Blockchain: What It Is and How It Works

Quickly:

  • Many speculate that blockchain could turn out to be one of the most revolutionary technologies ever developed.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

WASHINGTON, DC — J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, recently threw some big time shade at bitcoin.  However, as the Wall Street Journal shared this morning, he’s “still enamored with the technology that underpins it and other virtual currencies.”  For those wondering about where and why blockchain might revolutionize the business of banking, take a look at our just-released Q4 issue of Bank Director Magazine.  We dedicated our cover story to “Understanding Blockchain,” and this post teases out some of the key concepts bank executives and board members might focus in on.  Authored by John Engen, the full piece can be found, for free, here.  As you’ll read, the article covers three major points:

What is Blockchain

If you’re on the board of a typical U.S. bank, odds are that you don’t know much about blockchain, or distributed ledgers, except that there’s a heavy buzz around the space—and a lot of big bets being made. As John Engen wrote, being a know-nothing might be fine for now, but going forward could be untenable.

At its most basic, blockchain is a digital-ledger technology that allows market participants, including banks, to transfer assets across the internet quickly and without a centralized third party.

Some describe it as the next, inevitable step in the evolution of the internet; a structure to help confront concerns about security, trust and complexity that have emerged from a technology that has opened the world to sharing information.  To others, it looks more like business-process improvement software—a way to improve transparency, speed up transaction times and eliminate billions of dollars in expenses that markets pay to reconcile things like credit default swaps, corporate syndicated debt and other high-volume assets.

Where are things heading

“Trying to guess how blockchain is going to affect us in the next 20 years is kind of like standing in 1995 and trying to imagine mobile-banking technology,” said Amber Baldet, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s blockchain program leader, in an online interview. “I’m sure the ultimate applications are things we can’t even imagine right now.”

For now, the space certainly has the feel of the 1990s internet, with hundreds of startups and billions of investment dollars chasing distributed-ledger initiatives.  Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., a big blockchain supporter, estimates that 90 percent of “major” banks in the world—mostly those with trading, securities, payments, correspondent banking and trade finance operations—are experimenting with blockchain in some way.

Collaboration is the current buzzword

Most large banks are involved in consortiums with names like Ripple, Hyperledger, R3 and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.  Smaller banks are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.  For all the promise of speed and efficiency, blockchain’s real power lies in its transparency, which makes data both trackable and immutable.  Ultimately, blockchain could usher in new business models, which require different ways of thinking.

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For members of a bank’s board, we created this “Blockchain 101” video.  In it, I touch on the potential application of blockchain in terms of digital identities, digital banking and cross-border payments.  In addition, the ten minute video surfaces key concepts and business ideas that remain material to many today.

*This video is just one of the offerings found in our Bank Services program designed to help board members and senior executives develop strategies to help their bank grow, while demonstrating excellence in corporate governance that shareholders and customers deserve and today’s regulators demand.

Bank CEOs and Their Boards Can Lay Claim to These 5 Technologies

Quickly:

▪ Regional and community banks continue to lay claim to innovative technologies that attract new customers, enhance retention efforts, improve efficiencies, cut costs and bolster security.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

ATLANTA — The digital distribution of financial goods and services is a HUGE issue for bank executives and their boards.  Margins on banking products continue to decline due to increased competition.  In my opinion, this provides ample incentivize for banks to seek partnerships with specialized product and service providers.

I shared this thought earlier today at Bank Director’s annual Bank Board Training Forum. During my remarks to an audience of 203 officers and directors (representing 84 financial institutions), I laid out five potential area of collaboration that community bank CEOs and their boards might spend more time discussing:

1. New core technologies;
2. Machine learning / Artificial intelligence applications;
3. RegTech;
4. Payments; and
5. White labeling product offerings.

I elaborated on why I think our audience needs to explore each area before expanding on how banks might take steps to incorporate such technologies into their culture and business.  I wrapped up by providing examples of companies in each space that attendees might learn more about.

For instance, when it comes to the core technological systems offered by Fiserv, Jack Henry and FIS, many banks are investing in “integration layers” to bridge the needs of client‐facing systems with their core system. While these layers have proven valuable, banks are also aware of the need to migrate away from legacy cores should the flexibility they desire not come from these companies.  Hence the advent of companies like Finxact, a cloud banking platform promising to be the most transparent and open core banking system available.

In terms of machine learning and artificial intelligence, I see five potential use cases for banks to consider: smarter customer acquisition, better Know-Your-Customer efforts, improved customer service, smarter and faster account openings and the ability to offer more competitive loans.  Here, I am impressed with the work being done by companies like Kasisto, whose conversational AI platform is pre-loaded with thousands of banking intents and millions of banking sentences.  It promises to fulfill requests, solve problems, predict customers’ needs and improve performance on its own using sophisticated machine learning.

Given the cost and complexity of compliance, RegTech offerings promise to simplify fraud prevention and detection, improve the interpretation of regulation while accelerating reporting functions.  Further, RegTech companies held simplify data access, storage and management while strengthening risk management efforts.  There are quite a few companies in this fast-growing space that I highlighted.  One is Fortress Risk Management, a company whose advanced analytics predict and detect financial crime while its tool enable efficient case management, dispute management, reporting and regulatory compliance.

With respect to payments, our rapidly changing and oh-so-interconnected markets of debit, credit, mobile, prepaid and digital payments proves both a blessing and a potential curse for traditional institutions. As we move toward a cashless society and payments become less visible, banks need to maximize their opportunities to become the default payment method, and keep abreast of innovations in credit scoring, faster payments, analytics, security and fraud detection.  Case-in-point, BluePay delivers non-interest income to banks of all sizes by aggregating customer data coupled with the latest merchant processing technology.

Finally, white label product offerings are nothing new.  However, technology companies like SimplyCredit and StrategyCorps continue to help banks reshape and rethink customer engagement, setting new and higher bars for their’s clients’ experiences.  For banks seeking innovations like rapid loan adjudication, partnering with technology providers like these enables a bank to keep pace with the customer experience expectations set by large technology firms.

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If you weren’t able to join us in Atlanta and are curious about today’s featured image, here is a link to the pdf: 2017 Bank Board Training Presentation (Tech-focused). As I shared, New Zealand’s All Blacks are the world’s most successful sporting outfit, undefeated in over 75% of their international rugby matches over the last 100 years.  Their willingness to change their game (and their culture) when they were at the top of their game inspired me — and allowed me to challenge our attendees to think if they are willing to do the same with their banks.  I’m also inspired by my colleagues who helped develop this year’s program. From our conference team to editorial group, marketing to data departments, I’m proud to work with a great group dedicated to the idea that a strong board makes contributes to a strong bank.

The Paths High Performing Banks Take to Growth and Innovation

Quickly:

  • I’m in Utah at the Montage Deer Valley for the second day of the Association for Financial Technology’s Fall Summit.
  • This afternoon, I shared my thoughts on the pace of change impacting banks as part of AFT’s Fintech Leadership Industry Update.

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps — parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech

PARK CITY — For those that attended Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference this January, you may recall slides illustrating the consolidating nature of the banking industry over the past 25 years.  This decrease in the number of banks is the result of several major factors; most notably, changing banking laws, changing technologies, changing economics and changing consumer behaviors.

Given the audience we share information with (e.g. bank CEOs and their leadership teams), I continue to hear talk about steady, albeit slow, loan growth, some margin improvement and a continued emphasis on expense control.  However, it is apparent from the outside looking in that many banks still lack the true flexibility to continually innovate in terms of both products and services — and how they are delivered.

This is downright scary when you consider that Amazon’s Lending Service surpassed $3 billion in loans to small businesses since it was launched in 2011.  As I shared in my remarks, Amazon loaned over $1 billion to small businesses in the past twelve months.  Over 20,000 small businesses have received a loan from Amazon and more than 50% of the businesses Amazon loans to end up taking a second loan.  This is a major threat to the established financial community, because if there is one thing community banks and large banks agree on, it is that the small business market is important.  This will not change any time soon, and for community banks in particular, a greater share of the small business market may be their only path to survival.

So what I shared this afternoon were real-world examples of bank CEOs focused on carrying out a long-term growth strategy in creative, yet highly focused, ways.  For instance, several of the banks I referenced are attempting to re-engineer their technology and data infrastructure using modern systems and processes, developed internally and augmented through partnerships with fintech companies.  For instance, I cited a newer partnership between First Horizon’s First Tennessee bank unit and D3 Banking. In addition, I used examples like US Bancorp, PNC and Fifth Third before highlighting five more institutions that range from $10Bn to $50Bn in asset size.

I did so because we are witnessing an intense struggle on the part of financial services providers to harness technology in order to maintain relevance in the lives of their customers.  The eight banks I cited today have different leadership approaches; all, however, are considered high-performers. For those interested, here is a link to my presentation: Bank Director and FinXTech 2017 AFT Presentation.

The caveat to my presentation, remarks and writing: it might appear easy to create a strategic direction to improve efficiency and bolster growth in the years ahead. But many bank executives and their boards are being cautioned to prepare for false starts, unexpected detours and yes, stretches of inactivity — all of which impacts tech companies like those here in Park City at AFT.  Still, a vision without action is a dream; action without vision, a nightmare.  For these banks, strong leadership have set a clear course for their futures.

3 Disruptive Forces Confronting Banks – and How Zelle Might Help

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

“The volume and pace of what’s emerging is amazing. I’ve never seen it before in our industry.”

These words, spoken about technology driving an unprecedented pace of change across our financial landscape, came from Greg Carmichael, today’s keynote speaker at Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference.  Greg serves as president and CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp, a diversified financial services company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The company has $142 billion in assets, approximately 18,000 employees, operates 1,191 retail-banking centers in 10 states and has a commercial and consumer lending presence throughout the U.S.

Fifth Third Bancorp’s four main businesses are commercial banking, branch banking, consumer lending and wealth and asset management.  Given this focus, Greg’s remarks addressed how, where and why technology continues to impact the way banks like his operate.  Thinking about his perspective on the digitization of the customer experience, I teed up his presentation with my observations on three risks facing bank leadership today.

Risk #1: Earlier this year, the online lending firm SoFi announced that it had acquired Zenbanx, a startup offering banking, debit, payments and money transfer services to users online and through its mobile app.  As TechCrunch shared, “the combination of the two will allow SoFi to move deeper into the financial lives of its customers. While today it focuses on student-loan refinancing, mortgages and personal loans, integrating Zenbanx will allow it to provide an alternative to the traditional checking and deposit services most of SoFi’s customers today get from banks like Bank of America, Citi or Chase.”  Given that many banks are just beginning their digital transformation, combinations like this create new competition for traditional banks to address.  Cause for further concern?  It came to light that SoFi just applied for an industrial loan bank charter in Utah under the name SoFi Bank.

Risk #2: With so much talk of the need for legacy institutions to pair up fintech companies, I made note of a recent MoneyConf event in Madrid, Spain.  There, BBVA chairman Francisco González said that banks need to shed their past and image as ‘incumbents’ and transform into new digital technology companies if they are to prosper in a banking environment dominated by technologically astute competitors. Transforming the bank “is not just a matter of platforms. The big challenge is changing an incumbent into a new digital company.”  Clearly, transforming one’s underlying business model is not for the faint of heart, and the leadership acumen required is quite substantial.

Risk #3: Finally, when it comes to digital companies doing it right, take a look at TheStreet’s recent post about how “Amazon Has Secretly Become a Giant Bank.”  I had no idea that its Amazon Lending service surpassed $3 billion in loans to small businesses since it was launched in 2011.  Indeed, “the eCommerce giant has loaned over $1 billion to small businesses in the past twelve months… Hiking up the sales for third party merchants is a plus for Amazon, as the company gets a piece of the transaction.” What I found particularly note-worthy is the fact that over 20,000 small businesses have received a loan from Amazon and more than 50% of the businesses Amazon loans to end up taking a second loan.

A Potential Solution

Jack Milligan, our Editor-in-Chief, recently wrote, “disruptive forces confronting banks today are systemic and in some cases accelerating.” In his words, the greatest risk facing bank leadership today is “the epochal change occurring in retail distribution as consumers and businesses embrace digital commerce in ever increasing numbers, while aggressive financial technology companies muscle into the financial services market to meet that demand.”

Against this backdrop, Fifth Third Bank just announced it will be one of more than 30 major financial institutions to roll out Zelle, a new peer-to-peer (P2P) payments service operated by Early Warning.  As Greg shared during his remarks, this will initially be offered through the banks’ mobile banking apps, and positions the bank to better compete with PayPal’s Venmo.

This is big news.  Indeed, Business Insider noted in today’s morning payments brief that the growing crowd of providers will fight over a mobile P2P market set to increase ninefold over the next five years, reaching $336 billion by 2021.  In addition to working directly with financial institutions, let me also note that Early Warning has established strategic partnerships with some of the leading payment processors –– think FIS, Fiserv, and Jack Henry.  These relationships will allow millions more to experience Zelle through community banks and credit unions.

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Here in Chicago, we have 298 bank officers and directors with us today and tomorrow — and our Bank Audit and Risk Committees Conference itself totals 366 in attendance.  In terms of bank representation, we are proud to host audit committee members, audit committee chairs, CEOs, presidents, risk committee members, risk committee chairs, corporate secretaries, internal auditors, CFOs, CROs and other senior manager who works closely with the audit and/or risk committee.  Curious to see what’s being shared socially? I encourage you to follow @bankdirector and @fin_x_tech and check out #BDAudit17.

Looking for Inspiration? Look to USAA

Quickly:

  • Next week, my team hosts 350+ leaders from across the United States at Bank Director’s annual Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference at the JW Marriott Chicago.
  • In advance of welcoming people to this popular event, it strikes me that the business of banking remains difficult despite improving economic conditions; indeed, the drive to digitize a bank’s operations continues to pose significant challenges to most.
  • Digital is, in my estimation, a CEO topic that requires a healthy dose of creativity and ambition.  As such, I’m sharing the following article on innovation — authored by John Maxwell and featured in Bank Director magazine’s current “Great Ideas” digital issue.  It focuses on how USAA taps the creative side of its employees to pre-position itself for the next new products, tools and technologies to benefit its diverse customer base.

USAA - ASD

“USAA was the first major financial institution to allow customers to deposit physical checks by taking a picture of them on their smartphones, rolling out the service in August 2009. It wasn’t until months later that Bank of America Corp., the nation’s second biggest bank by assets, said it would test the same functionality, by which point upward of 40,000 USAA members had already used the software to deposit more than 100,000 checks. And it wasn’t until the following year that JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank by assets, followed suit.

This was neither the first nor the last time that USAA, a niche player in the financial services industry serving current and former members of the military and their families, had beaten larger rivals to the punch in introducing a big, transformative idea. In 2015, the $78 billion asset company became the first major U.S. financial institution to roll out facial and voice recognition technology that allows members to log in to its mobile app without entering a password.

What is it about USAA that explains how it’s regularly at the forefront of big ideas? Is it serendipity, or is there something more at play? And if it’s the latter, are there aspects of USAA’s approach that can be replicated by other banks that want to accelerate their own internal innovation engines?

One explanation for USAA’s success is that the company has always had to think creatively about distribution because of its dispersed member base. With members stationed at military installations around the world, some in active combat zones, simply building more branches has never been a viable distribution strategy. It has a single bank branch at its headquarters in San Antonio, and it wasn’t until 2009 that it began opening a small collection of financial centers near domestic military bases—there are 17 of these centers currently. This is why USAA so readily embraced mobile banking, which enables its members to access their accounts irrespective of location.

Yet, chalking up USAA’s accomplishments in the sphere of innovation to the idea that “necessity is the mother of all invention” doesn’t do the story justice. More than any other major company in the financial services space, USAA has made it a priority to harness each of its 30,000 employees in order to stay on the cutting edge. It began doing so in earnest in 2010 by launching a so-called ideas platform on the company’s intranet. Anyone from the CEO to frontline personnel to security guards can post and vote on ideas that have been entered on the platform. Between 10,000 and 11,000 ideas were submitted in each of the last two years. Ideas that get at least 1,000 favorable employee votes are escalated to USAA’s in-house innovation team overseen by Zack Gipson, USAA’s chief innovation officer.  Last year, 1,206 employee ideas were implemented, while 189 of them have come to fruition thus far in 2017.

USAA also hosts events and challenges for employees that are designed to elicit ideas for new or improved products and services. There are 28 such activities planned this year, taking the form of multi-week coding and design challenges as well as single-day hackathons where teams are tasked with solving a specific problem, says Lea Sims, assistant vice president of employee and member innovation. At an event in 2015, USAA happened upon the idea for voice-guided remote deposit capture, which uses voice commands to guide visually impaired members through the process of depositing checks on a mobile device. The service went live in July of 2016.

On top of these specific initiatives, USAA uses incentives and a consistent messaging campaign to encourage employees to brainstorm and share innovative ideas. Rewards are handed out to winners of challenges, as well as to any employee behind an idea that gets 1,000 votes on the ideas platform—an additional reward is meted out if the idea is implemented, explains Sims. These rewards come in the form of company scrip, which can be redeemed for actual products. A total of 94 percent of USAA employees have participated one way or another in its various innovation channels, with three quarters of a million votes submitted on its internal ideas platform in 2016 alone. “We put a premium on innovation,” says Sims. “It starts in new employee orientation as soon as you walk in the door to be part of our culture.”

USAA has taken steps to crowdsource ideas from its 12 million members, or customers, as well. In February it introduced USAA Labs, where members can sign up to share innovative ideas and participate in pilot programs of experimental products. “The goal of our membership channel is, quite frankly, to replicate the success of our employee channel,” says Sims. Thus far, over 770 members have signed onto the program, which is still in its early stages but could become a major part of USAA’s innovation channel in the future.

Last but not least, sitting atop USAA’s employee and member-based innovation channels is a team of 150 employees who focus solely on bringing new ideas to life. This is its strategic innovation group, which executes on crowdsourced ideas but spends most of its time brainstorming and implementing large, disruptive concepts such as remote deposit capture and biometric logins. It’s this final component of USAA’s strategy that adheres most closely to the institutional structure articulated by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, a leading expert on the process of innovation. In his seminal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen makes the case that established firms should vest the responsibility to bring ideas to life in organizationally independent groups. This is especially important when it comes to disruptive ideas that threaten to cannibalize other products and services sold by the firm, not unlike the way that remote deposit capture reduces the need for physical branches.

In short, the reason USAA has consistently been at the forefront of innovation in the financial services industry has next to nothing to do with serendipity. It traces instead to the company’s strategy of engaging all of its stakeholders in the idea generation process, harnessing the creative power of 30,000 employees, 12 million members and a select team of internal innovators who focus on nothing but bringing new ideas to life. It’s this structural approach to innovation, and the focus on employee engagement in particular, that offers a valuable model for other banks to follow. Indeed, out of the many big ideas USAA has introduced over the years, its strategy of crowdsourcing innovation may very well be the biggest.”

*John J. Maxfield is a writer and frequent contributor to Bank Director.  To read more of this month’s issue (for free), click here.  In full disclosure, I’m a loyal USAA member — as is my entire family — tracing back to my father’s days at the Naval Academy.  I can attest to the “awesomeness” of the bank’s various mobile offerings — like facial recognition, remote check deposit, the integration of Coinbase (that lets me see the balance of my bitcoin and ethereum balances alongside my checking and savings accounts), etc.

Three Strategic Issues Shaping Financial Services

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • Banks need to think beyond the notion that they can either build a technology solution or buy it — for inspiration, take a look at how Silicon Valley Bank uses APIs to tap into technology from third party providers.
  • Thanks to products like Amazon’s Alexa, financial institutions must now prepare for “hands-free banking.”
  • Various startups are using behavioral economics to nudge people towards making better financial choices for saving & investing.

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If you have been to any of our conferences, you’ve probably heard me (and others) encourage participants to get up & out from their offices to see what’s happening with their customers, potential partners and competition.  I do my best to practice what is preached — and have recent trips to San Francisco, New York City and Austin to prove it.  As I re-read hand written notes, dog-eared white papers and highlighted sections of annual reports, I realize just how much time I’ve spent talking about technology-driven trends shaping the financial industry.  To me, three of the bigger issues being discussed right now involve:

  1. The push for retail customers, which may already be spurring dealmaking.
  2. How customers experience and interact with their bank — which broadly ties into the question should an institution buy, partner or mimic a fintech; and
  3. Given all the hype surrounding machine learning and advanced decision modeling, leadership teams want to know how to augment a bank’s revenues & relationships with such technologies.

To these three trends, both our editor-in-chief, Jack Milligan, and I agree that most bankers understand the imperative to innovate around key aspects of their business, whether it’s payments, mobile in all its many permutations, lending, new account onboarding or data.

Personally, when it comes to knowing one’s customer (and potential customer), I find any good experience starts with great data.  As Carl Ryden, the CEO and Co-Founder at PrecisionLender, made clear at their recent Bank of Purpose conference, “if you hold your data close to the vest and you don’t do anything with it, it’s not an asset. It’s a liability.”

So with that in mind, let me close by sharing a link to our newest issue of Bank Director magazine.  This is our “Great Ideas” issue, one in which we highlight companies like USAA who crowdsource upwards of 10,000 ideas per year for products and new technology.  At a time when banks of all sizes are starting to take advantage of platform-based services, this new digital issue is one that I am really proud to share.

 

Address the Culture Gap Between Banks and FinTechs

By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

Quickly

  • A “bank|fintech partnership” narrative dominated the conversation at last week’s FinTech Week NYC events.
  • If I were running a financial institution right now, I’d focus on the word integration instead of innovation.
  • Culture is one of the best things a bank has going for it. It’s also one of the worst.

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While I am bullish on the future of banking as a concept, I am admittedly concerned about what’s to come for many banks who struggle with cultural mindsets resistant to change. As I shared in an op-ed that kicked off last week’s FinTech Week NYC, the same dynamics that helped weather the last few years’ regulatory challenges and anemic economic growth may now prevent adoption of strategically important, but operationally risky, relationships with financial technology companies.

Most banks don’t have business models designed to adapt and respond to rapid change. So how should they think about innovation? I raised that question (and many others) at last Wednesday’s annual FinXTech Summit that we hosted at Nasdaq’s MarketSite. Those in attendance included banks both large and small, as well as numerous financial technology companies — all united around an interest in how technology continues to change the nature of banking.

More so than any regulatory cost or compliance burden, I sense that the organizational design and cultural expectations at many banks present a major obstacle to future growth through technology. While I am buoyed by the idea that smaller, nimble banks can compete with the largest institutions, that concept of agility is inherently foreign to most legacy players.

It doesn’t have to be.

Indeed, Richard Davis, the chairman and CEO of the fifth largest bank in the country, U.S. Bancorp, shared at our Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Phoenix last January that banks can and should partner with fintech companies on opportunities outside of traditional banking while working together to create better products, better customer service and better recognition of customer needs.

The urgency to adapt and evolve should be evident by now. The very nature of financial services has undergone a major change in recent years, driven in part by digital transformation taking place outside banking. Most banks—big and small—boast legacy investments. They have people doing things on multi-year plans, where the DNA of the bank and culture does not empower change in truly meaningful ways. For some, it may prove far better to avoid major change and build a career on the status quo then to explore the what-if scenarios.

Here, I suggest paying attention to stories like those shared by our Editor-in-Chief Jack Milligan, who just wrote about PNC Financial Services Group in our current issue of Bank Director magazine. As his profile of Bill Demchak reveals, it is possible to be a conservative banker who wants to revolutionize how a company does business. But morphing from a low-risk bank during a time of profound change requires more than just executive courage. It takes enormous smarts to figure out how to move a large, complex organization that has always done everything one way, to one that evolves quickly.

Of course, it’s not just technological innovation where culture can be a roadblock. Indeed, culture is a long-standing impediment to a successful bank M&A deal, as any experienced banker knows. So, just as in M&A deals, I’d suggest setting a tone at the top for digital transformation.  Here are three seemingly simple questions I suggest asking in an executive team meeting:

  • Do you know what problems you’re trying to solve?
  • What areas are most important to profit and near-term growth?
  • Which customer segments are critical for your bank?

From here, it might be easy to create a strategic direction to improve efficiency and bolster growth in the years ahead. But be prepared for false starts, fruitless detours and yes, stretches of inactivity. As Fifth Third Bank CEO Greg Carmichael recently shared in an issue of Bank Director magazine, “Not every problem needs to be solved with technology… But when technology is a solution, what technology do you select? Is it cost efficient? How do you get it in as quickly as possible? You have to maintain it going forward, and hold management accountable for the business outcomes that result if the technology is deployed correctly.”

Be aware that technology companies move at a different speed, and it’s imperative that you are nimble enough to change, and change again, as marketplace demands may be different in the future. Let your team know that you are comfortable taking on certain kinds of risk and will handle them correctly. Some aspects of your business may be harmed by new technology, and you will have to make difficult trade-offs. Just as in M&A, I see this is an opportunity to engage with regulators. Seek out your primary regulator and share what you’re looking for and help regulators craft an appropriate standard for dealing with fintech companies.

Culture should not be mistaken for a destination. If you know that change is here, digital is the expectation and you’re not where you want to be, don’t ignore the cultural roadblocks. Address them.