As we look ahead on our path to modernizing the 11,500+ financial institutions in the US, it’s crucial that we continue to grow and learn from experts to meet the evolving challenges of our customers. Narmi Board Member, Liza Landsman, shares our strategic vision and brings experience that we’re certain will help us change the banking industry.
Her experience leading digital transformation across diverse industries and guiding brand growth underpins our mission to offer the most seamless, thorough, and open digital banking platform in the industry.
We recently sat down with Liza to discuss the current state of digital banking, strategies regional banks and credit unions can take to improve their brand presence, and the role technology can play in modernizing banking in the US.
To kick things off, I’d love to hear about something you’ve observed recently that’s been inspiring you.
Recently I’ve really been inspired by what I’m seeing in the small business sector. I’ve worked in finance for many years and I had the interesting and somewhat harrowing experience of working in finance through the financial crisis. One of the things we saw on the heels of the great recession was this huge increase in the birth of new small- and middle-market businesses – and mostly small businesses. And one thing that we’ve seen happening broadly out in the marketplace right now is another increase in the rate of creation of small businesses. It’s at an all-time high, at least the highest it's been in five years.
As a result, I think there are all these really interesting products and tools from the tech sector aimed at small to medium-sized businesses, which historically as a segment hasn’t seen much interest.
What factors do you think have shifted attention to small to medium-sized businesses?
Right now, people are hesitant to shop in person and that has forced digitization on many who were reluctant in the past. It’s also why community and regional banks have been flourishing in this moment. People really don't want the faceless monoliths of big-box retailers or megabanks.
They want to support their local communities, but it's difficult when they don't have the kind of digital presence that consumers have come to expect.
They want to support their local communities, but it's difficult when they don't have the kind of digital presence that consumers have come to expect – and actually need in a remote environment. I do think it's a place where consumers are starting to vote with their pocketbooks and historically have not.
Through all your successes growing and scaling brands, are there any qualities or characteristics you’ve seen successful companies must have for building resiliency and adapting to change?
Leaders who have a unique point-of-view on the world and a level of, I’d say, grittiness. That's probably the most descriptive word. Very few companies chart a straight path. The ones that end up becoming sustainable, scaled businesses are the ones that have encountered many obstacles, and where the leaders have had both the mental agility and emotional resilience to overcome those obstacles.
I’d love to tell you there's more science in it, but it almost always comes down to whether there’s a point of differentiation and if the leadership can innovate their way around bumps in the road.
That grittiness is like their GPS. They know what the destination is, but suddenly along the way there's a pile-up, and the detour road has too many lights for them to get there in time. All the alternative routes have too much traffic, but they still figure out how to get there in the end.
It sort of seems like technology is the vehicle for getting around many of those hurdles.
What do you think is the biggest thing technology can do for banking, specifically at the regional and community level?
There are a few things I would say technology can do for community banking. The first is that it can automate a lot of low-value interactions. And, what I mean by that is that so much of the value customers get at the community and regional level are from those personal relationships. It’s the feeling of being recognized and being known.
I think technology, when done well, can layer in personalization and actually enhance the feeling of being known.
Anything that detracts from that relationship building can be automated and pulled into a seamless flow so that developers can spend their time on the things that are differentiators. I think technology, when done well, can layer in personalization and actually enhance the feeling of being known.
What would you say are the biggest differentiators financial institutions can find technology solutions for?
Technology can drastically help improve the banking experience, whether it’s at the consumer regional bank or credit union level, or larger megabanks. Compared to the experience the majority of U.S. households have now come to expect from their devices, what you experience in banking feels decades out of date. It’s the equivalent of a DOS prompt versus an iPhone interface.
So, actually providing a seamless experience where people don't have to work so hard just to transact or get information is really important. It reinforces the value prop of community banking and gives time back to people trying to control their finances. Most banking, historical legacy banking technology, completely ignores this and obfuscates simple tasks with complicated user experiences.
Great point! It's unfortunate, too, because this leads late adopters to think that the problem lies with them instead of thinking that the problem is with the technology or user interface.
Yes, precisely. It's true. It's not in the same category at all, but it’s like trying to go through the process of signing up for the vaccine here in New York state. I’ve worked in technology for 25 years, and I literally couldn’t tell what I was supposed to do next in the flow to secure an appointment.
You're left with a feeling like, “Well, it must be me. I must be doing something wrong.” Especially since banks, like doctors, are seen as authority figures. Most people assume that their financial institution is doing it right, so the fault must lie with them.
It seems technology is one side to improving regional banking, and that perhaps the other side is the brand component. As someone who has guided success for many large companies with established brands, how would you communicate the importance of investing in brand, even down to the local level?
I think one of the misconceptions many people have about brands is they think brands are synonymous with advertising and communication. The way I think about it is that advertising and communication is the piece of the brand iceberg that sits above the waterline.
The bulk of the brand consists of all the things a consumer experiences – in your product or platform, in their interaction with your employees, how they see you treating your employees, or if you’re investing in the technology & services they need. When they experience an issue, can you diagnose it and be responsive?
The bulk of the brand consists of all the things a consumer experiences.
I say all that because I think consumers are really smart. The distance between what you tell people is true about your company and how they experience your company has become really foreshortened in the digital age.
What advice would you give credit unions and banks for building a strong brand?
I guess my TL;DR on brand is walking the walk – not just talking the talk.
If you spend a lot of time and energy saying things about your brand and product and offering that the consumers don't experience in the real world, they figure it out pretty quickly. You've just burned all the capital you've spent telling them how great you are.
So for example, having personalization on your banking platform that helps people feel recognized in the flows they're experiencing delivers on the brand promise of being a supportive local financial institution. It demonstrates that you know them. When you say you're supporting the community, actually being able to support someone's small business banking needs and not just their consumer banking, is walking the walk.
Liza Landsman is currently a General Partner at NEA, focused on investments in the consumer, e-commerce, and fintech sectors. Prior to joining NEA, Liza was President of Jet.com where she was a founding member of the executive team and later, following Jet’s acquisition, of Walmart’s U.S. E-commerce leadership team. Prior to joining Jet, she was Chief Marketing Officer and a member of the Executive Committee at E*TRADE Financial, Global Head of Digital for BlackRock, and held various leadership roles at both Citigroup and IBM earlier in her career.
In addition to her involvement with NEA portfolio companies, Liza is an independent Board Director for Choice Hotels (CHH), Squarespace, and Applause App Quality as well as the NYC based non-profit organization The GO Project. Liza graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University.