In the banking industry, innovation and technology are top of mind for community financial institutions who want to stay relevant. As you search for solutions to your CFI’s needs, you will undoubtedly vet many vendors. Give yourself an advantage and be sure to ask the right questions during the discovery process. These are some of the most important questions you should ask when interviewing potential partners to ensure the relationship is going to be a good fit.
- What is your company’s vision?
By asking this question, you can learn why your vendor is doing what they’re doing and what’s driving the company forward. It is also important to consider not only the vision of the company, but who sets and drives the vision. Sometimes a company starts off well, but then the company sells and the vision is no longer the same. It’s important to partner with like-minded vendors whose vision aligns with your needs.
- How do you feel about integration?
There’s no “silver bullet” solution in the marketplace, so often times a financial institution will have to piece together a full solution. It might take 2 or 3 different vendors to accomplish what you really want. How open is this vendor to integration with other third parties and potential competitors? Their willingness to integrate will give you an idea of what your limitations might be when putting together your solution if you were to choose this vendor.
- What’s your technology roadmap like?
If you are looking to help your financial institution become more innovative and up-to-date, you want to partner with a vendor who is dedicated to constantly improving their solutions. As a vendor, our company frequently discusses this internally and with our clients on a yearly basis, but when I was asked this question by a prospective client it really surprised me and put me on the spot. Asking this question can help you gauge whether this vendor is just coasting by on auto-pilot or if they’re truly committed to innovation.
- Ask about recent innovation.
Ask the vendor about the last big change or addition they rolled out. If you simply ask them if they innovate or invest in research and development, the answer will undoubtedly be “yes, of course.” We have talked to prospects that are switching vendors because their current vendor isn’t doing anything new or isn’t conducting R&D. Innovative banks are looking for vendors who are always working on something new, rolling out new modules and solutions.
- How did you respond to PPP?
If you’re looking for a reliable partner to provide relevant technology, asking how the vendor responded to the Paycheck Protection Program could be particularly telling. If this vendor didn’t step up to the plate during one of the biggest events to ever happen in the community banking industry, what makes you think they’ll help you out in the future? PPP was an opportunity for vendors to stand out, giving you a unique advantage when searching for a long-term vendor partnership.
- What is your client support like once I sign up?
Customer service remains a top priority for many when it comes to a successful partnership. You cannot always base your expectation of client support off of your relationship with your salesperson. Ask the vendor how their support system works once you sign on as a client. How accessible and responsive is the support team? How are accounts managed and how frequently do they meet with clients? You can also ask about the company’s churn-- how many clients are they losing yearly or total? This can be a difficult question for the vendor to answer, but it cuts to the core. Their answer will give you insight into how happy the vendor keeps their clients.
- What type of resources will I need to get the most out of this product?
There are many tools out there in the marketplace that require certain skillsets or time commitments to use optimally. It can save many headaches down the road to ask this question up front. Will your FI need a full-time dedicated employee to manage this software? How much of the workload falls on you, and what falls on the vendor? Does the vendor offer training before and/or after implementation? Do they offer training for new employees, or will someone at your institution be responsible for that?
- How customizable are your solutions?
There are benefits to customization and configurability, but there are also benefits to an “off the shelf” solution. Some FIs want and need customization—they are looking for a vendor that can fine tune things to their specific operations. Others might be better suited to a ready-made solution due to a lack of internal resources to cast a unique flow or process. Your financial institution needs to know which direction you’re wanting to go here so you can determine which answer to this question is the right answer for you.
- Who are your customers? What are they saying?
When asking for references, you’ll want to speak with banks that have a similar core, imaging system, or other solutions. Each interaction with a system is going to be a different experience, so it can be helpful to understand the unique experiences of similar clients.
Best of luck to you and your institution in your search for great technology partners!