“As financial institutions, it really is our responsibility just to be excellent providers, sound guides, just good stewards with the trust these customers are giving us.” --Corey LeBlanc

Is digital transformation just an inevitable box to be checked? Is the task of adopting and implementing new technologies merely requiring a bank or credit union to buy a bunch of tech services, then cross it off of their to-do list?

Rather than think of digital transformation as a separate entity, it’s a critical function of a business; an opportunity to align technology with core operations and processes. 

Corey LeBlanc joined the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast to talk about how technology and business in the banking industry should go hand in hand. 

Corey LeBlanc

Corey is the co-founder of a new Fintech brand, but he also brings over 20 years of diverse information technology experience in roles such as CTO, VP of IT, and Director of Infrastructure and Security. He's also on the MX Client Advisory Board and he is the recipient of the 20 under 40 by Banking Exchange Magazine, so his experience with technology and banking is vast and varied. 

2020: A Pivotal Year

Like many others, 2020 was a crossroads for Corey LeBlanc, one that led to a great deal of introspection and a step outside his comfort zone. 

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Corey found himself questioning the contributions he was making to the world of digital banking and banking technology. He felt that in his previous role at a digital bank, he was doing some positive things. But he was looking for a challenge and was feeling a pull that was leading him outside the organization. 

He explained, “I was always saying, ‘If there's something out there, right, that you aspire to do, you just got to really push and go do it.’” He wanted to go back to the basics—to look at the true digital capacity of what banks can and can’t do. And at the end of the day, he had to make the leap, leave a job he loved, leave great co-workers, and try something a bit different.

Corey shared, “The last 45 days since leaving this 14-year role behind me, I've been going like a hundred miles an hour every single day...but I'm having a ton of fun. I look forward to doing some of the really good stuff this year that we have in front of us. And I think if I had to say to kind of sum it all up, it's go after that, right? Go after that thing that you really can get excited about every single day.”

It’s not always so easy to gather that confidence and speak to one’s truth.

But all transformation begins by telling the truth.

Corey poured every ounce of effort he had into preparing for this new role. When he showed up to meetings or the board room, he had to be prepared. He had to be ready to have uncomfortable conversations and to speak honest truths if he wanted to create real transformation. 

Purposeful Transformation

Leaders of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions have to be prepared to do the same; to create that space to escape a mindset where digital transformation is just another box to check and then dig deeper to align a brand-new digital path with their business.

Otherwise, they'll just get caught in a continuous cycle of doing for the sake of doing.

It’s no secret that banking has been one of a handful of industries that has been slow to embrace new technology. And to some extent, it makes sense.

With questions of compliance and security, it’s no wonder that the adoption of digital banking has been slower than a digital transformation in other spaces, like retail. 

But just because digital transformation now feels inevitable, it doesn’t mean that banks should mindlessly step into new technologies.

Financial institutions may be having conversations about technology, but  the real conversation that needs to be had surrounds the entire business.

Ask this...

“What the value-add to adding technology is, and how can we utilize technology to better structure our companies to meet that goal.”

Corey shared, “That's where I think the conversation is often missed. That we look at it as an investment into software or hardware and not into the investment of the business.”

Only from there can banks and credit unions think about how to start to restructure. 

Technology needs to be part of a larger strategy: A tactic; not the only solution on the table.

Banking is, understandably, a very risk-averse space. As a result, the challenge with implementing technology is by choosing well-established solutions with known outcomes, banks are probably too late to the game to get the maximum value of that technology. 

This leads to companies selecting technologies and services because they are the obvious (and sometimes, nearly outdated) choice or the option the competition has. This selection methodology means that companies aren’t examining what they need or what will foster the growth they are seeking. 

Instead, banks need to think of technology as a functionality of their business goals, examining:

  • What that financial institution does particularly well
  • What technologies align with these strengths
  • Which solutions will help expand on these strengths

Corey is doing this himself. His startup is geared towards small and medium-sized businesses; the soul of many communities. He understands that moving forward, these organizations will be instrumental in the country’s recovery following the COVID-19 economic crisis. 

For Corey, this means asking tough questions. It means talking with these business owners to discover what problems really exist and then trying to solve them. As he explained, “We're not checking boxes anymore. And so, we're building and orchestrating what we believe is going to be something significant.” After all, a community bank is just that: A part of the community. 

In his research, Corey discovered that 51 percent of small businesses call one of the top five financial institutions their bank. The other 49 percent? They rely on smaller regional and community banks. But Corey also found that nearly 70 percent of small businesses also use one of the top five FinTech platforms as well. In summation, “What you see from the studies from the research from actually talking to small businesses is, in order for them to run their businesses, they're having to go to multiple places to get the job done.”

Corey is poised and ready to fill that gap. But it took purposeful planning and careful examination of his customers’ processes to do so. 

An Opportunity to Reimagine Banking

Banks currently have a very unique opportunity— they have a chance to reimagine the way community banks serve their clients and their small businesses and bridge the gap between community banking and financial technologies and grant them access to consistent, reliable data.

But this also means throwing out processes—and technologies—that don’t serve this new path forward. Corey shared, “We get to not only build something valuable for the future, but we also get to kind of help contribute to that larger ecosystem that ultimately gets small businesses and the people behind them, the best shot of being successful in realizing their true potential.”

Consumers shouldn’t have to search all over the place to get the data and the services they need. Corey believes that by utilizing available technologies, plus the open banking system and a proper regulatory focus, the financial industry can create a secure, consistent, reliable environment to help small and medium-sized businesses do what they do best while their banks offer the financial guidance they’ve been searching for. 

"Community" Doesn't Have to Mean "In-Person"

One belief that’s prevalent in the community banking space is that to create meaningful connections with consumers, banks and credit unions must have physical channels like branches and in-person avenues. 

But Corey doesn’t agree with this philosophy. “I think this kind of thinking is completely wrong for a lot of people, a lot of businesses.”

“The reality is they don't want necessarily just physical relationships. They want personal relationships. And for that matter, physical interaction is playing a much smaller role today than it has ever before….This isn't a behavioral trend that is going to go away with the pandemic, right? This is the reality of the world that we live in.”

Consumers want authentic interactions. But they don’t have to happen in person. They just want exceptional services and solid advice. Corey continued. “And as financial institutions, it's really our responsibility just to be excellent providers, sound guides, just good stewards with the trust these customers are giving us.”

To do this, community banks have to step out of their day-to-day operations and find ways to simplify their processes—the technologies and tools to serve their business instead of the other way around. They need to be proactive, not reactive. 

This doesn’t mean that physical channels are completely dead. But there must be a combination of physical and technological services to really serve today’s consumers. 

Driving Innovation

Change is hard—especially in the world of banking. Financial institutions looking to grow may find more success out of building fresh from the ground up rather than trying to renovate what’s already there. 

Corey found this to be true in his growth journey. He shared, “The focus, for me, was on innovation first. And we talked in the past about how if you look at technology as the path, right, you're probably not going to have as much success, because we know everything done right within the organization really starts with alignment, right? Alignment to the business, alignment to the personnel, alignment to the existing tech stack.”

However, this requires getting buy-in from the entire team. Not just for the technology solutions, but for something bigger: The purpose behind proposing new solutions in the first place. 

By introducing technologies for the sake of improving a business through technologies, Corey found that he struggled to get any buy-in. There was a resistance; a fear of change. As an organization, they were missing the point. 

The primary value behind adding technology should be to support a business goal. Some of the best successes that Corey has found through his entire career have been when they got everyone involved in the transformation from the very beginning. He shared, “They helped drive this idea of innovation, in their areas of expertise, instead of us asking them to trust us after the fact that it's going to work.”

It has to be an inclusive conversation. There are three lines of questioning that Corey pursues whenever he’s advising a financial brand:

  1. How do you want to grow? What are your goals? 
  2. What are the roadblocks? 
  3. What are the opportunities that you want to create or capture? 

This gives Corey and the entire team a clear path forward to work together. 

It’s about aligning the business internally. Only then can a financial institution align externally. And to that end? Corey said, “It's about putting people at the center of all of your thinking, all of your doing.”

He offered a parting thought:

“Start now. Don't wait for things to become easy, right? If you're waiting for things to become easy, then it's going to be too late. Start now. Start having the conversations and bring the ideas to the table. Even if you think they're crazy, right? Bring the idea to the table and look at your mission and vision statements of your organization. If you don't know what those are or they're not clear or they're very broad, work with your teams to adjust those things, to create something that's realistic and honest.

And then start bringing anything and everything possible to the table that fits or aligns with that. Doesn't mean you're going to go forward with everything. Doesn't mean everything's going to work out, but if everything fits that, then at least you're being honest. Right? But again, just get moving, start having the conversations.”

Together, with a clear understanding of what the purpose is, financial institutions can choose technology solutions that support a bigger, better, brighter future.