Narmi recently invited banking industry leaders and experts to our homebase of NYC for our first ever Innovators Retreat. This event was an opportunity for attendees to connect in person with the people leading banking innovation and explore the latest in digital banking.
The Innovators Retreat was also Narmi’s first in-person hosted event – an exciting (and refreshing) experience after nearly three years of virtual events. And rather than jump right back into a routine conference format, we felt this retreat should embody what we see as the future of industry events: a smaller setting that gives attendees more opportunities to connect in meaningful ways rather than short bursts of networking.
And with the rapidly evolving banking industry news after the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank sending waves of uncertainty through our industry, meaningful exchange was exactly what the credit union and banking leaders at the Innovators Retreat were craving.
While we couldn’t have anticipated this latest upheaval of the banking industry, the conversations and topics discussed at our Innovators Retreat couldn’t have been better timed to help address the real concerns that are top of mind for our community.
We curated two days of expert-led speaker sessions on topics like the importance of transparency, how to find a fintech partner (not just a vendor), and the role technology plays in future-proofing community banks and credit unions.
Here’s an inside look at Narmi’s first Innovators Retreat, and the wisdom that was shared from our speakers and panel experts.
The first day of the Innovators Retreat was dedicated to vision setting and an open exchange of knowledge. Our focus was to provide a true window into who Narmi is, and an opportunity to spotlight the innovators who have driven transformation across their financial institutions. Through general discussions, breakout sessions, an innovators lunch and an evening at Ci Siamo, attendees were able to share knowledge and walked away knowing they were not alone in their efforts.
Our retreat kicked off with a keynote session with Narmi board member and newly appointed CEO of Stash, Liza Landsman speaking with Narmi Co-Founder Nikhil Lakhanpal. Their conversation covered topics ranging from Liza’s approach to leadership and what she looks for when investing in early stage startups, to musings on what financial institution leaders should consider as they navigate the current banking crisis.
From a leadership perspective, Liza explained what she views as the three main guiding principles for high-performing leaders: clarity of purpose, having a high say:do ratio, and acting with intention. On the last two points, Liza noted that without a high say:do ratio (people following through on the things they say they’ll do) trust in leadership can quickly erode, “If you have an organization where people fully expect their leadership team not to do things they say they’re going to do, that’s not good.” This can often lead to leadership acting without intentionality and critical decisions being made accidentally.
On the topic of creating great product experience, Liza emphasized the importance of giving members and customers transparency into their financial information – a point emphasized with the example of Domino’s Pizza Tracker. While being able to track a pizza order in real-time doesn’t speed up how fast that pizza can be delivered, Liza noted that it does reduce anxiety and has dramatically decreased support call volumes for Domino’s.
Drawing the parallel to banks and credit unions, Liza shared, “If you have that much anxiety about where your pizza is, think about the level of anxiety consumers feel about where their money is.”
Reducing consumer anxiety by providing more transparency also factored heavily into Liza’s advice for how community financial institutions can retain the trust they’ve built with their communities. Specifically, an “always-on” approach to communication and access goes a long way in reducing fears.
“The consumer trust and affinity inherently towards regional banks and credit unions, I think is still strong.” – Liza Landsman, CEO of Stash
In order to give participants a clear look into the way Narmi works with clients, the team invited First Internet Bank and Twinstar Credit Union to share their experiences. All three of the panelists encouraged the audience to think about how digital products can be a huge value-add for customers and members, as well as internal staff. As Craig Fortner of First Internet Bank highlighted, in order to ensure your financial institution has the right offerings, you must first identify how you want the customer to feel while on their journey with you.
“What sort of experiences do you want your customers to have? And then how can you leverage technology and digital solutions to make that happen?” – Craig Fortner, First Internet Bank.
Once this has been identified, the work of ensuring that your customers and members are kept up to date on changes begins. The more informed they are, the more they’ll be able to see the benefit of new features and functionality. “If you are sending things regularly to members about how the platform is evolving,” shared Aaron Mickelson of Twinstar Credit Union, “you’re embracing a digital-first [mentality] and creating a groundswell of excitement for it.”
Just as it is important to educate customers and members on product changes, it’s equally important that internal employees understand the technology. At Twinstar Credit Union, the team made it a point to educate and train staff on their digital banking products – empowering them to further assist members, rather than being fearful of the new technology. As a result, the branches now lean into digital, and believe all employees should be digital subject matter experts.
“We are all subject matter experts now. And we really pride ourselves on that.” – Tricey Kruger, Twinstar Credit Union
Rounding out the first day of our Innovators Retreat was a lively conversation with Cornerstone Advisors’s Chief Research Officer, Ron Shevlin, who spoke about key industry trends he’s observed over the last few years. Having recently authored the annual “What’s Going on In Banking'' report, Ron led with his current advice for banks and credit unions, “You've got to be fighting the headwinds while riding the tailwinds.”
The current “headwinds” facing financial institutions – navigating interest rate increases, difficulties hiring, competing on technology, etc. – can be daunting. But, Ron also sees many positive “tailwinds” that can help banks and credit unions move forward. New technologies like conversational AI, machine learning, and more automation have the ability to drastically help move the industry forward.
A tailwind too is the increasing number of fintech partners able to quickly serve the needs of credit unions and banks. “But like any tailwind,” Ron caveated, “if you're not managing it well, it can blow you totally off course.”
For the second day of the Innovators Retreat, our aim was to dig deeper into the biggest issues currently impacting community banks and credit unions. The day kicked off with a session dedicated to the implementation and go-live process led by Narmi’s VP of Operations, Sid Viswanath, and the Narmi GM team. But it was our fireside chat with KBW and panel discussion about customer experience that gave our attendees the most to chew on throughout the day.
For our session with KBW’s Co-Head of Investment Banking Joseph Berry and Head of U.S. Equities and Director of Research Matthew Kelley, we had originally planned the conversation as an opportunity to discuss the impact rising interest rates have had on the banking industry. But with the unanticipated banking liquidity crisis unfolding in real-time, we decided instead to host a more intimate fireside chat to address the concerns our attendees were feeling.
There was a lot of ground covered to unpack the rapidly changing banking environment during this session, and a lively Q&A with attendees after. A high-level theme that came up was that tech-forward institutions are better set up to retain customer and member confidence, but aren’t immune to the realities of what’s going on right now. It was pointed out, however, that technology partners can help reduce the operating costs of financial institutions and provide efficiencies that’ll help financial institutions adapt to a new regulatory environment.
To close out our first Innovators Retreat, our last session of the day was a panel discussion with J.P. Morgan’s Global Payments, Consumer Goods & Retail leader, Lucia Li, and VP of Customer Experience and Innovation Consulting at Publicis Sapient, Jonathan Alloy. Both customer experience experts spoke about the role they’ve seen design and intentional product experiences play in shaping consumer trust. As Jonathan Alloy framed it, not prioritizing these experiences imperils financial institutions at a time where more people are rethinking their banking relationships.
“There’s going to be a flight to perceived quality,” predicted Jonathan Alloy. And for good reason. When it comes to matters of finances, emotions can run high and people tend to make decisions out of fear. When this is the case, transparency and clear communication becomes more important than ever. “This is about facts, but it's also about empathy and emotion. People are not going to behave rationally because their mortgages, their houses, their jobs, their life savings, their retirements, those are what's on the line for them,” says Jonathan, “they are not going to only listen to facts, they're also going to listen to emotion. So we need to be equipped as an industry to be communicating effectively in a way that our customers will hear us through all of our channels.”
“Your employees are also your users, so what can you do to make that experience just as easy for your customers as it is for your employee?” - Lucia Li, J.P. Morgan
Lucia also brought up the point that the consumer isn’t the only end user for digital banking tools at financial institutions. “Your employees are also your users,” noted Lucia, “So what can you do to make that experience just as easy for your customers as it is for your employee?” Her advice is for financial institutions to recognize their employees as digital users and find digital partners that can close the gaps and provide more than a nicely designed visual interface.
Weren’t able to attend our Innovators Retreat? Stay tuned for information about more events, including another Innovators Retreat and our upcoming Digital Account Opening Summit.