Banking’s Netflix Problem

On April 19, Netflix reported its first loss in subscribers — 200,000 in the first quarter, with 2 million projected for the second — resulting in a steep decline in its stock price, as well as layoffs and budget cuts. Why the drop? Although the company blames consumers sharing passwords with each other, the legacy streamer also faces increased competition such as HBO Max and Disney Plus. That also creates more choice for the 85% of U.S. households that use a streaming service, according to the U.K. brand consulting firm Kantar. The average household subscribes to 4.7 of them.

Our financial lives are just as complicated — and there’s a lot more at stake when it comes to managing our money. A 2021 survey conducted by Plaid found that 88% of Americans use digital services to help manage their money, representing a 30-point increase from 2020. Americans use a lot of financial apps, and the majority want their bank to connect to these providers. Baby boomers use an average of 2.6 of these apps, which include digital banking and lending, payments, investments, budgeting and financial management. Gen Z consumers average 4.6 financial apps.

“Banks can be material to simplifying the complexity that’s causing everybody to struggle and not have clarity on their financial picture,” said Lee Wetherington, senior director of corporate strategy at the core provider Jack Henry & Associates. He described this fractured competitive landscape as “financial fragmentation,” which formed the focus of his presentation at Experience FinXTech, a tech-focused event that took place May 5 and 6 in Austin, Texas. Successful banks will figure out how to make their app the central hub for their customers, he said in an interview conducted in advance of the conference. “This is where I see the opportunity for community financial institutions to lever open banking rails to bring [those relationships] back home.”

During the event, Wetherington revealed results from a new Jack Henry survey finding that more than 90% of community financial institutions plan to embed fintech — integrating innovative, third-party products and services into banks’ own product offerings and processes — over the next two years.

Put simply, open banking acknowledges today’s fractured banking ecosystem and leverages application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow different applications or systems to exchange data.

Chad Davison, director of client solutions consulting at Fiserv, creates “balance sheet leakage” reports to inform his strategic discussions with bank executives. “We’ve been trying to understand from an organization perspective where the dollars are leaving the bank,” said Davison in a pre-conference interview. Some of these dollars are going to other financial providers outside the bank, including cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinbase Global and investment platforms like Robinhood Markets. This awareness of where customer dollars are going could provide insights on the products and services the bank could offer to keep those deposits in the organization. “[Banks] have to partner and integrate with someone to keep those dollars in house,” said Davison, in advance of a panel discussion focused on technology investment at the Experience FinXTech event.

Increasingly, core providers — which banks rely on to fuel their technological capabilities — are working to provide more choice for their bank clients. Fiserv launched a developer studio in late 2021 to let developers from fintechs and financial institutions access multiple APIs from a single location, said Davison, and recently launched an app market where financial institutions can access solutions. “We want to allow the simple, easy connectivity that our clients are looking for,” he said. “We’re excited about the next evolution of open banking.”

Jack Henry has also responded to its clients’ demand for an open banking ecosystem. Around 850 fintechs and third parties use APIs to integrate with Jack Henry, said Wetherington, who doesn’t view these providers as competitive threats. “It’s a flywheel,” he said. “Competitors actually add value to our ecosystem, and they add value for all the other players in the ecosystem.” That gives banks the choice to partner and integrate with the fintechs that will deliver value to the bank and its customers.

As fractured as the financial landscape may be today for consumers, bank leaders may feel similarly overwhelmed by the number of technologies available for their bank to adopt. In response, bank leaders should rethink their strategy and business opportunities, and then identify “the different fintech partners to help them drive strategy around that,” said Benjamin Wallace, CEO at Summit Technology Group. Wallace joined Davison on the panel at Experience FinXTech and was interviewed before the conference.

The Federal Reserve published a resource guide for partnering with fintech providers in September 2021, and found three broad areas of technology adoption: operational technology to improve back-end processes and infrastructure; customer-oriented partnerships to enhance interactions and experiences with the bank; and front-end fintech partnerships where the provider interacts directly with the customer — otherwise known as banking as a service (BaaS) relationships.

Banks will need to rely on their competitive strengths, honing niches in key areas, Wallace believes. That could be anything from building a BaaS franchise or a niche lending vertical like equipment finance. “Community-oriented banks that do everything for everyone, it’s really difficult to do” because of the competition coming from a handful of large institutions. “Picking a couple of verticals that you can be uniquely good at, and orient[ing] a strategy and then a tech plan and then a team around it — I think that’s always going to be a winning recipe.”

Improving Workflow Saves Time and Money


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Progressive banks add new features and functionalities on a regular basis. Most can attest to a long technology wish list, but bankers and their technology partners must be careful not to lose sight of what’s most important: the employee and customer experience. The multitude of disparate departments, systems and protocols that drive banks can be intricately interwoven and inherently inefficient. Standard workflows can involve the shuffling of paper and manual data entry, passing responsibility back and forth between numerous divisions with a general lack of ownership that creates longer turnaround and service times.

In an environment where bankers are regularly challenged to do more with less, improving workflows can be a goldmine for process efficiencies, regaining resources and creating an optimal user experience. Too often, banks just continue to hire staff to run redundant, menial processes, which only serves to put a band aid on the problem while still absorbing an inordinate amount of time and resources. The problem compounds as banks grow larger in size and are faced with scaling and combining already burdensome procedures.

Banks and vendors alike must consider new approaches to how they’ve done things in the past and address these inefficiencies. Most procedures that involve multiple steps, departments and systems can be streamlined into a simpler, expedited process. Think about the implications here: streamlining and automating the viewing, refiling, printing and indexing of documents for a bank with approximately 40,000 actions each month would save employees dozens of work hours a month, translating into tens of thousands of dollars in annual cost savings.

There are many practices banks can easily adapt for efficiency gains. The first step is to evaluate current processes with a careful eye for redundancies and bottlenecks. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, so begin by identifying the problems and determining their cause. During this step, it’s important to consult employees from all areas of the bank to gain sight of the bigger picture.

Next, prioritize where to focus first. Starting with a few targeted projects will give you a firm understanding of how to create and implement proper workflows, straightening out any kinks and asking any questions before tackling larger and more numerous projects. Workflows can be applied to nearly every area of banking, so it’s important to have a strategy in place or it may become overwhelming.

The Bank of Missouri, headquartered in Perryville, Missouri, recently teamed with Jack Henry Banking, its core technology provider, to transform its internal processes with a workflow solution. The bank recently surpassed $1.3 billion in assets in just six years through both acquisitions and organic growth. Its branch infrastructure also increased from 13 to 23 (soon to be 26) locations. This growth and merger of cultures came with some inevitable growing pains, most notably the need to standardize processes and optimize efficiency.

The Bank of Missouri worked closely with Jack Henry to automate arduous multi-step processes, both internal and customer facing. Its goal was to significantly improve its efficiency ratio and make a positive contribution to the bottom line by creating consistent, cost effective processes that reduce operational risk and unnecessary expense.

After taking the time to learn how to identify problem areas and create appropriate workflow solutions, The Bank of Missouri now has 17 workflows in production, enabling it to eliminate redundant data entry, boost visibility and streamline processes across several areas of the institution, including HR, IT, deposit operations, loans, retail and more.

An example of the bank’s success is how it transformed the deposit fee refund process. Front office staff had to print, manually fill out and scan documents before the reversal process was performed by back office staff who also imaged and indexed the document, consuming a large amount of time and manual effort. With its workflow solution, multiple steps and searches are now automated and approved. This workflow alone is currently saving the bank approximately 54 hours and $1,000 per month, yielding an annual savings of $12,000.

In addition to creating unrealized efficiencies, leveraging a workflow solution can also allow banks to channel resources that were previously spent on burdensome tasks into more strategic and customer facing activities. When bank employees are empowered to add and cultivate skillsets, they’re more likely to feel valued and stay with their institution longer. Returns such as this can prove to be indispensable for any well run financial institution.

Dedicating just a small portion of resources to improving the back office can make a monumental impact. If the only reason for your processes is history, they may be outdated. Revamping workflows to streamline procedures and optimize efficiency is an integral component of any modern and progressive bank.

Chris Congiardo, systems analyst manager for The Bank of Missouri, is theco-author of this piece.

How Fintech is Improving Back Office Efficiency


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The fintech revolution has had a dramatic impact on the financial services industry. From digital wealth management (robo advisors) to automated payment systems, a variety of disruptive technologies have made their mark on the sector. For banks, the rapid development of financial technology poses the threat of losing business to competitors that are quicker to reap the benefits of automating their operations—whether those competitors are other banks that have purchased or partnered with fintech startups, or the fintech startups themselves.

Automating back office processes offers banks a host of benefits: reduced costs, quicker customer response and easier record keeping for compliance purposes. Given the substantial advantages innovative technologies offer in this regard, a wide variety of bank processes are subject to disruption or enhancement through the use of financial technology. An article by sector expert Naresh Kirpalani lays out some of the most notable areas to watch for fintech innovation in 2016, including:

  • Further development of the blockchain as a crucial technology in several key segments of banking infrastructure.
  • Payments as an area subject to further technology disruption and intense competition.
  • Robotic process automation as a means of dealing with processes related to risk and regulatory issues.
  • Accelerated innovation at banks and a focus on taking aggressive steps to outsource legacy IT applications and replace them with interfaced applications using APIs.

Other areas that have seen increasing focus by banks attempting to add efficiencies to their back office processes include automated decisioning solutions and digital signing.

In the United States, fintech upstarts—while pushing banks and other financial institutions to evolve with new technology—have not (or at least yet) massively disrupted their businesses. This may be at least partly due to the readiness that some banks have shown to purchase promising fintech startups, preventing them from posing a long-term threat to the bank’s business.

A market worthy of the U.S. banking industry’s attention in this regard is payment processing in China, where three nonbank players now dominate the sector. The same article cites a Citigroup report that questions whether banks in the U.S. and Europe can take advantage of innovation before fintech firms gain the scale and distribution needed to disrupt them. The study expects increased technology adoption at banks to result in a decline of 40 percent to 50 percent in headcount as they make cuts in their branch networks. “Branches and associated staff costs make up about 65 percent of the total retail cost base of a larger bank,” the report stated. It further noted that automation could help remove “a lot of these costs.”

When it comes to payments, U.S. banks have adapted by offering their customers the ability to pay bills online as one method of accommodating the demands of the Internet age. Nevertheless, the success of digital payments firm PayPal and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin shows that this is a market ripe for disruption. As a result, it is no surprise to find that a number of banks have announced that they are working with or investing in blockchain technology to develop their own next generation payment systems. Along these lines, global investment bank Goldman Sachs, private equity firm Bain Capital and MasterCard have invested in firms using the blockchain technology for applications dealing with the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

In another major development in the field, IBM announced recently that it has finished a pilot project in conjunction with China UnionPay, a Chinese credit card company, to help share loyalty bonus points between banks via the use of blockchain technology. The system the two firms has developed is designed to allow consumers around the world to swap bonus points from their banks, enabling them to choose the rewards they desire. In the United Kingdom, Barclays is the first bank there to partner with a virtual currency company, Circle, which uses blockchain technology to aid its goal of building a template for borderless currency.

Workflow automation is another innovative process attracting interest from banks looking to use technology to improve their operational efficiency. The attraction of the technology for many banks is the ability of these types of solutions to eliminate paper as much as possible and improve the productivity of their overall operations. A study on the benefits of automated workflow solutions revealed that the majority of the institutions queried believed that the ability to increase approval and routing speed was the most significant benefit associated with an electronic routing system.

Thirty-one percent of the banks and financial institutions included in the survey indicated they “desperately needed” a system that was more automated so they could close more loans. One respondent bemoaned the difficulties caused by combining paper documents with a mostly paperless process, as the lack of electronic signature functionality caused the need for a paper signature form, which at times would get lost.

These concerns have led to the spread of digital signing technology, which has allowed banks to improve the efficiency of their back office processes. With the passage of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, and the adoption of electronic signatures by leading banks such as JP Morgan Chase & Co. and the Royal Bank of Canada, the practice has spread widely among banking institutions.

In addition to enhancing efficiency by speeding up account origination and other basic tasks, digital signing allows retail bank employees to access customer records more easily, improving their ability to interact with and service customers when they visit a branch. In an article about the process, JP Morgan Chase’s Alan Varrasso was quoted as saying of e-signatures: “This has changed the way we open accounts, manage workflow and provide checks and balances and controls.”

The ultimate result of the fintech revolution for banks in North America and Europe is as of yet unknown. Will banks be able to adopt cost-cutting and customer-friendly technology rapidly enough to stave off upstart fintech competitors? Or will banking as we know it be disrupted as other industries have been by technological innovation? A bit of both may be the most likely answer. In any case, what can be said is that the technological innovation unleashed by fintech startups has already had major effects on bank operations—and there is likely still more to come as the automated processes introduced by innovators in the sector continue to work their way through the operational infrastructure of banks both large and small.