By now, most banking leadership teams understand the importance of offering well-designed digital experiences. What we’ve found is often more elusive is knowing where to start when making a significant investment in digital. Understandable, given the dizzying number of core banking providers, fintech vendors, and “future-proof” technology options for financial institutions.
As Berkshire Bank’s leadership team approached the idea of transforming their entire financial institution by putting digital at the forefront, they quickly realized that success was only achievable if they unified around a core set of goals and built a robust strategic plan for reaching them. Having this crystal clear vision of the journey ahead allowed them to work toward the individual milestones each team was responsible for along the way.
We recently sat down with Berkshire Bank’s EVP, Head of Retail Banking, Lucia Bellomia, and CIO, Jason White. They gave us an inside look at what went into developing the Berkshire BEST plan for transformation, and the factors that have led to their successful digital growth.
When the leadership team at Berkshire Bank convened to develop their plan for digital, they quickly learned taking the “traditional” approach – going heads-down until a plan emerges – wasn’t going to work.
Instead, the Berkshire team recognized that in order to have a plan for true transformation across the entire bank, they needed to gather input and feedback from every department. “The executive group really set out to understand what the milestones were that we needed to reach in order for us to be successful,” says Lucia. “Each executive went down to their team and involved each stakeholder in each department to understand what it would take to hit the milestone. Groups were formed specifically with the objective to achieve some of the pieces of that milestone, so that all together at the end we can bring each milestone to life.”
“Each executive went down to their team and involved each stakeholder in each department to understand what it would take to hit the milestone.” -Lucia Bellomia
Involving this many additional stakeholders extended the strategic planning phase. In Berkshire’s case, it took three months of meetings to formulate a clear and comprehensive growth plan. That was something everyone at the bank, from front-line tellers to executive directors, could get behind. When it came time to execute the BEST plan, laying a foundation of transparency and open communication paid off.
“We wanted everyone involved to understand the plan and be building the plan so that they felt they were part owners of it. That worked out really well for us.” -Jason White
Knowing exactly where to start with your institution’s digital planning can feel a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Without some clearly defined pillars outlining your main goals, the whole process can feel chaotic and messy. It’s for this reason Jason suggests first investigating what it means for your institution to digitally transform, and then define your core strategic pillars from there.
For Berkshire, this process led them to define their three core pillars: optimize, digitize, and enhance. These pillars support all of Berkshire’s efforts to improve the customer experience, deliver profitable growth, enhance stakeholder value, and strengthen their community impact. “We can always go back to these pillars that we created when we're digitally transforming, making sure our strategy aligns, that it hits what we're looking for, and it really makes that impact in our financial institution and in our community,” shares Jason.
And for an institution like Berkshire Bank, celebrating over 175 years of operation, taking the time to first define core pillars that support a larger strategic plan helped them recognize even greater opportunities. Rather than simply adding new digital services to their banking stack, they realized they could facilitate the evolution of their entire bank.
“Plan for a marathon, not a sprint. You can do small sprints and plan for being agile – things change on the fly.” -Jason White
With their publicly announced plan solidly in place, the team at Berkshire launched into the execution phase of their institution-wide transformation. Here, they were met with new challenges that required thoughtful commitments from leadership and investments in project infrastructure.
Their most impactful early investment was developing a Transformation Office responsible for measuring, monitoring, and communicating the success of the plan. “I think it’s the best thing in the world that we did,” says Jason of their new Transformation Office. “By setting our goals and milestones within the BEST plan, we were able to grab those. Each executive and sponsor would work with the Transformation Office and define both date and monetary milestones based on those drivers.”
Having this dedicated internal resource focused on project management also helped Berkshire communicate the progress being made towards each milestone, both internally and externally. Through regularly hosted “in-cadence” meetings, the Transformation Office is able to track KPIs in real-time and keep every team honest and informed with the latest updates.
Equally important to the success of Berkshire’s BEST plan is its strong foundation of scrutinizing each investment and vendor to ensure the right fit. As Lucia explains it, “There is a return on investment in each thing that we do. So, we calculate the ROI, whether it is a technology announcement or a service enhancement. We calculate that on how the service will impact productivity, et cetera.” On the development side, Jason and his team at Berkshire go through a similar process of vetting and scoring vendors to find the right partners to support their needs. As a “low-code” team with limited developer resources, having clear & achievable digital goals lets them confidently find the right vendors and rely on those partners to digitize according to plan.
The most recent step Berkshire Bank has taken towards fulfilling its BEST plan is to extend its strategic partnership with Narmi to provide a powerful digital banking platform to consumer and small business customers. This move gives Berkshire the opportunity to innovate and digitize at an accelerated pace – all without having to grow their internal developer resources.
"Enhancing our customers' experience is a key tenet of BEST and we believe partnering with best-in-class fintechs is one of the most cost-effective ways for a community bank to stay competitive while delivering the exceptional digital experience our customers want,” stated Nitin Mhatre, Berkshire Bank CEO.
And since this investment in greatly improving the digital banking experiences of their small business clients and consumer banking customers was planned for, Berkshire is already able to see how it leads to their next phase of growth. Fintech partnerships like the one with Narmi play a central role in the future execution of the BEST plan.
"Finalizing our expanded partnership with Narmi is the culmination of years of planning, countless hours of work by bankers throughout the company and is consistent with our technology roadmap," stated Sean Gray, Chief Operating Officer of Berkshire. "Through this partnership, Berkshire Bank positions itself well to ensure its ability to keep pace with the speed of digital adoption while providing our customers with differentiated digital solutions."