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Search It. Click It. Say It.

Aug 02, 2018 12:44PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By David Dykes

For bankers, the future of digital banking is now, say three chief executives of Southeastern regional financial institutions, but it’s no longer just about apps.

“It’s almost impossible to have a discussion about banking without talking about digital,” says D. Bryan Jordan, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of First Horizon National Corporation, a financial services company with $40 billion in assets.

“In some sense, it’s sort of like looking at the iPhone in 2007 when it came out and saying in 10 years we’re going to be doing remote deposit capture and transfers or bank balances on your iPhone,” he says. “I never would have guessed that 10 years ago.”

Jordan joined two other bank executives—Lynn Harton, president, chief operating officer, and director of United Community Banks, Inc. and president and CEO of the company’s $12.3 billion subsidiary bank, United Community Bank; and Kessel Stelling Jr., chairman and CEO of Synovus—on the third annual CEO panel in June hosted by the Upstate Risk Management Association, a financial services trade association. The panel discussed banking and economic topics at the Gunter Theatre in downtown Greenville.

In interviews before the panel discussion, the CEOs shared their insights on digital banking. They stressed that the banking experience matters whether a customer talks to Alexa or Google Home, communicates on Facebook Messenger, uses a favorite app, calls in to a call center, visits a website, or even walks into a store or branch.

“In the big picture, customer expectations are now search it, either click on it or even say it, and get it,” Harton said. “The question that I struggle with is what’s the right speed to get there without spending too much money?”

UCB is preparing by getting backlinks working, moving up search-engine criteria, and upgrading its mobile banking system to be more flexible, he said. The bank also is testing an online mortgage approval process and preparing to test online account openings.

The goal is to originate a customer relationship and sustain it digitally, Harton said. “I hope I’m not going too slow.”

The key, Jordan said, will be to take technology, create relationships, and differentiate the experience to give customers a reason to do business with a bank.

First Horizon’s companies include First Tennessee Bank and FTB Advisors locations in and around Tennessee; Capital Bank locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida; and FTN Financial offices in the U.S.

Stelling, who began his career with Synovus in March 2006 when the company purchased Riverside Bancshares and merged it with Bank of North Georgia, said larger banks have technology budgets greater than his company’s market cap. That means regional banks must choose the right vendors and financial technology, or fintech, partners and make smart bets, he said.

And “if we make a bad bet, just recognize it quickly,” Stelling said.

“We’re never going to out-technology BofA (Bank of America) or JPM (JPMorgan Chase) but you’ve got to be close behind,” he said. “We can’t lose business to them because of it.”

Stelling was named Synovus president and chief operating officer in February 2010 and was named president and CEO in October 2010. He became chairman of the board in January 2012.

Jordan, who was chief financial officer at Regions Financial Corp. before joining First Horizon, told the Gunter Theatre audience of bankers, businessmen, and businesswomen that an organization’s culture can be its greatest asset or greatest liability.

His company, he said, is managed with a series of written statements that amount to an accountability system where “we all look at each other and say, ‘Are you living up to the values of this organization?’ because it’s real easy when the pressure gets on to say ‘I want to cut this corner, I want to cut that corner. That rule isn’t all that important.’”

Banking is, in particular, an industry with laws and rules that have to be followed, he said.

“You’ve got to constantly be thinking about the (employee) incentive systems that you put in place, the culture you have around those incentive systems, and make sure that whatever you do that you have the customer and customer outcome at the top of whatever your culture is driving,“ Jordan said.

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