Community banks, credit unions must modernize to compete and thrive

A digital-first approach is changing the banking industry — and quickly. All you need to do is look at fintech disruptors like the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo (owned by that other late ‘90s disruptor, PayPal), micro-investment platform Acorns or the fee-free mobile banking app Chime to understand that tech-savvy consumers’ demand is forcing the banking industry to adapt.

Digital transformation has been bandied about for years, but it’s no longer a buzzword and instead is now defining how banks are using technology and modernization to meet their customers’ needs. Consumers are also demanding experiences similar to what Netflix or Amazon offers, a consistent experience across any device, and ease of use. One way to meet this is to adopt a digital banking platform.

Regardless of size, digital transformation is shaking up banking. While large, global banks are often able to invest to quickly scale to what their customers want, community banks and credit unions can be just as competitive in offering products and pricing that consumers want. How? By giving customers the experiences they want, rewarding them with personalized incentives to increase loyalty, and using personalization to meet each customer’s specific need. 

Transform your bank, products and pricing with a digital platform

In order to remain competitive, community banks and credit unions need to adopt an agile model that offers customers the services and experiences they demand.

Most smaller banks haven’t changed their business model much over the years and stuck to an in-person strategy to deliver first-class customer service that built loyalty. In the U.S. there are more than 5,000 credit unions in 2020, a decline of 2.4% since the previous year, and nearly 5,000 community banks, a number that also declined due to asset thresholds. American Banker reports that for these banks to successfully transform and modernize, there are six steps to follow, including adopting a top-down commitment to organizational change and making innovation a priority and part of an organization’s structure. These decisions reside at the top and for a bank to be successful, it needs to be embraced throughout the entire organization. 

Beyond recognizing the need to modernize, a customer-centric approach is essential. In some ways, this is intuitive — community banks have long focused on supporting their customers by investing in organizations or causes they care about, and credit unions operate as nonprofits where customers as members own the bank. In each instance, this gives these banks a unique understanding of who their customers are. What’s trickier is finding out what each customer wants.

Helping these banks better understand what their customers want and allowing them to be nimble in delivering their products, Zafin’s enterprise-wide solutions lets banks determine the products and pricing that meet market and customer demand. 

Zafin lets banks determine who their target audiences are, provide offers to meet demand, and iterate as customers evolve or new consumers enter the market. Our solutions also enable banks to quickly transform lines of business when the landscape shifts. 

For example, when the coronavirus pandemic started, community banks and credit unions were on the front line of helping small businesses navigate through a time of severe economic stress. For a community bank to be able to quickly — and positively — react to unpredictable situations is an essential way to foster customer loyalty and give customers what they want, when they need it most. 

On top of this, a recent Zafin survey showed that during the pandemic 80% said that online and mobile banking is making it easier for them. This adoption rate is projected to increase — the growing Gen Z segment, many of who are under the age of 10 and have yet to establish a relationship with a bank but are digital natives, further emphasizes why digital innovation and personalized experiences will help banks gain more customers in the future. A move to a digital banking platform is not just a solution for now, but the future as well. 

“It’s widely known that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital banking tools,” Alexandra Roddy, Zafin CMO and EVP, said. “The biggest takeaway, however, is that many banks have not been prepared to match consumers’ desire for a more personalized banking experience because of their outdated legacy systems. [Our] survey shows expectations have changed, and banks now have a massive opportunity to re-evaluate how the systems they have in place may be holding them back from the modernization they know their customers want and need.”

What differentiates Zafin is that our solutions can scale to specific product delivery needs, get these products to market quickly, and use personalization technology for a customer-centric experience. This allows banks to be nimble and cost-effective when innovating to give their customers what they want, when they want it and whether it’s a situation that’s anticipated or not.

Giving customers what they want

The rise of fintechs has shown how customization of products and services can match user demands. Zafin’s solutions make it easy for banks to do the same. Beyond the need to pivot quickly because of coronavirus, our survey went more in-depth to find what consumers want. Here are some highlights:

  • 88% want their banks to provide them with relevant recommendations, but 41% say their current bank doesn’t offer them what they’re looking for
  • 86% of millennials said if they received rewards to help them meet their financial goals, whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house or reducing debt, they would expand their current relationship with a bank or move to one that offers such incentives
  • Online banking is the most important factor when Gen Z and millennials choose a bank while those near or at retirement age look for low fees
  • Nearly 8% of Gen Z does not use a bank. Banks with the foresight to prepare now for this next digitally native generation will be in a good position to establish long-term relationships. (And let’s not forget this generation comprises 68 million people in the U.S. alone.)

Every generation wants to get all the services they need from a single bank. With Zafin’s segmentation targeting and personalization technology, it’s easy for banks to identify — and meet — this demand.

Your bottom line

Time is money. That’s why Zafin’s implementation is fast, meaning that you can move your product and pricing offers quickly to the market and reap the benefits.

We’ve created an 8-step process to get you up and running quickly. Starting with an assessment, we work with you to develop a plan that fits your unique needs. We provide training, configure solutions that work for you, and test and iterate so that you can meet your goals. 

Our goal is to help your product managers get your products to market quickly and have the capabilities at hand to identify, customize and adjust to any changes in the market or consumer demand. The Zafin solution also seamlessly integrates with legacy tech stacks.

At Zafin, we’re with you every step of the way. Our suite of solutions includes easy-to-use dashboards to help you segment and target specific audiences of any size, monitor and measure, and streamline compliance by consolidating product and regulatory information into a centralized repository. 

What is corporate travel management?

No matter what industry you’re in, every aspect of your business requires planning, organizing, and analysis. One of these aspects is business travel — and that involves a lot more than booking airline tickets and hotels. From logistics and travel spend to tracking your travelers and monitoring travel expenses, a lot goes into creating a successful corporate travel program.

The advantages of having a managed business travel program are extensive. Beyond tracking and managing your travel spend, a well-executed program also helps you ensure your travelers are safe, provides them with personalized travel options, and empowers travelers to book and update their travel at their desk or on the go in the mobile app. A managed program should also give you the technology you need to gain in-depth data insights so that you can optimize your program to increase compliance, find new savings opportunities, save time, and more.

What are the benefits of a managed business travel program?

Travel programs are beneficial to businesses of all sizes. A growing business needs a travel management company (TMC) that will support its corporate travel program so they can scale and evolve. A global organization needs a business travel management solution that can be tailored for each region where they conduct business so that local requirements and travel options are centralized and easy to find. This also means each area can be measured for compliance, costs, spending caps, and more.

At Egencia, we help corporate travel managers in a number of ways, including:

  • Providing tools to create a travel policy that meets the business’ ROI goals by monitoring and forecasting travel spend. A well-crafted policy also helps you increase compliance — and when compliance goes up, costs go down.
  • Savings opportunities at 35,000 hotels with Egencia Preferred Rates. Last-minute mobile-only deals that can save you up to 70 percent and access to an extensive travel inventory from Expedia Group to find the travel options that fit your budget.
  • Optimization reporting from Egencia Analytics Studio to find more savings. The Benchmarking dashboard lets you measure your spend against other, similarly sized businesses to use this data to negotiate better hotel and airfare rates.
  • Data visualization dashboards make it easy to pull reports on your most traveled routes by individuals or groups, find your CO2 footprint, and understand the impact of global travel situations like COVID-19.

Need help building a travel policy? Use our free guide.

How does travel technology simplify business travel management?

When it comes to travel management, technology matters. This holds true as much in the workplace today as it does in your personal life. Booking business travel should be as frictionless as booking a vacation. We understand this – Egencia was the original innovator in digital corporate travel. We built and own the technology we use for business travel management, allowing us to innovate quickly and deliver a complete and seamless end-to-end travel experience that delights travelers and travel managers.

Egencia gives you everything you need to create and manage a successful corporate travel program. Easily manage traveler profiles, payment options and travel policies, or use risk management tools like Egencia Traveler Tracker to help you locate business travelers in case of an emergency. With everything in one place, it also makes booking and approving travel simple — there’s no need for multiple travel booking tools or complicated approval processes. And you can make booking, policy updates and approvals from wherever you are, across any device.

Travelers on the road will get alerts if anything that could disrupt their travel happens. If they need help, they can use Egencia AssistMe and get a call back within a few minutes. Our expert travel consultants use the same tools as travelers and arrangers so they can view any traveler’s complete itinerary to resolve any issue and get them back on the road as soon as possible. These experts provide support around the clock, every day of the year, online or off.

What role does travel data play?

An abundance of business travel data from Egencia and Expedia Group fuels our technology; machine learning uses what we know about corporate travel policies, booking histories, property preferences, travel industry benchmarks, and a host of other information to create compelling, relevant travel choices. Travelers can find in-policy options at the top of their search, making policy compliance easy, encouraging traveler satisfaction, and keeping travel costs under control.

As part of Expedia Group, we can deliver the benefit of having the same choices and prices your travelers would get on or alongside specifically negotiated corporate rates corporate from Egencia. Egencia Preferred Rates offer your travelers better value flights and hotel stays with exclusive rates that aren’t available to other TMCs and include amenities like flexible cancellations, breakfast, and Wi-Fi.

Corporate travel management from Egencia

Corporate travel management should help you gain efficiency in your travel program, save time and money, take care of your travelers, get around-the-clock customer support, and provide you with actionable data.

At Egencia, we’re always here for our customers, from onboarding to helping them navigate travel disruptions. Find out how corporate travel expertise from Egencia can help you have a successful travel program.


Sharon Jones Dies at 60

Soul music has lost a bit of the spark that fires it with the passing of Sharon Jones.

Jones, who publicly fought pancreatic cancer since her diagnosis in 2013, lost her battle to the disease on November 18. She was 60 years old.

It was reported that Jones was surrounded not only by loved ones, but also her musical family — The Dap Kings — a farewell befitting a queen who reigned as the modern soul and funk ringleader that helped steer the Daptone Records label to its current heights.

Onstage Jones was a fireball, mixing equal parts Vegas showgirl moves with gritty, soulful laments that dug deep into the brownstone foundations of her Bed-Stuy upbringing and years working as a corrections officer at Rikers Island. Laying your eyes on her, you were assured that not only should you not mess with this woman, but that she was a truth teller, a singer with a soulful voice that can only be birthed from experience.

Jones never shied away from her upbringing, her experiences as a woman, or her illness. The documentary Miss Sharon Jones! highlighted how her strength carried her through every peak and valley.

Sharon Jones taught us that with adversity comes regal acceptance, and that the love of music can deliver the purest soul of all.

Goodbye, Miss Sharon — you will be greatly missed.


Leonard Cohen, Legendary Singer/Songwriter, Dead at 82

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, the inimitable singer/songwriter with a subterranean baritone, died November 10 at the age of 82.

A statement on Cohen’s Facebook page called him “one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.” A cause of death has not been released. A memorial honoring the musician will be held in Los Angeles; a date has yet to be announced.

A man of letters (between 1963 and 1966 he published two novels and a collection of poems), the Canadian writer turned to music in the late ‘60s and found like-minded songwriters in the burgeoning New York City folk scene. One kindred spirit, fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, cast a spotlight on Cohen when she included the hit song “Suzanne” on her 1966 album, In My Life. The cover introduced Cohen to a host of influential songwriters who never swayed in their admiration and often covered his music. In 1994, Jeff Buckley re-introduced the singer to a new audience with his brilliant cover of “Hallelujah,” which Cohen had released 10 years earlier. While Buckley may have enjoyed the most commercial success from his rendition of the soulful dirge, the song elevated Cohen to a new level; it has been estimated “Hallelujah” has been covered by no less than 300 singers.

While Cohen may have never enjoyed the commercial success that a number of his peers did, he was consistently cited throughout his career as being an intuitive interpreter with a masterful literary lyrical style that addressed humankind and plunged the depths of the soul through often haunting ruminations on war, sex, faith, love and loss.

“If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.” — Leonard Cohen

A spectacular performer, fans waited with baited breath for announcements of his tours. And it was a sight to behold: Cohen never faltered in his ability to mesmerize audiences with his halting incantations, uniquely structured arrangements and backing singers that lent a beautiful lushness to his harrowing songs. In between tours and recordings Cohen also continued to write, publishingDeath of a Lady’s Man (1978) and Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs (1993) and more, up through his final publication, the ebook Fifteen Poems in 2012.

Known as a ladies’ man, perhaps best illustrated in his iconic “I’m Your Man,” Cohen surprised many when he gave up everything in 1994 and entered the Mt. Baldy Zen Center outside of Los Angeles to immerse himself in the practice of Buddhism; he was ordained a Zen monk in 1996. Cohen also never eschewed his Jewish faith, and held the two were not in conflict since the practice of Buddhism did not worship any deity he was free to embrace the spiritual tenets of each.

leonard-cohen-you-want-it-darker-album-art-2016-billboard-1240After yet another extensive world tour, Cohen returned home and set about working on his 14th album, You Want It Darker, which was released on October 21. The record held some ominous hints that Cohen was winding down, particularly on the track “I’m Leaving the Table” — “I’m leaving the table/I’m out of the game,” he sings. The album marked a career that spanned 49 years and further served to cement Cohen as one of the most influential and relevant singer/songwriters of our time.


Hawaii to offer its homeless one-way tickets to Seattle, L.A. or any U.S. city

HONOLULU — Hoping to save taxpayers millions of dollars in welfare costs, Hawaii is going to offer some of the state’s estimated 17,000 homeless a one-way ticket back to the U.S. mainland.

According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, Hawaii’s legislators voted recently to begin a pilot three-year “return-to-home” program in the state Department of Human Services budget.

To get a ticket home, homeless applicants must complete a background check, be mentally sound and have what the bill calls “sufficient personal hygiene.” An individual can only enroll in the program once.

Supporters of the program say it will allow homeless people to return to their friends and family on the mainland, while critics argue the program could be easily abused and that it’s not adequately funded to do any good.

Lawmakers acknowledge that it’s hardly enough money to run the program for one year, let alone three.

There is no word yet when the free trips will start.

(Originally published at

Gary Clark Jr. Brings Electrifying Blues & Soul to the Stage

The crowd at the Moore Theater in Seattle is eager. Warmed up. Ready. Music is piped through the PA and although the cheering has started, the stage remains dark. After a few minutes a sole, bright white spotlight drops on the stage. Eventually, out of the shadows emerges the-man-who-is-going-to-save-the-blues, the fedora-sporting, leather-jacketed Gary Clark Jr. Head slung low, a nearly imperceptible nod to the crowd, and then, the much-anticipated first chord.

With that one resonating note, Clark has the crowd in his clutch, and it’s not long before he’s driving them down a gravel road, churning out one crunchy note after another as he leads them to the bright lights of the big city. But as the Austin, Texas ax-slinger knows, those lights can be blinding — and damning.

“Bright lights, big city going to my head/I don’t care, no/’Cause you don’t care/Start off with the bottle/End it up with the bottle/Taking shots, waiting on tomorrow/Trying to fill up, was hollow/You gonna know my name”

The loud locomotion that’s taking place onstage with Clark and his band is a far cry from the muted, more personal appearance he made earlier in the day at Emerald City Guitars. Armed with a vintage acoustic, Clark wailed and brayed just as forcefully as he did in front of a theater full of fans, turning out “The Healing,” “Our Love” and “Church” with a cry that echoed the souls of a thousand bluesmen past.

His trailblazing band kicks up a psychedelic dust storm of monstrous proportions

While Clark could be viewed as part of the progeny of blues rock revivalists that span from the White Stripes and Black Keys to Alabama Shakes and Benjamin Booker, he boasts more authenticity than those acts. Seeing the two sides of him — solo and backed by his band — cements this because Clark seems keenly interested in keeping the tradition alive rather than simply stealing from it.

Gary Clark Jr. in action
Gary Clark Jr. in action

The bleeding, burning blues Clark delivers — echoed in the furious churn of “Travis County” (which could equally serve as an anthem for Black Lives Matter) and the dusty, sauntering rhythms of “Next Door Neighbor Blues” — sound as if Clark’s channeling the ghosts of a bevy of Delta musicians, but the blues isn’t his only, or strongest, artistic stroke.

You see, the man’s got soul. You can see it in the way his hips sway as he sidles up to the lip of the stage, grinning ever so slyly at fans, but the real killer is you can feel it. When Clark delivers the tender ballad “Our Love,” you can feel that soul echoing in the chambers of your heart, pulling it this way and that, never crushing it but swelling it with emotion. It’s this switch-hitting from back alley blues growls to high falsettos that marks the peaks and valleys of Clark’s best work.

Clark, who won a Grammy in 2013 for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Please Come Home,” laced his latest album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim with horns, organs, backing vocals and even a spoken word snippet that flits over the album’s opener like a firefly alighting on a cotton ball ready to burst.

None of those accoutrements are necessary when Clark is onstage. The hard funky edges of “Cold Blooded” and “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” have Clark coaxing sharp notes out of his six string, obliterating any need for a horn section.

The bleeding, burning blues Clark delivers sound as if he’s channeling the ghosts of a bevy of Delta musicians

By the time he launches into “When My Train Pulls In,” Clark kicks up a swirling squall. His trailblazing band leaves behind a psychedelic dust storm of monstrous proportions. And just when you think you’ve got a firm grip on that magic carpet ride, Clark spins on a dime and kicks it back to the juke joint for the chugging, boiling “Don’t Owe You a Thang.”

If Gary Clark Jr. is the future of blues and neo-soul rock, then the future is looking pretty bright.