Community Banks Threatened by Fintech? I See It Differently.

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Kevin Jones - August 22, 2019 As I look across the banking industry, I often see trends that I find disturbing. Over the last few years, I’ve observed a widening gulf in the amount of deposits that community banks attract versus the loan dollars they generate, mostly to small businesses.

A specific statistic that illustrates this point comes from a market study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) a nonprofit dedicated to helping communities grow sustainably from several angles, including banking, broadband, energy, and waste. According to the ILSR, community banks issue a whopping 52 percent of all small business loans, while they hold only 16 percent of the nation’s assets.  

There are many contributing factors to this dynamic, which isn’t in itself sustainable, as banking is predicated on a balance of maintaining appropriate levels of deposits, both demand and time, with the issuance of loans and lines of credit to individuals and businesses.  The community banking conundrum is driven by multiple converging factors, among them competition from big banks for deposits—especially those of a commercial nature—as well as geographic limitations (many community banks have operated more consistently in less wealthy communities, going to places the big banks have avoided). The localized lending that community banks do is a cornerstone of enabling financial inclusion and energizing the American dream.

As a fintech leader, I find it disturbing that one of the larger perceived pressures of community banking comes from our sector. Technology companies in areas such as lending are threatening areas of profitability for community banks. It’s one thing to have your deposit base eroded, but it becomes difficult for community banks to survive this phenomenon in tandem with the erosion of their loan base, especially in small business lending.

I see this differently.

One person’s threat is another’s opportunity.  While I’ll let other fintechs speak to their own models and motivations, I can tell you with complete authenticity that Celero and its brands are developing leading-edge technology, in payments, software-as-a-service, analytics, business intelligence, social monitoring, and sales tools, and we are doing so to fulfill our commitment to help our community bank partners and their small business customers compete and win.

And we don’t limit ourselves to simply selling our own products and services. In our role as strategic partners and advisors, we not only help our community bankers realize a more expansive relationship with their clients, but we also help them connect the dots with regard to all of the tools at their disposal. My colleague and co-founder, Jeff Brown, exemplified this ethos recently, as he explained how our bank partners can increase fee income and deposit balances through payments and funding accounts earmarked for asset-based lending. Deposits are the launchpad for lending capability, and community bank loans provide a significantly healthier injection of capital than alternative lending options. As I stated before, these loans fuel innovative small businesses in towns all across America.

We are convinced that in order for community banks to fulfill their mission and continue to better serve rural Americans, as well as those in small towns and underserved urban neighborhoods, they need the right strategic partners, the right products, and the right tools to succeed.

Last year, when I began acquiring the strategic pieces of Celero and combining that with my dream team of executives, managers, and performers, I was grateful to find that our stakeholders completely embraced our vision to bring enterprise-level technology in terms of best-in-class payments capabilities and consumable technology tools, to small and mid-sized companies across the country. It’s obvious to me that when you give community bankers—some of the smartest people who are driven to help their business clients as much as they can—the tools to help their customers succeed, you can achieve your own bottom line goals, while helping your partners and their customers achieve theirs, too. Accelerating the growth of our partners and business customers is the core focus. Combining community bank products and services with our fintech offerings creates a formula that positions these small to mid-size businesses to not only survive and compete, but to lead and thrive in a sustainable way.

Aligning your own success to that of your partners and their customers isn’t original, nor should it be particularly noteworthy. But at this point in our history, our community banks need all of us operating on this principle, doing everything we can to work together to serve American business. According to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, firms with fewer than 20 employees account for more than 89 percent of American businesses. That statistic alone tells you the magnitude of what we’re facing here, but I’m glad to know we are partnering with some of the most capable people in business, and commit that Celero will strive to hold up its end of the deal, passionately cultivating the success of our bank partners.