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updated: 7/16/2018 8:00 AM

What does banking innovation look like? Sometimes the most innovative solution is an improved process rather than a magic wand piece of technology

Sometimes it’s an improved process rather than a magic wand piece of technology

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There is a misperception that banks are behind the curve when it comes to innovation, but if you look at changes over the past decade, that's not entirely true. Think back to the days when you had to visit a branch to make a deposit or when "mobile deposit" meant a courier driving from business to business to collect deposits and drive them to the branch. The advent of mobile deposit as we know it now, i.e. aligning your iPhone camera just so to capture a check image, or the ability to use a virtual vault to consolidate cash deposits and electronically debit clients and credit vendors are all great examples of the best kind of banking innovation -- using technology to improve the banking process by making it more efficient, more intuitive, and more convenient for the customer.

Those are three pillars that bankers should strive for when thinking about innovations that will help customers. As a commercial bank, we deal primarily with privately held, family owned and operated businesses who, according to the Association for Financial Professionals, may be more cautious when it comes to adopting new technologies. These business owners are experts in their industry, but not necessarily experts in the financial services space, so they may not have the tools or desire to reinvent their accounts payable systems to be more efficient, intuitive and convenient. This scenario calls for a banker with a deeper knowledge to help them understand what will really move the needle.

In order to be an innovator in banking, you need to be more than just a banker -- you need to be a consultant on cash flow, process improvement and workflow. Most importantly, you need to be a good listener. When innovating new processes or technologies for a business customer, it's important to take a customer-centric approach and sit down with representatives from every level of the organization to understand their current process and create models for improvement. While there is an abundance of data driving technology workflows, it has to be coupled with the human touch. It's a mix of high-tech and high-touch solutions that work best for our customers. Today, one area of innovation toward process improvement that we see for our clients is in the accounts payables space. When a business is first launched, the business owner oftentimes mirrors their accounting system to what they are used to personally, which is paying by check. While they may use credit cards, they use cards in a more traditional way to finance the business, rather than as a payables tool.

A recent scenario with a client in the services industry illustrates this issue. This customer wanted to continue driving business growth without adding to staff in the accounting department. We sat down with each member of their accounting team to review the process. By utilizing a different payment method, the client was able to reduce the time it takes to issue their payables and cut their costs, all while improving their vendor relationships.

As commercial banks look to the future, we need to innovate for that next generation CEO who expects everything to be done quickly with as few clicks as possible from all electronic devices. With this in mind, we will undoubtedly continue to see banking innovations in both technology and process, knowing that the best innovations in financial services rise out of a need demonstrated by our customers -- and the best solutions will ultimately help them manage their business more efficiently, access money more quickly and bank from wherever they are.

• Anne Doligale is senior vice president at Signature Bank.