Financial services has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, with tech companies revolutionizing the industry. As these innovative companies strive to provide more value to consumers through cutting-edge and customer friendly products, they often require a crucial partner: a bank. Direct bank relationships give companies the underlying infrastructure for many products and they are also required!
Finding the right bank partner is not a decision to be taken lightly. It can make or break a fintech venture, impacting its growth, technology, agility, compliance, and overall success.
Fintech-bank partnerships (a/k/a banking as a service) have come a long way. Initially, they were viewed as a necessary but limited interaction, driven by regulatory obligations. However, as the fintech industry grew, so did the realization that these partnerships could offer more. This is the key to unlocking innovation, expanding financial services, and reaching new customers.
Fintech companies need to navigate complex regulations while maintaining agility and momentum. As the fintech space has evolved, the regulatory environment has become increasingly complex, making it vital for companies to find a bank partner that can help them meet these compliance demands, without being a drag on product and business development. One of the primary challenges in fintech-bank partnerships is striking a balance between speed to market and compliance with stringent regulatory parameters.
Lately, the fintech landscape has been characterized by the recognition of the existential risks associated with bank partnerships. Banks can introduce unexpected challenges, and companies are now acutely aware of the importance of selecting the right partner. We’ve seen a myriad of failures with banks being confronted with regulatory “cease and desist” letters, enforcement actions and limitations on customer growth. In some cases, regulators have taken more aggressive actions causing the fintech to have to switch partners within days or weeks. Thus, the choice of bank partner has become a strategic decision that can determine the long-term success of a fintech venture.
Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a partner:
Compatibility between a company’s offerings and a bank partner's services is paramount. Companies should seek a bank partner with a track record of supporting similar financial products. This alignment ensures that the partnership will facilitate seamless integration and a better user experience for customers. It also could mean that you should have different bank partners for different products, and you have to consider how many partners you can handle and which products are your priority.
The ability to communicate directly with the bank rather than through a third party platform has a significant impact in everything from new product launches to compliance insights to tech issues. Having a direct line of communication can be extremely important in times of need as well as create a more agile relationship over time. Your banking partner will need to present your product to regulators, and you want to know the details of that discussion. The more transparent the relationship, the less likely you are to be surprised.
Time-to-market is often critical for companies. Some bank-as-a-service (BaaS) providers can enable a swift launch within a few months, while others may take considerably longer. Companies should inquire about launch timelines and the support they will receive from their bank partner. Like with anything, there is a balance between speed and resiliency, so managing both is important. Decide what’s important to you, and assess the likelihood of the bank meeting the timelines prescribed.
The increased monitoring of companies and the banks they’re partnering with, not to mention consumers needing more reassurance after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic, means that sound balance sheet management and internal risk concentration processes are more important than ever. You want to know that the bank you partner with is stable and well run, particularly as you scale your company. Moreover, the bigger you are, the more you need to do diligence on the partner you are choosing to understand their financial profile and how it will be perceived by regulators.
Compliance is a top concern in the fintech industry. Companies should determine how the responsibility for critical compliance activities, such as regulatory oversight and advice on adherence with all applicable regulations, will be divided between them, third parties, and the bank partner. The proper division of work will be critical to your company’s success because having subject matter experts on staff can ensure that your bank partners can support a safe and sound banking product.
Data is a valuable asset in the fintech sector. Companies should assess their bank partner's ability to handle data thoughtfully and efficiently. An ideal partner should be capable of ingesting, analyzing, and utilizing data to streamline operations and ensure compliance. The last thing you need is getting pinged in an emergency because your partner doesn’t understand your data or they are not equipped in their systems to manage and analyze it well.
Companies often rely on a network of integration partners to enhance their services. A bank partner should be willing and able to collaborate with these third-party providers, aiding in your goal of creating the best experience for your customers rather than being a limiting factor. You don't want to be forced into integrations that aren't beneficial for you.
As companies grow, they require a bank partner that can scale alongside them. Limiting growth due to an ill-fitting partnership can be detrimental. Companies should choose a bank partner that supports their expansion plans without imposing undue restrictions. This might mean choosing a banking-as-a-service (BaaS) provider that doesn't have a direct banking connection if you’re a new company prioritizing getting to market. Then you need to consider what the best approach is to scale and when to switch over to a full scale banking relationship.
The choice of a bank partner is a critical strategic decision. Fintech companies must evaluate potential partners based on product fit, compliance capabilities, data management, and scalability. With the right bank partner, companies can navigate the complexities of the financial industry, maintain compliance, and focus on what they do best: innovating and delivering exceptional financial services to their customers. The era of fintech-bank partnerships represents a new dawn of professionalism and appreciation for the value of collaboration, and companies must choose their partners wisely to thrive in this dynamic ecosystem.
Lead Bank is an FDIC chartered bank with over 95 years of operating history. We have a broad portfolio of banking infrastructure products built by a world class team of engineers and product leads from some of most successful fintechs in the world. We are headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, with additional offices in San Francisco, Sunnyvale, and New York. We built the bank we wanted to see in the world. Reachable at: firstname.lastname@example.org – and we actually will answer your email.