JUNE 16, 2022 06:30 AM EDT


In our second installment of the NCR Terafina Trailblazers series, we had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Stuart Cook, Executive Vice President, Chief Product Officer at Valley Bank. With $50 billion in assets and over 200 branches across New Jersey, New York, Florida, and Alabama, Valley Bank continues to break barriers in product innovation, helping niche communities grow and flourish. In this interview with Stuart, we discuss digital innovation drivers, identification of key product and technology priorities as a Product leader, the importance of omniproduct and omnichannel expansion, Cannabis banking, and advice for other Chief Product Officers.

Read our full interview with Terafina Trailblazer, Stuart Cook, below.



    1. What is driving digital innovation right now?


    I break down digital innovation drivers in three different categories. First and foremost, I look at the customers and their expectations. Customers now expect frictionless experiences with every financial relationship they have. We used to benchmark ourselves against top banks, however, customers do not do that anymore. They compare us with the latest financial technology or other big tech companies, so we now must benchmark against them. Recognizing this, we aim to provide a seamless customer experience that prioritizes evolving customer needs and where they desire to be today.
    Secondly, I think the overhead of legacy technology in financial services is holding banks back. As an industry, banks have not stayed up to date with development and new technology. Legacy technology can actually have a high cost, so digital transformation is imperative to get to a point where financial institutions can be cost effective and impactful.
    The third category I look at is competition. Big banks are investing heavily in technology to make great strides in digital innovation. And fintechs are expanding from direct-to-consumer initiatives to business-to-business solutions. Fintechs like Stripe are also now entering the traditional banking space. These organizations are pushing the boundaries and engaging in lines of business that force us to think creatively to differentiate. Any community bank that is looking to be a leader must be intentional in diversifying their product portfolio and better at evaluating and prioritizing customer needs.



    2. In your role as Chief Product Officer, how do you identify your key product and technology priorities? What specific questions do you ask yourself first?


    My team and I undergo a process where we ask a series of questions before initiating a project. These questions include:

    • What problem are we solving for?

    • Who are we solving for? How big is that target market?

    • What does the competition look like?

    • Why choose us? What are our key differentiators?

    • Why now? Is the timing right to launch?

    • What does success look like? How do we measure success?

    • What is the solution criteria?


    These questions revolve around developing a solid go-to-market strategy and are key to consider to ensure a successful launch. It is essential to stay diligent and disciplined when answering these questions to manage risk and new spend before making an investment.
    Furthermore, I view Product like an equation.

    Customer x Technology x Business

    Essentially, what this means is I focus on if the product is desirable to the customer, feasible to build and develop, and viable in commercialization. For example, flying cars may be desirable to customers, but are not necessarily feasible to develop today. Likewise, building a mobile platform before smartphones is neither feasible nor viable.
    This construct informs and validates where my key product and technology priorities should be.
    A major priority I feel financial institutions should focus on is departing from project oriented, output-focused initiatives and moving towards product oriented, customer-centric solutions. These customer-focused solutions should measure outcomes as opposed to outputs. Outcomes hone in on leading indicators such as customer acquisition statistics, while outputs fixate on lagging indicators including performance results. Surveying leading indicators allows a financial institution to optimize current projects and better predict future trends to reach business goals and pivot if necessary. I think of lagging indicators as looking in the rearview mirror, while important to check regularly, you need to drive safely and focus intently on what is in front of you.


    3. Valley Bank began by using Terafina for consumer deposits in the digital channel. Since then, you have expanded its usage into small business deposits and are now considering an expansion into branches. Could you shed some light into the bank's thinking behind this expansion?

    Are there any early metrics or initial data you can share that are indicative of your strategy in action?

    Valley Bank aims to be transversal across all lines of business, whether it be digital or in branch and across product lines. Traditionally, banking services tend to be extremely siloed across offerings — separating the customer journey for consumer banking, credit cards, consumer lending, mortgages, and business interests to name a few. If you are a consumer or a business looking to take advantage of these different tech stacks, you usually get this very incongruous customer experience. So if you try to open a credit card and you're an existing customer, it feels like nobody knows who you are because you're having to provide all the details that the bank should already have. It’s not that the bank doesn’t have this information, but because you are in a different tech stack line of business; the lack of access to shared customer information creates friction and unnecessary overhead. Consequently, our transversal capabilities need to be as seamless for the customer as possible to ensure we are providing the best possible experience. To do this, we wanted to be meticulous and start small, picking one channel and product to invest in, and then further expanding from there with the assistance of the omniproduct capabilities the Terafina single platform provides.

    We know in-branch account opening takes longer than when online, so we intend on being omnichannel, creating a seamless, frictionless experience for customers. Leveraging the omnichannel capabilities from Terafina, which eliminates “swivel chair” interference, is a great way to drive innovation into the branch experience.

    Our digital account opening is over 5x since we launched with Terafina. Our growth rate is increasing, with the number of digitally opened accounts in the first 5 months of 2022 surpassing 2021 by 50%.


    4. Can you tell us a little bit about your newest Cannabis banking offering? How did you leverage the Terafina platform to build it? How does this offering benefit your clients, and how easy is it to use?

    Our newest Cannabis banking offering, Valley Pay, allows Cannabis merchants to accept cashless mobile payments from their customers in the form of a reloadable, white labeled merchant-branded digital card, similar to a Starbucks card. The offering tackles a great pain point Cannabis companies face with holding immense amounts of cash on hand, and is more desirable for Cannabis consumers as well, eliminating the need to carry cash when purchasing from a Cannabis company.

    When building our offering, we were able to leverage Terafina’s highly configurable platform. We had to build on a gift card construct, so the KYC, AML, and sign up process is more complex, but still very easy to build on Terafina. Being able to onboard onto the merchant-branded card via a mobile phone is very simple and easy to use.


    5. When thinking about the collaborative elements that are needed for successful partnerships, what advice would you give other Chief Product Officers on how to best evaluate and work with fintech providers?

    I love to work with fintech providers who are transparent and would recommend that other Chief Product Officers seek a great deal of transparency with their partnerships as well. I feel that old school vendor relationships just do not drive successful partnerships, so I choose to evaluate the fintech team, their journey, their credentials, the product’s credentials, and the fintech’s funding stage. Ultimately though, for me, it is truly and will always be about the people.



About Terafina Inc.

Terafina Inc. based in San Ramon, CA provides digital onboarding and omnichannel sales solutions that are simple and secure to banks and credit unions. Terafina helps financial institutions turn their online and mobile engines into strong conversion tools that drive growth by strategically leveraging and positioning product offerings - all while building a collaborative and seamless experience across online, branch, and call center channels. For more information about Terafina Inc., visit www.terafinainc.com. Stay up to date on the latest with Terafina by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter.
To connect with Stuart Cook on Linkedin, click here

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