Important Lessons Learned After 2 Years in Banking: Vendors, Not Partners

Some would say I’m new to the banking industry—and they would be right. Because of that, I get asked pretty often about my perspective as an outsider looking in. Well I’m two years in, and it seems like a good time as any to look back at how I started with Quontic, and how we’ve been able to kickstart innovation by reframing some of the underlying assumptions that the banking industry clings to. This is part one.

I want to tell you about the idea of having partners, not vendors.

One of the first sources of struggle when I transitioned to this industry was the use of this term “vendor”—it’s all about a transaction. From the very first time you meet a vendor, they have to go through a screening checklist. Everything is, “Do you do x? What is the cost?” and we don’t really get to know our partners. I understand the value of that from a compliance standpoint, but what results is the relationship never evolves.

When I ran my startups, I never referred to someone as a vendor—they were a partner. So it felt so strange to hear “vendor, vendor, vendor.” While it’s a nuanced idea, the words we use do matter. A partner is fundamentally different from a vendor. And I wonder if part of the struggle that community banks have had, whether it’s with their core or with fintech or something else, is actually part of the inherent nature of referring to this as a “vendor.”

Partners are someone you actually get to know, not just a representative at a company. When I think of a partner, it means I have your cell phone—not your business card. When I have a partner, I call them for help; with a vendor, I submit a ticket. When collaboration is required, I sit down with a partner. There is no collaboration with a vendor.

Think of it like this: When you’re in a situation where an update gets pushed and it breaks something at 10pm at night, you want to be able to get on the phone with someone. That actually happened to us, and I was able to get on the phone with MANTL’s CEO, Nathaniel Harley, and have a conversation with him. Do you know what his immediate reaction was? He said, “Let me understand this all the way through.” Whereas, I’ve had vendors say, “It’s not my fault, it’s on you.” Come to find out, it was a problem with our core, and MANTL helped us solve it. That’s a partner, not a vendor.

“First and foremost we believe that our customers are more than just users of our software, they are our partners. Digital evolution is not always an easy journey, so it’s important that our customers feel like they have our total support—from consulting on best practices, sharing insights and providing help whenever they need it,” explains Nathaniel Harley, MANTL’s CEO and co-founder. “We also believe it’s our job to help ensure the people and businesses our customers serve are treated as sacred and have an incredible experience. That’s why we’re constantly innovating and creating digital solutions that not only provide banks with the tools needed to grow their deposits and loans and reduce costs, but also leaves a lasting impression of the institution.”

First we changed how we thought of our partners, then we changed our approach to our core. I would argue that this initial struggle was most prevalent in the world of our core relationships. As we became a digital bank, that meant we were going to work with people outside of our core. Anyone that’s done a core integration knows it can be one of the most challenging aspects of being at a bank, and can stifle innovation. In essence, it requires collaboration—and it’s agonizing without it.

Our first fintech core integration took 18 months, and we actually stopped it because it was so painful. The next time, it went flawlessly. We sat down with both of our partners first, and both did things for the other and for us that weren’t part of their job. But that’s what you have when you have a partnership. 

Part of being a partner means you’re friends. You know what’s going on in their lives. You text each other. Like, when our FIS representative bought a new home and moved, we sent her a housewarming gift. When we signed a new deal with her, she sent me hand-blown glass whiskey cups. You couldn’t do that if you don’t know about the other person. That’s the difference between a vendor and a partner.

So for community banks that are struggling: change your approach with your core. At Quontic, our core value “Say Cheese” comes into play not only internally and with our customers, but also with our partners. We bring that mindset to the table to make our partners smile. So you have to ask yourself: How do you talk about them? What do you share with them? Do you know what you’re trying to do, or just know you need to do something differently? 

For those that want to integrate beyond your core, start with a partner (not a vendor). Do that, and it’ll make the process so much easier. 

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