A Community Bank Can Build Innovation Into Its Growth Strategy

Quickly:

  • I’m at the Montage Deer Valley for the Association for Financial Technology’s Fall Summit.
  • “Who do we want to be when we grow up in this new digital, always-on financial services environment?” might be the most important question for a bank CEO to strategize on with his or her team.

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

PARK CITY, UTAH — For the technology companies looking to make a real difference in the financial services world, let me suggest a stronger focus on regional and community banks.  At a time when JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, BofA and the like are investing heavily in digital engagement strategies to connect with digital-savy customers, there are significant pressures on banks not able to spend what the biggest banks do to develop or adopt digital strategies.

As I listened to an afternoon panel discussion on the need for banks to create sustainable, scalable and relevant business models, I went back to my notes on a newer partnership between First Horizon’s First Tennessee bank unit and D3 Banking.  Developed to overhaul First Tennessee using D3’s API-driven platform, I see this type of partnership as one that positions a strong regional player to better compete with much larger banks.

First Tennessee and D3 is one of a number of bank/fintech arrangements I think technology executives here in Park City should know about.  A smaller bank “doing it right” in terms of partnering with technology companies is Somerset Trust Co., a $1 billion asset bank out of western Pennsylvania.

Their COO, John Gill, participated in the panel that precipitated this post.  As we’ve written about at Bank Director, Somerset has learned to play the innovation game by partnering up with some impressive fintech companies.  For example, they teamed up with Malauzai Software in Austin, Texas, to develop a mobile banking solution that allows Somerset’s retail banking customers to securely check balances, use picture bill pay and remotely deposit checks from any location or device.  More recently, Somerset Trust partnered up with BOLTS Technologies to improve its mobile new account customer experience.

It strikes me that figuring out how to move ones business towards a foundation of flexibility is essential.  So too is being open to new ideas and partnership opportunities. Most importantly, just because a bank is small doesn’t mean it can’t build innovation into its growth strategy.

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As part of AFT’s Fall Summit, I shared a few stories about bank CEOs leadership styles, their team’s investments in fintech companies and ideas, and several innovative solutions that caught my attention.  Interested?  Here is a link to both my presentation and post.

Whether They Want To or Not, Banks Need to Open Up

Apart from interest rates, the two biggest issues that bank executives seem to wrestle with are regulatory and compliance costs.  I sense another emerging challenge coming to shore; specifically, how to “open up” one’s business structure in terms of developing partnerships and permitting others to leverage their customer data and/or capabilities.

For bankers, this challenge comes with significant reputation and customer risk.

Now, it is hard to truly disrupt the concept of banking — and I shared this opinion from the stage at Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation Conference this morning.  However, I did adjust some of my welcoming remarks based on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s position that consumers can control their own financial data, including to let third parties help them manage their finances.  As I learned from Jo Ann Barefoot’s Fireside Chat with CFPB Director Richard Cordray at Money 2020, the CFPB “is not content to sit passively by as mere spectators watching these technologies develop.”  According to his prepared remarks:

Many exciting products we see… depend on consumers permitting companies to access their financial data from financial providers with whom the consumer does business. We recognize that such access can raise various issues, but we are gravely concerned by reports that some financial institutions are looking for ways to limit, or even shut off, access to financial data rather than exploring ways to make sure that such access, once granted, is safe and secure.

Since reading the CFPB’s position, Ms. Barefoot’s recap and the Wall Street Journal’s synopsis, I decided to talk with various bank executives and board members that are here with us at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island about this stance.  As I note in this video, I sense both an ongoing struggle — and a sincere interest — to truly understand the role of technology.  For those I talked with, this is as much about “becoming sticky” to their customers as it is about embracing or defending themselves against “the new.”

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For more about this year’s conference, I invite you to take a look at BankDirector.com.  Also, a virtual high-five to the team here for a great first day.  You all rock!

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