of clients, consider if the tool in question could reignite those opportunities.
4. What would it cost in time, effort and lost opportunity to develop a similar tool?
I’m a huge believer in banks pursuing in-house innovation. Your institution is much closer to the problem that needs solving than a tech company that helicopters in without any banking know-how. However, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. If an externally built tool solves the problem without disrupting your momentum, then your choice is much easier.
5. Will it build momentum towards a top objective in the next 1 to 5 years?
It’s hard to project what the market will look like in 5 years, but thinking 1 year at a time is a bit like steering your car by looking at the road immediately in front of you. One way to hedge against volatility is to look for ways to deepen existing relationships with your clients. By adding value and serving more of their needs, you will benefit from their deposits, loans and genuine trust over the short and long haul.
2 Questions to Learn if a Vendor Is Right for Your Institution
6. Is the company committed to solving unsexy, real-world problems, or are they just waving around software as a cure-all for your challenges?
The line dividing these two scenarios can be blurry. Financial technology is unlocking massive opportunities and changing the way banking is done. Your institution will want to determine if you’re considering a partner with a solution in search of a problem or a firm that has wrestled alligators and knows how to get in and out of the swamp safely.
7. Can you get a warm recommendation?
Ask your network for their thoughts. Check in with your favorite banking association. Make some phone calls and find out if a prospective partner’s existing clients are satisfied. You shouldn’t count on the reputation of current clients alone, but it’s an invaluable part of the due diligence process.
Strong banks are built through consistency, integrity and a willingness to adopt new strategies and tactics before it’s too late. My final question is one I think banks should ask before tackling any of the prior seven questions.
1 Question to Discover if Your Institution Is Ready for a New Solution
8. Is your institution cultivating excellence and a growth mindset within each team member?
The best tools, built by the best companies in the world, won’t compensate for sagging morale and persistent risk aversion among your employees. Encourage your team to look for new opportunities, both from a client perspective and from a vendor perspective. The most valuable commercial banking clients need flexibility and creative problem-solving from their banking partners. With the right tools and attitude, your team can build partnerships that outgrow your expectations.