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.

The Intersection of Leadership and Profitability

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

Quickly

  • Key takeaways from one of my favorite summer banking events, Crowe Horwath’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference.

_ _ _

This morning, on the first of my two flights from Washington National to Monterey, California, I learned that Walmart customers might soon be able to get installment loans for big-ticket items through Affirm, a San Francisco-based FinTech I first wrote about in 2014 (For Banks, the Sky IS Falling).  Per the Wall Street Journal, the companies reportedly are nearing an agreement on a pilot program.  This potential partnership caught my eye as I prepared for today and tomorrow’s conference.  Indeed, relationships like these make clear that when it comes to growth and efficiency, the digital distribution of financial goods and services is a significant issue for the banking industry.

This idea took further shape when I walked into the conference center at the Inn at Spanish Bay.  Immediately upon entering the room, I found John Epperson, a partner at Crowe and Jay Tuli, senior vice president retail banking and residential lending at Leader Bank, sharing their opinions on partnership strategies involving banks and FinTechs.  From the stage, they touched on increasing net interest margins via improved pricing strategies on commercial loans, approaches to streamline mortgage application processes, ideas to reduce staff counts for loan administration processes and how to improve customer experiences through online rent payment solutions.

Their perspectives lined up with those we recently shared on BankDirector.com.  To wit, “many banks have realized advantages of bank-FinTech partnerships, including access to assets and customers.  Since most community banks serve discreet markets, even a relatively simple loan purchase arrangement can unlock new customer relationships and diversify geographic concentrations of credit.  Further, a FinTech partnership can help a bank serve its legacy customers; for instance, by enabling the bank to offer small dollar loans to commercial customers that the bank might not otherwise be able to efficiently originate on its own.”

Of all the difficult issues that bank leadership must deal with, I am inclined to place technology at the top of the list.  Banks have long been reliant on technology to run their operations, but in recent years, technology has become a primary driver of retail and small business banking strategy.  John and Jay simply reinforced this belief.

In addition to their thoughts on collaboration, this afternoon’s sessions focused on ‘Liquidity and Balance Sheet Management,’ ‘Fiscal Policy During Regulatory Uncertainty’ and ‘Managing Your Brand in a Digital World.’  While I took note of a number of issues, three points really stood out:

  • Yes, banks can make money while managing decreasing margins and a flat yield curve.
  • Asset growth without earnings growth is a concern for many because of loan pricing.
  • How a CFO sets a target(s) for interest rate risk may start with an “it depends” type response — but gets nuanced quickly thereafter.

Finally, I’m not holding my breath on the industry receiving regulatory relief any time soon.  I get the sense many here aren’t either.  But it would be nice to see some business people brought in to run various agencies and I’m looking forward to the perspectives of tomorrow’s first guest speaker, Congressman John Ratcliffe.

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My thanks to Crowe Horwath, Stifel, Keefe Bruyette & Woods + Luse Gorman for putting together this year’s Bank Leadership and Profitability Improvement Conference at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California.  I’ll check in with additional takeaways based on tomorrow’s presentations.

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.

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.

A Technology Takeover on BankDirector.com

For the next 5 days, I set up shop in my former home of New York City for FinTech Week NYC.  Hosted by Bank Director’s FinXTech in conjunction with Empire Startups, the week can best be understood as a confluence of conferences, round-table discussions, demo days, meetups and networking events across the city.

If you’re not familiar with the various events taking place, here is a quick snapshot of three we’re primarily involved with starting today and running through Friday, the 28th.

The common thread throughout each of these days? A desire to help leaders in the financial sector to better understand how when/where/why to engage with emerging technologies.

Given our cultural mindset to help make others successful, we’re kicking things up a notch with our on-line efforts.  Indeed, we’re “taking over” BankDirector.com and loading the site up with strategic issues and ideas that a bank’s CEO, board and executive team can immediately consider.  In parallel, we’re developing even more content to benefit technology companies keen to work with financial institutions and have some really interesting things planned for our FinXTech.com.  Three examples of this free content:

  • On BankDirector.com, Tips for Working With Fintech Companies by our editor, Naomi Snyder, provides insight from executives at Wells Fargo (one of the country’s biggest) and Radius Bank (a very strong community bank) on how they handle fintech partnerships.
  • On FinXTech.com, Advice for Fintech Companies Working with Banks by our editor-in-chief, Jack Milligan, shares suggestions from SF-based Plaid Technologies and Chicago-based Akouba as to how banks and tech companies can set realistic expectations in terms of cooperating to their mutual benefits.
  • Finally, I authored a piece on a major challenge I see confronting banks when it comes to their digital futures with A Roadblock That Ruins Futures.  As an optimist, things aren’t hopeless; you will see I find inspiration from the CEOs of U.S. Bancorp, PNC and Fifth Third.

10 Banks and Fintechs Doing it Right

In advance of April’s FinXtech Summit
By Al Dominick, CEO of DirectorCorps (parent co. to Bank Director & FinXTech) | @aldominick

Quickly:

  • An increasing number of financial institutions are using partnerships with technology companies to improve operations and better meet customer needs.
  • For the past few months, banks and/or fintechs submitted case studies on specific technology solutions helping financial institutions produce real, quantifiable results to our team at FinXTech.
  • With more then 100 submissions in hand, a committee of FinXTech advisors worked with our team to compile a top-10 list during Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference in Arizona last week.

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Throughout Bank Director’s annual Acquire or Be Acquired conference, I found myself in quite a few conversations about the continually changing nature of financial services. Many of these discussions revolved around the possibilities generated by traditional institutions partnering with emerging technology firms.  Some of these took place on-stage; for instance, I opened the second full day of the conference by polling an audience of 900+ on a variety of technology-related issues:

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With results like these precipitating editorial coverage from our team and attendees alike, you’ll probably understand why I find the just-released ten finalists for our “Best of FinXTech Awards” so compelling.  Indeed, as the financial landscape continues to evolve, and executives grapple with a fast-changing operating environment that requires partnerships and collaboration, each of these relationships shows what is really possible when leaders explore something new together.

  • Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) + Sensibill: Scotiabank’s customers can store, organize and retrieve paper and electronic receipts through the Toronto, Canada bank’s mobile banking app and wallet, the result of a partnership with Sensibill, also based in Toronto. The service was launched in October 2016.
  • Franklin Synergy Bank + Built Technologies, Inc.: Built Technologies, in Nashville, Tennessee, improved the loan administration process for Franklin Synergy Bank, in Franklin, Tennessee. The $3 billion asset bank now manages a greater number of construction loans with fewer staff.
  • Green Dot (Go Bank) + Uber: Pasadena, California-based Green Dot Corp., which issues prepaid credit cards, partnered with Uber to provide the San Francisco transportation company’s drivers a fee-free debit card and an instant pay solution that allows drivers to be paid instantly.
  • IDFC Bank + TATA Consultancy Services (TCS): Due to a regulatory mandate, India’s IDFC Bank had just 18 months to expand into rural areas to better serve unbanked customers. The bank’s partnership with TCS, based in Mumbai, India, included the use of micro ATMs, which are modified point-of-sale terminals that expand the bank’s reach in rural areas.
  • National Bank of Kansas City + Roostify: San Francisco-based Roostify improved National Bank of Kansas City’s formerly inefficient and incomplete digital mortgage application process. Customers at the bank, based in Overland Park, Kansas with more than $600 million in assets, can now fill out a mortgage application in a little as 20 minutes, with no need for a phone call or trip to the branch to visit a loan officer.
  • Somerset Trust Company + BOLTS Technologies: BOLTS, based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, improved the account opening process at Somerset Trust Company, saving the $1 billion asset community bank in Somerset, Pennsylvania, roughly $200,000 in the first year by better automating the process and reducing error rates. Customers can start and complete the process on multiple channels.
  • Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank) + Moven: TD Bank, based in Toronto, Canada, launched a real-time money management application in April 2016, developed by Moven in New York.
  • USAA + Nuance: USAA, based in San Antonio, Texas, made its website a little smarter in 2016 with the virtual assistant Nina, which provides support for USAA’s members. This use of artificial intelligence is the result of a collaboration with Nuance in Burlington, Massachusetts.
  • Woodforest National Bank + PrecisionLender: Partnering with Charlotte, North Carolina-based PrecisionLender to improve its loan pricing strategy helped $4.8 billion asset Woodforest National Bank, in The Woodlands, Texas, grow commercial loans by 16 percent and gain almost 20 basis points in net interest margin.
  • WSFS Bank + LendKey: WSFS Financial Corp., headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, with $6.6 billion in assets, partnered with the lending platform LendKey, in New York, to expand the bank’s consumer loan portfolio with a student loan and refinancing product.

All ten of these partnerships demonstrate the strongest combination of collaboration and results.  For those interested, my colleague Kelsey Weaver (the President of our FinXTech platform) announces the three “winners” on April 26, 2017, during the FinXTech Annual Summit, at the Nasdaq MarketSite.

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Closing bell ceremony at Nasdaq / Bank Director + FinXTech’s FinTech Day (March 1, 2016)

In advance of that announcement, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, FinXTech’s President, Kelsey Weaver @KelseyWeaverFXT, @BankDirector and our @Fin_X_Tech platform and/or check out where and how this annual Summit — and these awards — fits into FinTech Week New York that we are hosting along with Empire Startups starting April 24.

Inspired by U.S. Bank’s CEO at Acquire or Be Acquired

#AOBA17 conference intel (Monday/Tuesday)
By Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director | @aldominick

Quickly

  • Most M&A activity will continue to take place among banks with assets between $1 billion and $10 billion.
  • For an acquirer, the level of underwriting for deposits can be more rigorous then underwriting for loans.  Indeed, because of BSA & AML concerns, it takes a high degree of effort to realistically measure the risk of buying “someone else’s cooking.”
  • This year’s keynote, Richard Davis, is the Chairman & CEO of U.S. Bank — which has $446 billion in assets.  FWIW, he started his career as a bank teller at Security Pacific Bank in Los Angeles on his 18th birthday.

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Over the past decade, U.S. Bank’s consistent results made it, according to the Wall Street Journal, a darling with investors and analysts.  While impressive, their CEO’s perspectives on where we are now — and where we might be heading — inspired this short video recap.

In addition to his remarks on building a great team, his perspectives on technology struck a real chord given my background (I worked at great technology company in Bethesda, MD for 6+ years).  Specifically, his encouragement to focus on:

  • Tokenization/EMV/mobile
  • Real time payments
  • Open APIs
  • Identity management
  • Distributed ledger / blockchain
  • Internet of things (IoT)
  • Machine learning

In subsequent posts, I’ll elaborate on these issues.  But for those interested in following the conference conversations that are more M&A-oriented via our social channels, I invite you to follow me on Twitter via @AlDominick, the host company, @BankDirector and its @Fin_X_Tech platform, and search & follow #AOBA17 to see what is being shared with (and by) our attendees.