The folks at Grasshopper Bank knew from the very beginning they wanted to be a different kind of financial institution. Grasshopper values relationships just as much as they value tech, and that extends to their customers as well. Being a fully digital bank, their platform needs to be as robust as possible so they can build relationships with their customers, wherever they might be. For Grasshopper's Director of Product Luther Liang, this meant their virtual services and products had to be universally accessible. Second, Luther and Director of SMB Banking, Danielle Kane, wanted to focus solely on small and mid-sized business banking, a major potential market that’s still being woefully underserved. That’s where Grasshopper steps in, providing a deeply personal approach that’s far more accessible to businesses of all sizes.
To achieve this vision, Chief Technology Officer Pete Chapman – whose background spans both banking and fintech – formulated an approach based on partnership and focusing on agile, new tech partners to deliver the best product in record time. “I wanted to bring start-up culture to Grasshopper,” he told us. “I wanted to think less like a bank and more like a tech startup – like a Narmi!”
Since its founding in 2019, Grasshopper has already pivoted in terms of their audience. “Being a bank, we’re in a unique position,” Luther says. “A lot of Grasshopper’s earlier focus was on venture funds and startups, but that’s a really different market. I don’t think we necessarily see that as our primary driver of growth for the future.”
So Grasshopper turned their focus to $10-million-and-less businesses with no more than four signers, those whose needs require a company debit card, but not quite a corporate credit card. Besides some early-stage startups, many Grasshopper customers today are single-operator online businesses, with a significant portion of those being first-time business owners. “We have this one thing that can fit this wide range of people, and it’s not a ton of overhead to open an account for a business,” Luther says. “If you’re at the seed stage, we’re a great fit for you, and then we can scale over time.”
To achieve that, they knew their services had to be seamless, nimble, and able to keep up with the changing needs of today’s businesses, while remaining deeply personal and relationship-based. That’s why they partnered with Narmi, and are harnessing the flexibility of the Narmi Application Framework to bring highly requested features to market fast – like their recent introduction of branded virtual cards.
Who we are is nimble and changing. We’re always improving and using what we’ve learned. – Danielle Kane.
Grasshopper is an all-digital bank for the modern small- and mid-sized business – and they always have been. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted a fully digital experience,” says Luther. “All of our decisions were built around that.”
The folks at Grasshopper are dedicated to providing an experience that, compared to other business banking services, relies less on documentation and more on accessibility and ease, something people want and need. “We’re competing against having to walk into a branch to send a wire,” Luther continues. “So we created a full-service business product you can access right from your couch.”
Grasshopper’s embracing of all-digital doesn’t just mean the parts that touch customers, either. Their very identity is a reflection of the ever-changing digital landscape. “Our brand story is always changing because that’s how the market is,” says Danielle,“and who we are is nimble and changing. We’re always improving and using what we’ve learned.”
While it might seem counterintuitive at first, the tech helps foster human relationships rather than hinder them. “People think the human side isn’t there if a bank is tech-focused,” explains Danielle, “but the technology we have really humanizes our approach. But people can contact us for help in whatever form they feel comfortable using, and we’re there. They can have a fintech experience without the downsides of the fintech experience.” With a support team entirely based in the U.S., Grasshopper can solve any problem for any customer with a real live conversation. “We can meet customers where they are,” adds Luther. “No upselling, just helping solve problems.”
One of the perceived barriers to digital adoption for many small and community financial institutions is access to a tech team. Many assume that they’ll need a large team to tackle all the aspects of digital banking and account opening, and that assembling a team will be a large spend. But for Pete, a smaller, leaner team is actually an upside. “We have a small team who can do a handful of smaller, incremental value-adds really well,” he says. “These are things like virtual cards, credit card integrations. Our digital partner can reinvent the wheel for us by doing 80% of the work, and then our team differentiates that other 15%.”
Grasshopper’s engineering team shows that financial institutions can thrive digitally with a very small team. Thanks to the Narmi Application Framework, a team can remain lean, independent, and cost-efficient while still continually innovating. That’s because it’s not about the size of the team, but their alignment on the technology they use. “You have to have people who believe in the idea of digital banking,” Danielle says. Pete echoes the sentiment: “We built a culture around execution. Everyone at Grasshopper is fully aligned.”
It’s also about finding a digital partner with similar alignment, who can play a supportive role in making their dreams a reality and showing the skeptics that the best of both worlds – a great product and notable speed to market, alongside a great dynamic relationship.
Relationships once again played a major role in Grasshopper’s preparations to integrate with Narmi. Their developers connected with Narmi’s product team from the outset, so everyone started off on the same page. They also made sure to focus their user experience and interface as well as backend components to line up perfectly with the NAF.
When they retire physical cards, Grasshopper will be way far and above with our technology. – Danielle Kane
To leverage the latest technology, Grasshopper integrated with the Narmi Application Framework (NAF), a process they were delighted to find seamless and fast, freeing up their engineers to do other things. “I can’t overstate how big a deal it is for us,” Luther says. “It’s one of our fundamental advantages. We view it as a great way to drive engagement across the platform.” It makes business banking easy, and easily discoverable, for even those who have no background, and has led to a significant amount of natural discovery.
Grasshopper was starting from a blank slate, as Luther puts it, especially when it came to business banking options. Not only are they a new bank, but they’re offering products that many established banks and credit unions aren’t. “Fundamentally, what we've been doing is trying to figure out what's the best way to introduce ourselves to the market and communicate the benefits of the market,” Luther explains. “We want to show businesses why they should go with us, these new people, and the value we have versus established business banks and pure fintechs.”
They can have a fintech experience without the downsides of the fintech experience. – Luther Liang
Narmi’s business account opening solution allows businesses to open and fund business accounts in under 10 minutes. That means more businesses can open accounts thanks to the ease and convenience. But being able to open an account isn’t all business owners want. Grasshopper took the time to see what their business customers really needed to take their companies to the next level in a safe and reliable way.
International wires mean that business customers can request USD wires directly through their web and mobile platform, making international money transfer seamless. For security, Innovator Business Checking Account holders can access secure virtual chat with Grasshopper’s Client Service team without inputting any extra information for a frictionless experience. Checking account holders can also view their cash-back rewards summary so they have a complete picture of what their account is doing for them.
One of the most important features Grasshopper offers their customers is the virtual debit card. For Grasshopper, this all-digital approach was a “no-brainer.” With an eye ever on the future, they offer cashless, contactless banking with virtual cards and mobile wallets. “Will there even be credit cards in the future?” muses Danielle. But it doesn’t matter. “When they retire physical cards, Grasshopper will be way far and above with our technology.” Now, Innovator Checking Account holders can instantly issue virtual debit cards.
“The user interface and experience allows mom-and-pops to do more advanced business transactions that might not be as easy through the Chase app, for example,” says Danielle. “Partnering with Narmi allows us to have all these features as table-stakes that make their lives easier but in a way that’s digestible and easy.”
You need to keep changing. If you think you’re good staying where you are, you’re already behind. – Danielle Kane
Staying nimble and adaptable is probably the most crucial thing any bank or credit union can do in order to stay relevant and an attractive option in the ever-changing digital landscape. Since technology is endlessly evolving and iterating, financial institutions must be as ready as any other company in any other industry to adapt to the changes, and quickly. “Things can pull a 180 in a three-month period,” says Danielle, “so you need to be flexible and have people on your team who are nimble to navigate the changes.”
But for Pete, it’s even deeper than just staying abreast of trends. It’s about giving people freedom of choice in a financial institution. “Access to capital is the bedrock of our democracy and nation,” he says. “It's incredibly important for Tier Three and Four financial institutions to play a fundamental role in banking tech moving forward. If we get ourselves to the point where only Tier One financial institutions are doing it, that's a big problem. So the down market community space can and should play an outsized role in the future.”
Finally, a bank or credit union would be nothing without its customers or members, and so those people, the community, must be given priority, respect, and the feeling that their needs are being met and their concerns are being heard and resolved. Simply put, if people are having problems – solve them!