Embrace change, take risks, and disrupt yourself

Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.

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Digital Transformation: Not Just for Big Banks

Research shows that the biggest banks and fintech firms are doing best at delivering digital experiences, while smaller banks and credit unions often struggle.

How can mid-tier organizations keep pace with consumer and small business expectations? Where should an organization start? How can you prioritize initiatives and partner with third-party solutions providers and fintech firms to innovate and create positive experiences at scale, quickly?

For answers to these and other questions, we are joined by Ross Creasy, Chief Innovation Officer at Ameris Bank in Georgia and Stuart Cook, Chief Digital Product Officer of Valley Bank in New Jersey. Both of these executives will share how they became leaders in digital banking transformation.

This episode of Banking Transformed is sponsored by Terafina:

NCR Terafina unifies the digital onboarding and sales experience for banks and credit unions across the digital, branch, and call-center channels. NCR Terafina’s sales platform is a multichannel product suite offering the broadest spectrum of products, including consumer deposits and lending, real estate, small business deposits and lending, and commercial deposits.

Visit here to learn more about how Terafina collaborates with financial institutions to deepen customer relationships and accelerate scalable growth.

Jim Marous:
Hello, and welcome to Banking Transformed Solutions, a show that provides financial institutions insight into marketplace solutions that can help with digital banking transformation. I'm your host, Jim Marous, founder and CEO of the Digital Bank Report and co-publisher of The Financial Brand. Digital transformation is a large endeavor that impacts all areas of a financial institution. Research shows that the biggest banks and fintech firms are doing the best in delivering digital solutions while smaller banks and credit unions usually struggle.

Jim Marous:
How can mid-tier organizations keep pace with consumer and small business expectations? Where should organizations start? How can you prioritize initiatives and partner with third party solution providers and fintech firms to innovate and create positive experiences at scale quickly? For answers to these and other questions, we are joined by Ross Creasy, chief innovation officer at Ameris Bank in Georgia and Stuart Cook, chief digital product officer of Valley Bank in New Jersey. Both of these executives will share how they have become digital banking leaders in transformation.

Jim Marous:
I couldn't be more excited. It's always fun to have actual financial institution partners or employees of financial institutions on the show because as opposed to us talking about theory and what we think's happening, we can really talk about what's really happening in financial institutions. So Ross and Stuart, I'm so happy to have you here. Just as a little background, Ross, you're at Ameris in Georgia. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and also a little bit about Ameris?

Ross Creasy:
Yeah. First of all, thrilled to be here. We're headquartered here in Atlanta, Georgia. I've been in banking my entire career really focused on the technology that entire duration. And then Ameris, we're a full service bank. We offer consumer, small business, commercial, construction, mortgage, wealth, U.S. Premium, SBA service to all of our customers, and we're a bank in southeast. We offer mortgages in a much broader footprint from a banking perspective.

Jim Marous:
And you started Ameris in 2019, correct?

Ross Creasy:
Started in 2019.

Jim Marous:
Okay. And Stuart, can you tell us a little bit about Valley Bank? I think we're going to notice right away that you have that New Jersey accent.

Stuart Cook:
That's right. Yeah. Yeah. So very pleased to be here. Again, back in banking, after probably the best part of 15 years outside in fintech. So I am chief digital product officer at Valley Bank. Been here a couple of years, previous to that, a couple of fintechs. And it seems like a long time ago, I did RBS out of London. So Valley Bank, 40 odd billion assets down the Eastern Seaboard. I'm actually based in Austin, Texas. I've got a small product crew out there as well as a few folks in California. So we're a distributed team. Yeah, really happy to be here.

Jim Marous:
You, Stuart, also started in 2019, as I read. What is interesting is both of you starting in 2019, you didn't get your feet too wet before we got thrown into the pandemic. So Ross, can you talk a little bit about what has happened at your organization, at Ameris, over the last, let's say, year and a half, and what was a big takeaway that you saw from resulting from either the consumers or your financial institution as a result of the pandemic?

Ross Creasy:
It's definitely been a whirlwind, I will tell you. We had a lot of things in flight before the pandemic hit that positioned us quite well to really be on the forefront. We already had a consumer online account opening platform. We were really in a good place with our mobile and digital technology for consumer and for business, and within a month after COVID kind of hit here in the states, we had rolled out Zell. So we were really well positioned, and we were operating at about 30% in the office, or excuse me, 30% remote before COVID, and we went to about 75, 80% within four weeks of COVID hitting. So it was a massive acceleration on some investments that we already had in flight. We just blitzed it and got it in place. So I think it positioned us to weather the pandemic.

Ross Creasy:
I think it fostered a new way around how our bank collaborates, got a tremendous amount of adoption on video, the use of chat, and I think it really has accelerated us in a way of how to collaborate and move the needle, but in addition, start deploying WebEx to video with our customers knowing they didn't want to sit in their offices or we had to be careful about them coming in. We adopted video across the bank to do one on one videos with our customers. So I think that was a big win for us that really positioned us for really strong earnings and great service for our customers back last year and even continued into this year.

Jim Marous:
And Stuart, from your perspective, how did things change from Valley bank both from internally, but from the consumer basis as well, or the customer basis?

Stuart Cook:
Yeah. I mean, similar. So when I joined, I did a reasonable amount of due diligence. Coming back to a bank wasn't really on my radar at the time. And we had some early adoption of the similar sort of technologies with Zoom and Teams and so on in the bank. I mean, it really forced and accelerated those behaviors in the bank. We rapidly got laptops out to people and got them online and working from home. At one point, a third of our branches were closed. A third were drive-through only, and a third were kind of appointment only. And we saw that it did accelerate some of the transition to digital, as well, in terms of the customer's usage.

Stuart Cook:
The real interesting exercise, I suppose, was the PPP response where we kind of batted above our average there and were over two billion in loans and 13,000 small businesses with quite a small average loan size. And that experience, actually, really accelerated the kind of collaboration Ross is talking about internally. There just wasn't time to treat that like a traditional bank project.

Jim Marous:
Not much time available there, was there?

Stuart Cook:
No. No. So we didn't have people with clipboards collecting requirements. So we were able to inspect and adapt as the various kind of final interim rules version three were release. We were able to, across the board, shift early and often in terms of our PPP proposition. And that was a great catalyst, I think, for us, one, realizing the scale of change that we could do together in the bank cross-functionally in a kind of agile fashion, and that's really set us up for some of the other change that we want to make to our legacy stack at the bank.

Jim Marous:
So Stuart, you talk about the due diligence you did in coming to Valley Bank. Moving from a fintech to a bank, as you said, was not on your radar, what changed your mind because there has to be something there that you said, "You know what?" Maybe it was the big fish in a small pond, or small fish in a big pond, doesn't matter which way it is. What would prompt somebody to move from a fintech to a traditional bank?

Stuart Cook:
Yeah, I'm actively working on building my team, and I've got a few folks coming on board you wouldn't ordinarily think would be coming to a bank like Valley. Really, it's the size of the ambition. Where we are positioned in terms of the bank, it's not the kind of challenge in the sense that we're here trying to convince our CEO and CIO that here are the right things that we should be doing. It's that the bank really wants to drive that level of innovation and change. I talk about this as a cultural transformation. I mean, sure, it's a digital transformation and there's a lot of technology, strategy behind it, but really it's changing the ways that we work in the bank. That was just too good for me. I love being part of those sort of changes.

Stuart Cook:
And again, there was just a lot of noise around what some of the challenger banks were doing in retail. And for me, it's like, how can we take the ways of working and some of the tools and techniques that those guys are using and then rethink that for kind of small business and mid-market? How do we rethink a journey there to help an entrepreneur set up their business, learn the right types of financial behaviors, be successful and be along every step of that journey. To me, that's what community banking was to me. I've always been fascinated by this country and the way we came out of the Great Depression with real relationships driving a kind of recovery. For me, it's like I think the opportunity to reimagine that with technology and digital is just intriguing.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting because you bring up the fact that your leadership is already in tune with what had to happen, and we see this on an ongoing basis. This is a challenge that it's very hard to change leadership thinking, but it was already changed at Valley. Ross, from your perspective, you came from the Legacy Banking background. However, you came from some very large organizations, and Ameris is certainly not the biggest in the marketplace, certainly not in the Georgia and the Southeast region. So what prompted you to move? And I ask that because you've taken on a very important role at your organization from an innovation and a digital perspective. And I'm bringing this up mainly because I think that both the organizations were already down the path of this change. Is that true?

Ross Creasy:
Yeah. I lead all of technology and digital security for the company, and I'll tell you, what attracted me here is not only the culture, but also the ambition to grow, but not lose that community bank feel. I think it really is important as you grow and get bigger you don't lose your community roots and you don't lose the relationships and the servicing aspect. Even though digital is absolutely a channel, you have to offer, and you have to be great at it. You don't want to lose those roots as you get bigger. That's really what attracted me. I'll tell you, when I look across our bank, similar to Stuart, PPP really has opened eyes to a lot of people who had never really experienced digital channels before internally. So when we went down the PPP path and offered digital channels for lending, it really accelerated the art of possibility in a lot of places that, for folks had just never experienced it before.

Ross Creasy:
So that alone has really accelerated, in many aspects, our digital transformation and really, I think, without something like PPP and the pandemic, I think that cultural transformation would've taken longer. In the leadership team, I think every time... In fact, we had earnings this morning, and technology came up, and it comes up every quarter. It comes up in every executive team meeting around how do we continue to make sure we drive efficiency in the bank and reinvest those dollars to help further accelerate our digital offerings to all of our customers and even to our teammates at the same time.

Jim Marous:
Well, it's interesting, Ross. You bring up about the digital offerings. We, many times, get caught up in... We ask the question, do you provide digital account opening? Do you provide digital onboarding? And many times, we get the yes. And then we find out that the process may take 15 to 20 minutes, which in my mind, yeah, you may enable it, but you haven't really done it digitally. So from your organization's perspective, how do you see the digital account opening and digital onboarding process as the importance of speed and simplicity and even empathy in where the consumer is? How do you personalize that journey?

Ross Creasy:
Yeah. And I think that's why we invested in Terra Fina. We use them for consumer. It has really allowed us to accelerate the speed of consumer online account opening. It gives us a lot of configurability to really make it the Ameris way with taking advantage of their speed and experience to accelerate it. So for me, that has been incredibly important. In fact, we are already started down the path of the small business online account opening that'll launch later this year. And to me, the pieces that are so critical to make online account opening valuable to not only our existing customers but future customers, it's got to be fast, it's got to be intuitive, and we got to make it easy for them.

Ross Creasy:
There's much of our customer's data we already have. We need to make it easy for them to originate new accounts whether it's for them or their family members. And I think that's really the partnership that we have with Terra Fina. Their openness, their speed, their agility has really gotten us to that place. So we couldn't be more thrilled where we are, but even more excited this year when we launch our small business online account opening.

Jim Marous:
That's excited. And Stuart, from your perspective, I got the indication that you're going through the same process, that you're trying to simplify and to make it easier to engage digitally both on the new account opening and onboarding process not only for consumers but also small businesses. You [inaudible 00:14:23] using multiple channels, and it's not just about driving digital because the consumer, now, becoming aware of whether or not a financial institution or anybody they partner with is simply trying to save money through digital or if they're really trying to leverage digital and make a better experience. And there's such a gap between what you do and trying to get somebody to do it on digital because it saves us money. And I go back to the ATM days. We did the same thing then. We never tried to make a better experience. We just tried to cut costs, and we realized that, by the way, we just added transactions. We didn't cut costs really that much at all.

Jim Marous:
What are you doing at Valley to make this all come together?

Stuart Cook:
Similar. I mean, we had an online account opening experience when I joined, Jim, pretty much as you described. For me, I went back to the last time I worked at a bank, and we thought we were smart. Back then, we were benchmarking what we were doing against other banks. Did we have bill pay? Did we have various types of transfers? And consumers don't care. We're benchmarked against the very best experience that you have, right? So if you're using Uber, which we all take, for example, we all take for granted now, as an example, and when you think about that experience and 10 years ago, it didn't exist. Everything we do in a bank looks like it did 10 years ago. We're still organized in the same way, and we have the proliferation of sort of Common Ways Law in banks.

Stuart Cook:
So again, I used to joke, to get the very best out of your bank, you need to know how a bank works because if you took a mortgage out, when you go and open another account good luck because those two things are on separate systems, and you wouldn't share the data across it. So for me, it was really important that we were thinking multi-channel, and I describe it internally as creating a horizontal capability here around customer onboarding. Again, I try and change the language a bit because we're bringing customers on and forming a relationship with them. So that should be across channels, and it should also be across accounts. So for me, that was the importance in the technology choice here that we were able to bundle products together, cross sell and up sell, recognize you if you're an existing customer, and as Ross says, not make you fill in your name and address because we already know what it is.

Stuart Cook:
And I suppose, for me, when I talk about that onboarding, to make sure that you went through a journey that if you were applying on a mobile phone, at the end of it, you've downloaded the app and were able to access the account in real time that you'd opened. So just trying to break down the silos in a sort of a abstract, the way that we organize ourselves currently in banking and think more holistically and with a customer-centric view.

Jim Marous:
So Stuart, when you're looking at your next project, you're hiring people right now on the innovation and data side. When you're looking at your next project, how do you integrate your thinking around partners like Terra Fina in building what you're trying to build from both an innovation standpoint, product standpoint, deployment standpoint, all these different elements? How do you work on that partnership? How do you work with partners, be it Terra Fina or anybody else, and making it so that they're on the same path, but they're also pushing you forward because the reason why we use third party providers and basically the biggest advantage are a couple things. Number one, it's like a GPS. It gets me there faster and with less challenges and detours. They can leverage other organizations' experiences so you don't have to relearn. You may come up with an idea, and Terra Fina says, "You know what? We've seen this tried three different places. Maybe it'll be different here, but we've seen problems, and this is what the problem is."

Jim Marous:
But as much as with anything else, it's the speed that they can do it at because if we try to build this stuff internally, it'd be difficult, but how do you manage that relationship? How do you manage that partnership so that they're on the same page as you are and maybe even a page ahead?

Stuart Cook:
Yeah. Really important. So in my last role, it was a CTO, so I'm a recovering CTO, back in product where I belong. I want a partner. I want to understand the technology stack, and I'll say that when I met Terra Fina and asked them some questions, they were an open book. We actually, I started asking them about their data model, and they set me into the code, completely open about it. Also, we're a big SalesForce shop. Terra Fina's built on the SalesForce ecosystem. I wanted to bring it into my org, into my SalesForce org and put it into my own pipeline so that I could manage it. So that relationship and that openness was super important to me.

Stuart Cook:
The other point about the platform is it's an open platform. So right now, we use Alloy, we use Plaid, we use DocuSign. Those are our choices, not Terra Fina's choices, and there's a degree of openness to their platform and the types of enabling technologies that I could use. Those are all really important signs to me because we need to be able to own the customer experience. And Ross mentioned the sort of high level or high degree of configurability at the platform. So for me, as I think about some of the niches and some of the areas that we're looking at right now, I want to be able to configure the right experience for those niches during that onboarding process and not just have something that comes out of the box, works a certain way, and needs customization for the things I want it to do.

Stuart Cook:
So I've been really pleased with our progress with the platform today. Our intent is we'll help put all the consumer deposit products on. We've got a release just coming up. We've got small business coming, then we're putting it into branch, and we're going to move it on to consumer lending. Yeah, we couldn't have done that without the level of transparency that Terra Fina gave us when we first met them.

Jim Marous:
So Ross, from your perspective, when you're looking at working with partners like Terra Fina or anybody else, are you looking to find the best individual provider for anything you're trying to do? So you're going to split this up. One thing we've seen is that what's great about these solution providers is many of them have already worked with any configuration you would put out there. So they know your core provider. They know organizations that may do KYC. They may do things that a company like Terra Fina also does, but you may make the decision to go a different route for different components of this. How do you work with partners like Terra Fina from the perspective of product development, innovation, digital transformation? How do you do that exactly?

Ross Creasy:
I mean, when we look at partners on who we're going to partner up with, we have to make sure it fits in our architecture, and if we go down this path of having too many different platforms, it becomes incredibly expensive, and we all know in banking, margins are not thick. They're thin. So we have to be very smart about it. I think, similar to Stuart, we are heavily invested in SalesForce in terms of an overall platform, but we also have some third party products that are built on SalesForce, and Terra Fina being one of the large ones. So I think that benefit for us is when we look at our broader ecosystem on how we do sales, service and marketing, everything is a very much open architecture model where we can bring it together to really make it easier for our teammates to service and sell and market, but also how we originate new customers and delight existing.

Ross Creasy:
So I think that's important. Terra Fina has demonstrated to us that they're highly agile. They move pretty fast, and that's what we like. For us, you're never done with the transformation and the amount of work you have to get done, but typically, you've got a pipeline of things that you have to prioritize and Palmer CEO said that this morning. We've got to be smart in order to prioritize, but the quicker we can get something done that's of quality and has a great experience, the faster we can move to the next thing. Terra Fina has demonstrated that for us with online account opening and the acceleration. I think it's all the things that you have to put around it to make that experience, that customer experience solid is important. We're going to do the same thing. We're going to get all the online account opening platforms up, and then we're going to move it into the branches to make it easier for our branches to originate new deposit accounts.

Ross Creasy:
So we couldn't be more thrilled, but that's important for us, a vendor that's agile and that aligns to our architecture.

Jim Marous:
So Ross, from your organization's perspective, if you took different components... I see transformation, digital transformation coming from seven different components ranging from the customer experience to data and analytics to innovation to back office processes to technology to employees engagement and then leadership. From those, what is the biggest challenge at your organization that you say, "I wish we could move forward quicker in this area." What area do you feel like you really have to focus on right now more than anything to have the speed of change that you need to have?

Ross Creasy:
We got to be conscious on the volume of change. I always use the analogy of we're trying to change the engine and change the paint and change the seats while the plane's in the air, and we got to be smart around how we make that change not only to our teammates but also to our customers. So we just have to be smart about our sequencing, but at the same time, recognizing that our company still has to run the bank. So as we're deploying new things, we got to make sure our people are trained, they know how to use it, know how to continue to service and sell whether we're changing the way they do it. So that is the biggest challenge. When I look at Q3 and Q4, probably 65% of what we're going to deliver in 2021 falls in those two quarters. So we got to be smart on when that change goes in. Are all of our teammates trained, and is it going to delight the customer, and are we going to have quality when we launch? So that's the biggest challenge we face here at Ameris.

Jim Marous:
Well, there's so much on the table. I've been fortunate in the last three weeks to meet with probably about 60 financial institutions, and I'm starting to hear the same thing, that you have a situation that there's a lot of priorities. It's a matter of saying, "How can I make big impacts when little expenditure and effort? Not that we're trying to make it easy, but we have to do something. We have to move forward. How do we keep up with change? And how do we convince management to move forward?" From your perspective, Stuart, how do you prioritize what needs to be done? And from your organization's perspective and not a dig against your organization, but you guys are doing a lot for a relatively modest sized organization. How do you prioritize what needs to be done, and what's the biggest challenge you have in that overall implementation of those plans?

Stuart Cook:
Happy to say, we're kind of in the process of shifting to OKS, and I like the focus that that brings to us as an organization. So we're thinking about our overriding objectives and then breaking those down into key results. That helps us drive the right level of prioritization. I think, transparently, our challenge and not just us, but particularly the sort of cultural transformation that we're talking about is banks are full of projects, and actually, if you want to be successful at this, you've got to move to be a product organization. Now, I would say that because I'm the chief product guy, but I truly believe it. I think that some of the challenge around prioritization typically in banks, it's in your returns. It's about quarterly earnings, driving the types of projects that get done.

Stuart Cook:
And actually, to make the transformation to really compete with the types of business that are kind of coming round the edges, a stripe is not operating like that, for example. Chime's not operating like that. They're thinking in different timeframes, and they're thinking with a different mentality. So I describe that as moving from a project organization to a product organization, cross-functional, durable teams working on persistent opportunities. And that's a challenge because that's moving a whole mentality, but also the whole framework and the whole way that a bank operates, finds it hard to move into a kind of product orientation like that. And when I say that, I say products to colleagues and friends in banking. They go, "yeah, sure." Checking, savings, DDAs. And it's like, "No, I don't mean that." I mean customer-centric teams working on opportunities and problem statements around that.

Stuart Cook:
So that's our challenge. We're trying to find the talent to come in and to help us drive some of that change.

Jim Marous:
Stuart, as you said, you're the product guy, and there's a lot of to be said right now that we get stuck in our own old product sets. Fintechs are making great in roads in providing new solutions, new product innovations, products completely outside the financial world, and if we look at an open banking environment, which you're from the UK, so you're more familiar with what open banking should look like in the future. And if you look at open banking or even further distribution of different types of services, and I'm not just saying products, but engagements, how important will it be going forward for a consumer to be able to have more reasons to go to your app to find more things that help them become more financially astute, more financially in control as opposed to having maybe 20 different relationships to different organizations? How much are you focused on trying to bring this together so you can offer those really fundamental but integration projects that make it so that I'm going to my phone more often to your app?

Stuart Cook:
Yeah. I mean, this is a fascinating one that I was part of a team that built one of the original [inaudible 00:29:08] Banking platforms, starting in UK. It's what brought me to the U.S. when my friends [inaudible 00:29:13] invested, and went through the life cycle there. It's the kind of bundling and then the great unbundling, and then there's sort of bundling. So I remember back then thinking about the types of services that we should have on our platform, and we always talking about banking first. We had a lot of experience around the kind of journey that we'd seen from a consumer point of view in internet banking when I worked at a bank. So getting people to understand the value just on a kind of check my balance to making a payment and then to driving engagement that way.

Stuart Cook:
At Valley, I tend to think that... Someone asked me about this the other day in PayPal and the Supra, and it's like, banks were the original Supra app. Ross described it. We have a range of services. So for me, I think it is around that, the life cycle of our customers and using data to better understand where they are in that life cycle and when it's appropriate to surface our own products but also partner products, as well. So I do see a future where we may be white labeling, or we may not. In the UK, there are some examples, like Starling Bank and their platform and the way they've introduced partner services. So we keep an open mind on that, and I think our starting point is just to be better at understanding our customers' needs and their unmet needs and making sure the right services are surfaced at the right time and their interactions with us.

Jim Marous:
So Ross, from your perspective, how at risk our our relationships, our account holder relationships if we don't build more reason for them to engage? In other words, where do you put your focus, and it's an important focus, to look at other ways to provide engagement opportunities that maybe aren't always sales opportunities? They may be content marketing. It may be budgeting tools, things like this. How much is your organization focused on saying how can I expand the reasons for why a consumer may want to engage with us for their benefit, not maybe necessarily for ours because at the end of the day, it's going to benefit us. But the problem is, we've gotten so focused on our individual products that sometimes, we lose sight of the fact that the relationship overall is now built more on what can we bring to the table? In a digital world, it's certainly much easier. How important is that from your perspective?

Ross Creasy:
Oh, it's very important. I mean, you talk about Google and Amazon and what they're doing, and they're using the power of data to power what they're doing to what Stuart said a little earlier around product. I mean, we have a cross-functional consumer team that that's all they do is focus on that. What can we do to make our service better? What can we do to offer more, to get more to consumers, and how do we keep them engaged? So I think it's incredibly important. If you're just going to think that you're just going to go and offer a deposit account and a loan and think you're going to be successful, you're not going to be successful. You're going to get outrun. And I think it's all about engaging your customer and knowing, understanding their transactions and understanding where they're in their journey to make the right offers to them at the right time.

Ross Creasy:
And if your digital technology is not in front of them, there's really no easy way to engage with them because I think we're past the days of mailing. I mean, that came from Capital One. That was a big thing at Capital One, mailing everybody everything. You've got to get them engaged with your mobile app, and that's the way to keep them engaged and understand where they are in their journey to grow financial wealth and security.

Jim Marous:
So Ross, on the same theme, I guess to a degree, when you're looking at expanding reason for an organization or a consumer's or small business's to engage with you, how important is, and should organizations be looking at solution providers and fintech partnerships? So how important are those outside organizations to bring the tools that can build these engagements, maybe provide them on a turnkey basis or maybe just help you meet that journey?

Ross Creasy:
It's incredibly important. I mean, I think Stuart said it earlier. It's hard to get great digital and technology talent to come work for a bank. And not only be able to come work for a bank, but be able to retain them. So I think you can still garner and achieve getting that talent, but on a scale that drive speed that makes it incredibly challenging. So I think having those partners that help compliment your internal team to do that acceleration is important. So whether it's a solution, whether it's a partner to help build on a platform you already have, it's important. Speed in today's world is probably one of the most important things given all of the competitive landscape with have with fintechs.

Jim Marous:
Well, it's interesting. Terra Fina's a good example. If you're trying to meet the needs of consumers, those needs are not stopping in place and saying, "Okay, I got my target." They continually evolve, and I think it's a great example where your relationship with Terra Fina and with others is that I can't hit a moving target that continues to move outward unless I work with third parties. So from your standpoint, Stuart, when you look at third party relationships, if an organization's having a struggle, let's say you get paralysis of [inaudible 00:34:56]. They're looking at all these different possibilities and models and integrations between different partners. Why should financial institutions look at fintech and third party relationships? But even more important, what does it bring to the table?

Stuart Cook:
I mean, you were talking about the various categories here. So when we thought about Terra Fina and we had some of our selection criteria, in terms of the customer experience, being able to plug other enabling technologies in there that changed our back office processes was really important to us. So we went from previously less than 50% of our applications being straight through to now something like 95% of applications that are on the Terra Fina platform are straight through. They're just not touched by a human. And then we start to think broader about the opportunity in the sort of fintech ecosystem to help not just solve the challenges that we had but where else in their business they might have some challenges. We're particularly big in CRE. We've been active really in the fintech community both in terms of engagement. Also, we've made a few investments.

Stuart Cook:
And one of the things we thought about was, I suppose, a level of curation, so making relationships with fintechs like Built, [SmartRen 00:36:21], these types of businesses out there, some of which, we're using Built, but we're also opening up that channel for our customers as well. In some ways, some of these relationships, they don't even need to really be direct in the sense that they enable the bank to provide better service but just being able to introduce these technologies in the same way as a relationship, we may well have introduced a network amongst business owners. Now, we want to be as helpful as possible to our customers. So I think we try and think about it very broadly when we think about the ecosystem and how we help our customers just better realize their dreams.

Jim Marous:
Okay. And finally, Stuart, last question for both of you. When you look at the next year, when you look at 2022, and you're really looking at strategic planning right now, what is your biggest focus on what you really want to move? What area are you trying to move the needle the most within your organization right now for 2022?

Stuart Cook:
I'm real excited about the work that we're doing in Cannabis Banking.

Jim Marous:
I did see that one coming.

Stuart Cook:
We're one of the largest banks taking cannabis deposits right now, and we're actively working on payment solutions for that market, which I'm super excited. It's in a fascinating kind of subject area, obviously highly regulated, but huge amounts of opportunity. So the fact that we can see from seek to sale what's happening around our compliance in a transaction. Also, for me, I'm just... So suddenly, we can see all the way down the supply chain, making a credit decision with that type of data becomes intriguing to me. There's lots of product development I want to do around there. So that's one example of the types of niches that we're exploring. For me, I call them digital table stakes. A lot of these things we've been talking about, they should just be table stakes. No one's going to differentiate with account opening, quite honestly. You can't be terrible at it. We need to get our customers on board even straight through on the servicing channels and making sure that they can service and transact with themselves. But if I can find the niches where we can really understand the needs and unmet needs, then I want a layer of value on top of those digital table stakes. So that's our focus for the next year.

Jim Marous:
That's a lot on the table. Ross, from your perspective, you look at 2022, what is the area or what are the areas? It may not be product. It may be process. It may be something else. Where do you want to move the needle the most in 2022?

Ross Creasy:
There's two things. I think we've got a lot of things launching this year not only just on the deposits but on the lending side from a digital perspective. For us, it's about 22, getting it to a more accelerated but broader level. When we look at our mortgage and our SBA footprint, it's by far connected into regions that are far greater than where we have our core banking locations. So when we launch that this year, we don't have to be in close proximity to any of our branches. So I think that's really, will be a big focus.

Ross Creasy:
I think the second one is around automation. We use robotics today. It has really accelerated our ability to weather the volume in mortgages this year because that's where we started. We're doing it in a couple other pockets, but I think there's a massive opportunity as we grow to automate operations and back office. So that's, to me, the area that I get really excited about because I've been in banking my entire career, and as you get bigger, you got more volume. And some of those things are easily automated through robotics. So to me, that's our next focus, which is exciting because I don't think there's really a simple way to do it, but I think to me, it's something I want us to do because I think it's going to be so powerful as we grow.

Jim Marous:
Ross, Stuart, this has really been exciting. I want to thank Terra Fina for bringing you both to the table and have the discussion. I really miss having the engagements with the people that are actually doing it in the field. It's exciting. I think the challenges are massive, but you're showing with both your organizations that the future's really exciting, and there's really opportunity out there if you focus on speed, simplicity and delivering a good experience to the consumer and to the customer overall. And the way to get there is working with partners such as Terra Fina to get there and be able to leverage the intelligence that's out there already to move forward. I mean, this has been a tremendous joy and a great opportunity to really see what's possible and to see what can be done. Thank you so much for being on the show today.

Ross Creasy:
Jim, Stuart, great to be with you.

Stuart Cook:
Yeah, thank you, Jim.

Jim Marous:
Thanks.

Jim Marous:
Thanks for listening to Banking Transformed Solutions, our extension of the Bank Transformed Podcast. If you enjoyed today's interview, be sure to follow the show on your favorite podcast app, and don't forget to give our show a five-star rating. Also, catch my recent articles on The Financial Brand, and check out our research we're doing for the Digital Bank Report.

Jim Marous:
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to our producer, Leah [Longbreak 00:41:56], audio engineer Sean Roe Hoffman, and theater producer Will Pritz. I'm your host, Jim Marous. Until next time, remember, all great changes are preceded by chaos.

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