Using Culture to Drive Innovation at Your Bank

September 1st, 2017

culture-9-1-17.pngHow important is culture when it comes to changing a company’s approach to innovation and technology? Bank Director’s 2017 Technology Survey found that few bank executives and directors believe that their bank’s culture has more in common with a technology company than a traditional bank. But that doesn’t mean that cultural elements don’t play a role in creating a tech-savvy bank.

People generally underestimate the importance of culture and innovating,” says Jimmy Stead, chief consumer banking officer at Frost Bank, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, with $30 billion in assets.

Most financial institutions wouldn’t be comfortable operating like a technology company. Frost Bank doesn’t think like a technology company, says Stead, but the bank has adopted a cultural mindset along with practices that promote innovation. Other banks are changing their approach too. Here are four elements that financial institutions are embedding in their cultures to encourage innovation and technological change.

Make empathy a core cultural component.
Caring about the customer is a core value at Frost Bank. “If you’re going to truly innovate, you have to start with a problem that’s worth solving,” says Stead. To solve problems for customers, you have to know what problems are important to them. “You don’t do that by caring about innovation. You do it by caring about people,” he says. Improvement is a secondary element of this corporate mindset, and employees are encouraged and empowered to identify and solve customer pain points.

Require bank employees to actively use financial technology.
In his “Advice for New Bank Directors,” Bank Director Editor in Chief Jack Milligan encourages board members to use financial technology, including the bank’s mobile app and competing products such as Venmo, the person-to-person (P2P) payments app owned by PayPal. It’s sound advice that extends to bank staff as well.

When Central National Bank, in Waco, Texas, with $820 million in assets, first introduced mobile banking, Chief Information Officer Rusty Haferkamp says that employees struggled to become familiar with the technology and, by extension, support customers. Later, the bank required that staff use the P2P payments function within the bank’s mobile app, and employees are better equipped to help customers. Training staff on the latest technology is an ongoing process as new solutions continue to evolve.

Encourage collaboration and partnerships.
Teamwork drives innovation at Frost Bank. “We’re fostering an environment of giving people the space to experiment some, and breaking down barriers so that they can work closely and be intensely focused on our customer,” says Stead. An open and collaborative environment helps Frost attract talent that has the technical know-how, he adds.

Relationships with the right technology vendors can drive innovation and also provide another layer of expertise. “I’ve tried through technology to help position the bank, knowing that we can’t develop it internally,” says Chip Register, chief administrative officer and CIO at Fauquier Bankshares, which has $646 million in assets in Warrenton, Virginia. Partnerships can enable this development.

Foster and reward innovative ideas.
San Antonio-based USAA, the diversified financial services parent of $81 billion asset USAA Federal Savings Bank, relies on an array of programs, including competitions, to encourage employees to come up with innovative ideas. Ninety-four percent of USAA employees participated in USAA’s innovation programs in 2016, with USAA implementing more than 1,000 employee ideas, says Lea Sims, assistant vice president of USAA Labs, which she discusses in further detail in Bank Director digital magazine’s May issue.

Frost Bank hosts an annual hackathon, a week-long event where employees collaborate on and develop technology solutions. Experimentation is encouraged—the winning team had two failed ideas before hitting on a winner—and each team has to communicate with customers about their concept. Some of these ideas are put to use at the bank. But that’s not the only goal of the event. “We want to make sure we’re giving smart people a chance to just work on something they’re passionate about,” says Stead.

Department managers at $444 million asset Franklin Savings Bank in Franklin, New Hampshire, are expected to identify efficiencies or areas for improvement in the customer experience, says Cheri Caruso, the bank’s CIO. These goals are part of each manager’s quarterly review, and these managers in turn engage their departments to uncover ideas and implement solutions.

Support for technology comes from the top. “We’re very fortunate that our board is very technology-focused,” says Caruso. She says new employees are often surprised by how much technology is in use at the bank, given its size. “It all comes from the top with the board supporting this,” she says.

emccormick

Emily McCormick is the Director of Research for Bank Director, an information resource for directors and officers of financial companies.You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ehmccormick or get connected on LinkedIn.