Advice to Fintech Firms: How to Partner with Banks

Banks can meet changing customer expectations, but it won’t be easy. Partnering with the best Fintech firms will be a tremendous help. But what will characterize the best Fintechs?

Banks need help, and they have recognized that some of that help will come from Fintech firms. That is why so many banks have created incubators and accelerators.

Banks and Fintech firms need each another. It took a while to sink in, but most players now agree. But Fintechs struggle with how to partner with banks, and vice versa. What will a good Fintech partner look like?

Partners, not Vendors

Without a doubt, banks are looking for partners. They want companies that will share their business goals and understand their vision. They want partners who will measure success the way they do.

But what partnering model are we talking about? There are several existing or emerging models.

1. Standalone in-house solutions: Occasionally a need can be fully met by implementing a partner’s technology as a standalone platform. For larger banks, this will be rare. Entry into a new business, such as a niche insurance product, may present a possibility. Integration with corporate systems (general ledger, regulatory reporting, etc) would still be necessary. Nothing is truly standalone in banking.

2. Integrated in-house solutions: For larger banks, solutions will be hosted in-house. For smaller banks this may be a SaaS solution. Either way, the greatest challenge is to collaborate on integration. Examples would be an ACH or wire solution, or a full core banking system.

3. White label solutions: At times banks may outsource to a Fintech partner. The partner takes full responsibility for technology and operations. There is some regulatory risk for the partner. For example, responsibility for AML monitoring or sanctions screening. The customer will see the service as a bank offering (the effect of white-labelling). An example might be a small business lending solution funded by the bank, but operated by the Fintech.

4. Full Outsourcing: Not all services are customer-facing. Internal services, or areas not a core competency for a bank, may be outsourced to a Fintech provider. In this case, there is a clear contractual division between bank and partner. Regulatory monitoring and reporting may become examples of this model.

5. Apps and Add-ins: Some banks have an app-oriented approach to customer experience. In this case, the opportunity for Fintech is clear. They may be iOS or Android apps or widgets. They should also be functionally paired with web components (promoting an Omnichannel orientation). They will need to be robust, well-designed and easily integrated. Such add-ins have the potential to greatly enrich customer online and mobile experience.

6. APIs: This model can work in both directions. Banks will publish APIs for customer and transaction data access. This will allow Fintech firms to deliver capabilities that enhance customer experience. For European banks this will soon be mandatory (under PSD2/XS2A) and the UK looks set to follow. In reverse, banks may access data stores and SaaS transaction capabilities offered by Fintech firms. They will expect well-designed and documented APIs.

Fintech firms should be clear on the kind of partnership they are offering to banks. Banks, for their part will need to consider the implications of each partnering model. This includes such things as:

· Regulatory monitoring and reporting responsibilities

· Third-party risk management

· Cyber-security implementation

· Customer service and operations processes

· Ownership of customer interactions

What Makes a Good Partner?

Most companies will call themselves partners rather than vendors. There may in fact be a case for being a vendor (there is less long-term reward, but also less overhead). Yet, if Fintech firms are to be a part of the transformation of banking, they will do so as partners.

So what are the factors that will make a Fintech a good partner? How would I advise Fintech firms to focus? What will make you a good strategic partner to your banking prospects?

Know Your Partner’s Business

There are several aspects to this. Only by mastering them all will banks view you as a partner, as a true peer as they develop and implement their business strategy.

1. Know the banking industry, or at least the pieces of it in which you play. This goes further than you might think. For example, a consumer P2P payments Fintech provider needs to understand the business context. This includes payments clearing and settlement mechanisms; cross-border implications; real-time versus delayed payments; and alternative payment mechanisms. Without this broader view, you will not be an effective advisor focused on the bank’s and its customers’ needs. You will also not be able to recognize the true extent (and limitations) of your products.

2. Know how banks make decisions: Understand key business drivers, program and project funding approaches. Learn banks’ partner selection processes. Recognize the intangible, unspoken determinants of partnering decisions.

3. Know your domain: Be sure you have something to offer that the bank doesn’t already have. It may be insights on recent changes in the domain. It may be a depth and/or breadth of understanding of how things work in the domain. The bank wants a partner who can complement them, not just a product addressing a particular problem.

4. Know the bank Show that you have researched the bank. Be able to talk about strengths and weaknesses, market presence, strategy and its current challenges. Most of this is publicly available. Use contacts and early meetings to learn what is keeping senior executives at the bank awake at night. Learn the organization structure of the bank. Know who are the economic buyers and key decision-makers for your domain.

5. Put yourself in their shoes: see the bank’s problems in terms of financial, risk and reputational impacts to the bank. Speak the bank’s language, not your own. Empathize with banking executives, and help them to articulate their problems. Express your value proposition in terms that translate to a business case for the bank.

Keep the End in Mind

One of the trickiest aspects of partnering is reconciling what sometimes may be conflicting business objectives. The bank is accountable to shareholders, regulators, customers and (not always recognized) their communities. The Fintech is accountable to funders, partners and customers, and sometimes regulators. They also are accountable to their communities, however defined — I will be blogging shortly on this community aspect of partnership.

An important early step is to identify common values, vision and goals. Without these, there can be no partnership.

The shared values may be publicly stated or implicitly held. They may be moral/ethical, or business priorities. For example, a common commitment to open and full communication becomes a business imperative. This is then a basis for partnership.

A shared vision is a mutual understanding of what the world will look like after our partnership has delivered. A shared vision dovetails into the broader vision of each partner. Without it, the bank and the Fintech will have different definitions of success, completion and direction.

Shared goals must be jointly set. They should be measurable, and with agreed contribution from both parties. Bank and Fintech must agree on what completion means. They should share metric determinants of success.

Choose Your Partner

An important aspect of partnering is that selection is a two-way process. Not only is the bank selecting the Fintech, but the Fintech is selecting the bank. To be a partner, you need to be sure that you can work together. That has to do with establishing shared values, vision and goals. It also requires being able to work effectively together.

Not every bank is a good partner for a given Fintech. Sometimes it is necessary to say no. Sometimes, failing to win a bid is good news, rather than bad. For long run established success, it is necessary not to be too hungry in the short term. That can be hard when you have impatient venture capitalists breathing down your necks. But a clear partnership strategy should help to satisfy them. So define in advance what your ideal banking partner looks like.

Fill in the Gaps

It is all very well to say Fintech firms should be strong partners to their banking clients. Fintech firms are usually built on entrepreneurship and good technology. But they are less often built on true banking expertise and industry experience. Fintech firms need industry professionals. Or else they need partnerships with industry consultants, to help them fill in the gaps.

In the early stages of a Fintech, it may not be appropriate to hire a full-time industry expert. The approach of a fractional executive may make more sense. This is an individual who can step into an executive role on a part-time basis. (S)he will share your business goals and learn your business. (S)he will provide deep and broad knowledge of banking, your particular domain, and your target banking segment. In other words — a model partner!

Banks cannot survive the ever-growing demands of customers and shareholders without good Fintech partners. Most Fintech firms will successfully partner with banks only by engaging their own banking experts.

Graham, a 30 year banking veteran, runs BankTech Consulting. He is an expert in commercial banking, and provides strategic insight and internal business cases to banks. He works as a fractional Customer Success Executive to Fintech firms, facilitating their partnership with banks.

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