In this week’s episode, we sit down with three panelists to discuss how banks are automating and simplifying the online account opening process. Our guests are Kranthi Palreddy from Terafina, Ruth Erickson from Bank of Hawaii, and Shirley Fiano from CenterState. They are a wealth of knowledge and we hope your enjoy this conversation.

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Intro: Helping community bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits this is the community bank podcast.

Caleb: Coming to you from Atlanta, Georgia. This is the podcast by bankers for bankers. Thanks for joining the conversation today. My name is Caleb Stevens I work in our business development group. And again this week for Eric Bagwell, Tom Fitzgerald you are with us, sitting right across from me. Good to see you again. How are you?

Tom: Hey Caleb, it’s good to be here and good to have you in front of the microphone again.

Caleb: Can I call myself a regular co-host now.

Tom: I think so you’re in the rotation.

Caleb: that’s really nice of Eric to have me be his, his understudy, his back up, his bench guy to go to when he can’t make it. It’s fun to hop on the mic.

Tom: Well we enjoy it. I think you do a great job so we’re looking forward to today’s show and more to come.

Caleb: I’m excited for today’s show we’ve got three really solid guests. The first is Kranthi Palreddy, who is the Director of Marketing for Terafina, one of center state vendors. When it comes to online account opening. And then later on we’ll talk to two different panelists, Ruth Ericson, all the way from Honolulu. Banker for a while, she runs their E-commerce and demand center. And we’ll also feature one of our own Shirley Fiano, who is the director, Director of Digital delivery here for us at center state. So today, the show is all about, how do you automate the online account opening experience especially during a time right now with COVID with branches are closed people haven’t to turn to digital channels, what does that look like to serve your customers well with online account opening but before we dive into that Tom any updates for us as far as the economy rates what’s going on in the general world of banking.

Tom: I would say the biggest thing, Caleb. This week, as we record this, the fed had their last meeting on July 29 and this week they release the minutes from that meeting, so it wasn’t really a lot of real page Turners anyway, this was more of a snooze fest. But it did kind of layout for recall that chair Powell was fairly dovish in his post-meeting press conference, and the minutes kind of reflected that as well. There’s a real concern. You can see expressed in the minutes about just the, the strength of the economy and its ability to withstand any sort of headwinds thrown his way, obviously when we’re looking at this stimulus starting to be withdrawn a little bit. That’s got to be a concern to them so I think we’re going to continue to see a very aggressively dovish fed, that will try to keep things rolling as much as they can with the headwinds that are coming, not only from the fiscal stimulus kind of being faded a bit but also with the fall around the corner, and that always that threat of we get a second wave of the virus I think you’ll continue to see the Fed being as aggressive as I can be in trying to try to you know prop up or help the economy in their, in their policies.

Caleb: What are your thoughts from a couple of shows ago when Joe Keating he was talking about the economy predicted that rates stay where they are till 2025. Did you almost fall off your chair?

Tom: It’s hard to go that far out with any certainty. So, you know, I’m not saying I wouldn’t believe it but, you know, certainly from 21 to 22, I could, I can imagine that so.

Caleb: When they say weatherman and the economists are the only jobs you can be wrong half the time and still have a following. Who knows but that was a great episode if you missed that and you want a more in-depth dive into the economy, check out the show what’s next for the economy and interest rates, we did that with our friend Joe Keating over in Birmingham. Well, without further ado let’s hop into our spotlight our vendor spotlight with Kranthi Palreddy from Terafina.

Tom: We’re pleased today to have a panel of women to kind of talk us through a lot of the digital banking questions we want to start with the panel with Kranthi Palreddy, who has worked with Terafina, Terafina has a relationship with center state Bank. And so we wanted to get her on today to kind of go through some of the things that Terafina does. What kind of institutions they work for. so Kranthi if you could kind of speak to that as to what Terafina is and how they could help institutions.

Kranthi: Thanks for having me Tom, just to give you a little bit of background on Terafina our senior executive team is led by our CEO and founder Meheriar Hasan, and our president and CEO Ashwin Goyal, and our entire leadership team they really have a deep banking and software experience with over 20 plus years from places like Wells Fargo and US Bank and Oracle and Siebel and what they’ve done is really looked at onboarding and they pinpoint the inefficiencies that surround onboarding, and what they came up with was a real-time account opening omnichannel sales platform for banks and credit unions and what they essentially concentrate on is unifying the customer experience across channels, whether it be online, in the branch or in a call center. So if you’re trying to open an account online and get distracted with Netflix, you’re able to pick up that application in any other channel like the call center or branch and be able to complete it. And so what this really does is unified the experience across the channels, and across products which are all deposits and loans and mortgages to commercial deposits and small business. And so we’re really about is reducing friction, bringing down high abandonment rates, and increasing coastal opportunities so that you’re able to really deepen those customer relationships.

Tom: I read a quote the other day that I really liked it said. He said, sales is basically just helping people or organizations make better decisions, make good decisions and so as you help community banks as you help larger regional banks, what are some of the common main points that Terafina that you guys would like to help solve and then because we’re here on account opening and that’s such a big concept and idea and so many different ways and vendors you could go with what are some things that make you guys unique and how do you help banks make better decisions?

Kranthi: Absolutely. I think for us, a lot of the experience that folks are expecting, especially in the millennial age group and older groups are looking for something akin to the Amazon experience the amazon shopping experience. When you think about being able to have that shopping cart experience and be able to pick and choose different products that are relevant to you in a very seamless frictionless process with quick clicks and being able to really understand what it is that you’re buying. We want to be able to bring that into the financial space. And so what the roots of how we became to be were working with community banks and serving that group. And what we’ve seen in terms of pain points and common patterns is, regardless of the size of the bank, whether it’s a large institution or small institution. There is a lot of the same patterns that we’re starting to see in terms of issues with unifying the experience across the different channels and being able to offer a breadth of products that you can do on a single platform. And so our solution is really designed to help streamline that process and maximize customer engagement and deepen those relationships with existing clients as well as those that are prospects.

Tom: Kranthi that was some great information, not just the listeners that were interested. Can you give us some ways for them to give to contact you, whether it’s a website or whether it’s email?

Kranthi: Absolutely, you can visit us at www.terafinainc.com T E R A F I N A I N C.com. You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn at Terafina Inc. And you can email us at sales at terafinainc.com. If you have any questions.

Tom: Well that’s great. Thank you very much Kranthi.

Kranthi: Thank you.

Tom: Well that was a good conversation with Kranthi. Always cool, to get to know more of the vendor side of banking it’s something that I personally don’t know a whole lot about so to get to hear her talk about how they serve banks from small banks to big banks was really cool.

Caleb: Yeah, that’s always informational for me as well because that’s sort of the area of banking that I’m not least exposed to so trying to get a better feel for how they operate and what they can bring to community banks, you know solutions is always very helpful and informative.

Tom: It’s always fascinating to me how many different wormholes there are in banking that you could go down I mean, just municipal bonds that in and of itself is a wormhole you could spend years studying and learning or mortgage banks or lending or credit or online account opening and digital banking there’s so many different areas where you can be an expert, it really blows my mind.

Caleb: Right and so you can’t be experts in everything so it’s always nice to know that there are those experts out there that you can bring in to help you along in some areas where you feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing.

Tom: Yeah. Speaking of experts We are excited now to bring on Shirley Fiano and Ruth Erickson. Shirley is our Director of Digital delivery here at center state and Ruth Erickson is the EVP of e-commerce and demand center for the Bank of Hawaii, and they’re going to really talk about how do you put into practice some of the things that Kranthi talked about that they’re doing with Terafina. What does that look like on a street level to put into practice? When you’re in the trenches, in banking so we’re excited to bring them on right now.

Caleb: Well, Shirley and Ruth thank you guys both for joining us this afternoon or I guess I should say morning for you, Ruth out there in Hawaii is it what is it 8:15 or so your time right now.

Ruth: 8:16 on the dot.

Caleb: I hope you had enough time to get your morning coffee and wake up a little bit for us. We appreciate you getting up early.

Ruth: Thank you.

Caleb: Well, Shirley let’s start with you, you know your job here at center state revolves around the delivery of digital content and so explain for those listening, what does that mean and what are some of the key objectives and goals that you have in your role?

Ruth: Oh, about two years ago center state developed and introduced a business plan which included four strategic priorities, one of which was digital transformation, and I’m responsible for leading the implementation of our digital roadmap. When I assumed this role our top priority was launching a fully automated online account origination platform and we selected Terafina for our digital platform vendor because we needed a partner who did not only handle API and third-party integration. We also need the flexibility to design the customer’s journey within our platform. We wanted to keep the number of clicks to a minimum. Ultimately below 20. We wanted to make sure that the entire customer experience was seamless and hassle-free, and we were adamant that each step of the process be completely automated. And so we have as little manual intervention if possible. Not only were we wanting to automate the new account process itself but also the enrollment in what people refer to as convenient services like online banking. I’m happy to share we successfully debuted our virtual branch in June of this year and we’re exceeding all of our new account projection. So, yeah.

Caleb: And Ruth you have a similar role to Bank of Hawaii so it’s just 4500 miles away, but pretty cool. So you are focusing on e-commerce you’re doing online banking as well as marketing so that’s a lot to have in your, in your portfolio, can you kind of tell us a little bit of how all that. All that involves your day-to-day work.

Ruth: Sure. So similarly, to the center state we have as part of our strategic plan, one of the key pillars that are around customer experience. And so my rule of employment is very multifaceted and, ultimately, I’m responsible for leading the business toward offering a personalized omnichannel experience so really creating that holistic customer journey. And so, the work of my team spans everything from development, and execution of our digital strategy, and digital marketing plan, managing of marketing channels across all touchpoints, how we do digital merchandising and engage our customers and guide them toward account openings and onboarding them. And then on the flip side of that, it’s the more technical operational aspects of it, like building our e-commerce platform managing our Mar tech platform, operations for bh.com, And all the marketing performance and analytics and operational stuff so super exciting and super broad. And we have a lot of transformation to drive in how we go to marketing and engage our community.

Caleb: And Shirley you shared with us, we were talking on the phone a couple of weeks ago some really interesting stats, and Ruth free to chime in on this as well. During COVID, we’ve seen online account openings go up significantly. And at first, you might think that that would just be amongst the millennial generation younger customers, but you share with us some really surprising stats that truly talk a little bit about what you’ve been saying, especially during COVID with your online account opening initiatives.

Shirley: Yeah. Well, a fully automated online account origination platform is new for center state Bank, we’ve had, you know, more traditional digital services available for years including mobile banking and mobile deposit. However, COVID has forced all of us to shelter and to place, and therefore, the services that consumers previously thought of as a convenience, suddenly became a necessity. And there are really some nationwide jaw-dropping statistics about the increase in mobile traffic it’s what they’re referring to these days, but we’ve definitely seen that impact at center state bank where our new mobile banking enrollments have more than doubled since the outbreak of the virus in March. We’ve seen an increase in mobile deposits of 40%, and probably one of the most interesting statistics for us, in particular, is that consumers in their 60s are opening more new accounts online with us than any other age group by decade. So it’s breaking the stereotype that digital banking is for the new generation and that’s definitely not been the case with us.

Caleb: And do you think you’ll see any kind of holdback on how much of this do you think is permanent. Folks continuing to be digital-only. Do you think you’ll see it scaled back a little bit? What are your thoughts there and Ruth love to hear your thoughts as well?

Ruth: I really don’t I think, I think part of the barrier in the beginning when banks began, launching these kinds of convenient Digital Services is was the fear of change or the fear of something new, and once people have had the opportunity to try it. See how easy it is. I don’t see us going backward I think we’re here to stay where digital banking and digital conveniences are concerned.

Shirley: Yeah, I definitely would agree I think we’ve really seen customers get over that hump of digital adoption during this time. And really as time goes on, we’ve seen this trend. Continue. In terms of that shift in preference and shift in behaviors. For example, like we’ve had an online account opening for a number of years we’ve just shifted over to the Terafina platform a year and a half or so ago. But that’s grown over 300% during the pandemic, that’s massive growth, really. On our lending side of the business, we’ve seen over 140% growth in online mortgage applications and about 80% growth in applications. and so there’s just, I think that human behavior is shifted. Like, it’s, unfortunately, kind of been forced to shift, but it’s, you know, it only takes about 60 to 90 days for habits to stick. And we’re past that.

Caleb: I’ll throw this question out to both of you. If we had talked probably a year ago, I would imagine like getting some demographic groups to sort of adopting that digital account opening a platform would have been one of your bigger challenges as you talked about the environment today is kind of shifted that, where it’s almost forced upon them now to consider the digital account opening aspect. So what is, kind of what are your biggest challenges now as you kind of face this you know the digital revolution that we’re going through, you know, with the account opening sort of being taken off to the side because of the environment. Is there another challenge that really has risen to the top for you? And that’s for both of you.

Ruth: For me, I guess if I take a step back like I think it is hard to change consumer habits and behavior right and for, particularly in Hawaii. Because we’re just not quite as progressive as the rest of the US. We live in paradise and we love paradise and so we don’t necessarily need to change as much. But and people enjoy coming to the branch to visit their relationship better or simply do banking the way that they’re familiar with it right and so for us. The digital account opening experience. I don’t know if that’s actually the most challenging shift that we have to face in the future, or now, it’s actually the shift of behavior to online and mobile so instead of starting to inspect the branches, we have more transactional and able to do a lot of your more kind of relationship-oriented banking through online and mobile and so on. I think certain technologies have been around for online mobile banking for a long time. Right. But we’re I think we’re now just on that cusp of breaking through it after months of staying at home, we see those new behaviors starting to solidify among customers so really understanding to meet on online and mobile banking space, what our understanding the data, where you’re meeting your customers where they’re at and those people that are comfortable, who are those people that are occasional users and how might I start to engage with them differently. And who are those long-timers who are just like I don’t want to do this in the resistance, but I can pull them along? Right. It’s a real understanding of the data so you can start to talk to them about their preferences.

Shirley: So, we all recognize that consumer demand for online account origination is on the rise, especially the hassle-free processes that customers are able to experience now but for us, I would say our greatest digital transformation challenge is more internal or better said more operational in nature. Adopting the technology and creating a digital workflow was actually the easiest step along our journey, operating a digital platform within traditional brick and mortar procedures kind of like the square peg round hole analogy just doesn’t work. So, implementing new digital-friendly policies, procedures and systems have been one of our bigger challenges. That and understanding that this type of cultural shift doesn’t happen overnight. So we’re well on our way. But it’s a time. Time committed process.

Caleb: So, if I was to play devil’s advocate with you guys just for a minute. Let’s say I’m a CEO of a $200 million bank and I’m sitting here listening to this I’m saying yeah Shirley and Ruth this all sounds great, but Shirley you worked for almost a $40 billion institution now with the south state merger, Ruth, your bank is $20 billion or so. What does it look like for me? My 200 million banks maybe we don’t even have any online account opening offerings right now. What would you say to a CEO who’s looking to innovate and change, especially during COVID, but he may be wondering, do I have the resources can a small bank like me really be an innovative institution.

Shirley: That’s a great question, kind of goes back to the basics of it. It’s important to remember that strategy isn’t one size fits all. Like, understanding the comfort of your customer base, understanding your current capabilities as a company your operations are super important for your culture, and then creating the vision. Right. Kind of aligned and understanding that current state and then from that vision prioritize and roadmap a plan based on your customer needs and your capabilities to get to them. Right and so it starts with that with a vision. And comes like the strategy, right, and that understanding of how you’re going to accomplish that vision. So how are you going to reframe that into the journey? How you going to manage the digital-first experience. Do you have a platform in place to enable it? What expertise and experience do you need to bring into your business or upscale within your business to help you accomplish it. I think all of those things are important, it’s not. It’s possible right but you’ve got to start kind of right-sizing it for your business, essentially.

Ruth: Yeah, and I would say that whether you’re a $200 million community bank or a mega National Bank. There are going to be pros and cons to digital transformation in either environment. I feel like if you’re in a larger institution you typically have more resources available to use to the resource challenges that are necessarily there. Whereas with a smaller institution, change is usually easier and faster to implement, you’re able to move more on a dime it’s like the speedboat and ocean liner comparison you can move the speed boat around a corner pretty quickly, but it takes a lot longer with an ocean liner. So each size institution has its own unique challenges and opportunities and I think Bruce is exactly right, you have to be committed to the vision and strategy that you set out and hire talent that’s, that’s what’s going to win the day in the end.

Shirley: I think you made a great point about like the larger banks. There’s a strategy about being a post-second follower. Right and learning from the larger banks learning from mistakes or learning from places where they invest and realize that that’s not really what customers want and so how do you capitalize kind of on understanding what else is going on and what fits your business and your customer needs.

Caleb: And it sounds like creating a culture of innovation we talked to Patrick sells from New York City Quantic bank a few shows ago, and they’re pretty tiny 350 million something like that and I really liked the quote that he said on the show, he said, it’s kind of like the technology are the seeds, but your culture is the soil and the technologies are there the seeds are there no matter what size bank you are you have access to great technology, but if you don’t have a culture that embraces innovation and change the technology is pretty irrelevant and so starting with that vision that culture What are we about what are we trying to accomplish, how to better serve our customers to even be able to take in those seeds and then produce fruit from there and so it sounds kind of like you guys are saying as well as the size is maybe less relevant sure there are some capabilities that a bigger bank might have, you know, there’s an arms race that you can’t win if you’re a smaller bank but focus more on the culture, and embracing innovation and having a vision, beyond just saying oh well, you know, we can’t afford that piece of technology or you know whatever the case is.

Tom: And I would say to just to kind of finish up here and this is for both of you from a consumers perspective they kind of look at banking and that the lines have been blurred for the last few years you know you got Walmart that offers banking services, you know soon there’s this discussion that you know Amazon is going to kind of bring something along those same lines. So, are there things that banks can be doing now to sort of prepare for that eventuality to where they are still relevant in an environment where they’re having to deal with a Walmart, or an Amazon banking services?

Ruth:Yes, I can answer that in one word, data. Actually to be more centralized data. Banks tend to be more compartmentalized and we use different systems and processes for all the different lines of businesses and all the different delivery channels. Yet banks hold an incredible amount of customer data in each of these different systems and channels and traditional banks have not harnessed the power of data mining the way that the Amazons or the Fintech of the world have, and when customer data and behaviors are analyzed, banks can anticipate the customer needs. Tailor solutions even before the customer express the need, develop more effective marketing strategies I mean it goes on and on better prevent fraud. So the ability to store and access and analyze customer data from a centralized place is what will keep banks relevant and competitive. In fact, I believe that perfecting data mining will actually catapult banks beyond what nonbanks can ever hope to achieve.

Shirley: I agree like data is more than an essential ingredient like the name of the recipe. This is like the secret to making industry is being disrupted. Right. There are major forces and trends, whether it’s preferences from consumers, whether it’s technology regulations or the new competition, right that whether it’s FinTech or the Amazon or Walmart of the world that you are referencing. And so I think I’m really evaluating those kinds of your current digital and your standard banking operations, like the operation side of it in addition to the data, ensuring that, with that then your, where you’re looking to innovate. It maintains a legacy of your community first approach that is important, but it also brings along those operations that you have. Right like they have to shift in order to enable a digital banking world. So and I think then, exactly. What was said earlier helps you then figure out how do we do a better job of engaging do a better job of retaining our customers overall.

Tom: It’s almost like what Caleb mention where you know banks like you said are great at collecting data, but it was almost like they just used it to balance the books. Okay, we’re going to balance your bank account and so forth ad they sort of just left it there, where they didn’t really consider the social aspect of the demographic aspect of all that data they were collecting and so that’s the cultural shift I think Caleb was talking about to you know you got the technology, you got the data. Now you got to implement that cultural shift.

Shirley: And it even goes beyond that it goes into behavioral data. We have the technology and the capability today to evaluate track analyze how long customers are spending, looking at our website where they go with every click what behavior drives what next action and activity so analyzing customer behavior, the way they interact with their devices, all of those things can go into creating a much more user-friendly experience but also a more secure environment for the customer and for the bank.

Tom: That’s great well Shirley and Ruth we really appreciate your time, this has been really helpful just to dive into how do we navigate online account opening strategies, particularly during a time live COVID and Ruth maybe next episode. Next time, we can do it on location. Next time we’re allowed to travel, wouldn’t mind catching a flight out there.

Caleb: I think we’d all love to do that.

Ruth: Yeah, we’ll expense a trip.

Shirley: The invitation is always there.

Tom: I would love it; I’ve been to Hawaii about 10 times and it’s my favorite place on earth, so I’ll take up your invitation at some point.

Ruth: That’s the best testimonial ever, so awesome.

Tom/Caleb: Thank you, guys.

Caleb: Well, thank you, Ruth, Shirley, and Kranthi, or all of those men science really fascinating conversation I felt like that went well over my head at times, but it was like we said earlier it’s nice to know that some experts really have a good grasp of what does it look like to innovate your digital offerings, particularly with your online accounts because, as we’ve seen with COVID that’s kind of where it’s all been headed.

Tom: And one of the best things that came from that, Caleb is we got an invitation to go out to Hawaii from Ruth, we’ll definitely try to follow that up when we can travel again.

Caleb: I had the opportunity to go one-time several years ago and it was a highlight of my life for sure. So, always down to go back to Hawaii.

Tom: Well I told you I’ve been there several times I would love to go back, even more so.

Caleb: Well, tell us what’s next in the pipeline, as far as our upcoming shows.

Tom: Well I’m really excited our next show is something that I’m a little bit more familiar with than digital banking and this is a, you know, the investment portfolio, we did a show, I don’t know maybe six weeks ago. It was very well listened to. So we want to try to redo that we’re going to refresh those recommendations and some of the thoughts that we have on investment. And then after that, I think we’re going to pull in Ed Coppin from our, our west coast can talk about the art product and some of them, the hedging opportunities or hedging products that he has available for. So I’m really excited these next couple of weeks, it’ll be sort of more traditional banking type shows so please give us a listen to those.

Caleb: Can’t wait Stay tuned.

 

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