Digital Transformation and the Changing Landscape of Banks

By Denys Diaz, Executive Vice President & CIO, TowneBank

Banking as an industry is facing a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity. The emergence of rapidly advancing technologies has opened a vast array of possibilities. This has also fueled some conjectures such as: “Is technology replacing branches?” or “Are people even visiting branches anymore, and if they are, what is the reason?” We strongly believe branches are still relevant, and banks must continue to evolve in order to find the right mix between technology and retail services to present a positive experience to customers.

"We plan to emerge as a bank that is efficient, more digitally-equipped, and equally committed to personal care"

A Community-Oriented Approach

Having said that, the digital transformation in banking sector is arguably the real star of the moment. As a community bank, our focus is not only to provide secure digital banking services but also to truly add value to our customers (who we call members). We believe our established reputation and the success we have realized is primarily due to the value we have built for the community. At TowneBank, we believe in being an asset to the community and we commit a great deal of our resources to local and regional philanthropic efforts through volunteerism, community development projects and grants from our Foundation. Many of our employees (or family members as we call them) serve on numerous non-profit boards, donating their time and talents to local organizations.

Another crucial question we frequently ask ourselves as bankers is: “Are the customers having the best experience at the branch?” To ensure we succeed in this endeavor, we are continually trying to provide retail banking products and services delivered with exquisite personal care. The purpose of digitizing the banking transaction is to provide the bankers additional time that they can use to better understand and address the financial needs of our members. Driven by this conviction, we are currently going through a complete change of our core system and other significant transformational initiatives. We plan to emerge as a bank that is efficient, more digitally-equipped, and equally committed to personal care.

Identifying the Right Technology Match

With digital disruption gradually sweeping through the business world, most industries are exploring the various avenues to take advantage of emerging technologies. When it comes to collaborating with a technology vendor, banks must first consider such details as financial stability, risk appetite, and the scalability of the solution in question. As a reasonably sized bank with almost $12 billion in assets, we must consider the size of our organization and the communities we serve as important parameters when choosing a technology vendor or solution. Our business strategies aim to partner with solution providers that are neither stagnant nor too advanced for our business and member needs. Before we agree to partner with a solution provider, we conduct a thorough search of their track record and study the company’s strategic roadmap. This is an essential step that determines if they align with our current and future expected needs. As a CIO, before a green light is given for any technology investment, it is vital to ensure the investments facilitate opportunities for growth and value.

Common misconceptions

People look at a bank as an institution limited to carrying out monetary transactions. Seen logically, that’s not entirely wrong, but once we widen the lens and consider the aspects of community and social service, banking shines in a different light. I look at our retail presence and capabilities advancing at a rapid pace and covering a never-increasing number of opportunities to serve our members. Here at TowneBank, we endeavor to keep in constant touch with our members, having meaningful conversations and listening to their ideas on how we can improve our services. To sum it up, our bank’s work is centered on building strong relationships with current members to ensure future generations of members follow as we maintain a strong commitment to provide full personal and business banking services.

Advice for Aspiring CIOs

Looking back at my career in financial services, I have always made sure the technology team never loses focus on the customer because they are the essence of the business. As a team, we continuously challenge ourselves to deliver solutions that are better than “good enough” and ensure our technology is truly advancing the member’s experience. Apart from that, much of my time has been spent in mentoring and advancing the careers of team members. As a CIO, it is imperative to learn time management skills to establish a proper balance between personal and professional lives. Hence, one of my goals is to always try to keep it simple for my team members and encourage them to transcend boundaries.

For a CIO, the focus will always be on internal and external ecosystems, because they are interdependent. The requirement to maintain consistency in the delivery of services must be matched by constant advancements to fulfill customer and community dreams. In order to achieve those goals, CIOs must stay nimble, ready to learn new dynamics and unlearn obsolete ones to strike the right balance between technology and people.

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