Notable Quotable: Amerant Bank’s CEO on Digital Business Lending, Scaling Tech, and Business Customer Acquisition

Sal Trifilio

Sal Trifilio

May 13, 2022


Amerant Bank is a $7.5B community financial institution located in Coral Gables, FL. With 24 branches across the Sunshine State, Amerant is one of the largest community banks in all of Florida.

As a relatively new financial institution, being flexible and dynamic is a part of their DNA. That was put to the test right away, during COVID-19 and the Paycheck Protection Program.

Taking it all in stride, Amerant rose to the occasion and came out of PPP looking to digitally transform. Today, not only have they quickly adopted new technology, but they’re actively expanding digital lending into larger credits and new corners of business banking, as well.

With many financial institutions looking to replicate this kind of successful digital transformation in 2022, we’re revisiting conversations from recent industry events with leading business banks like Amerant.

The following quotes have been transcribed from our discussion with Amerant Bank Vice Chairman and CEO Jerry Plush at this year’s Acquired or Be Acquired conference by Bank Director. The quotes cover a range of timely topics including the importance of digital lending for business banking success, scaling the use of technology within the bank, and acquiring new business customers.

On the digital transformation of business banking at Amerant

The Paycheck Protection Program helped keep many small businesses afloat during the early days of the pandemic. But as the program wound down, a funding gap began to arise. Jerry and his team identified this as an opportunity that they could capitalize on, if only they had the right technology to be more competitive.

“We had a typical, incredibly-manual process regardless of how simple or complex the customer request was,” Jerry said. “And so we were treating a $50,000 - $250,000 loan request the same way that you would treat a $2.5 or $3 million loan, which was pretty crazy.”

“As PPP was winding down,” Jerry said, they noticed “an enormous market opportunity to be able to be out there and provide the additional liquidity that small business owners in our footprints needed.”

With the goal of launching digital business lending in 90 days, Amerant identified Numerated as the only fintech partner capable of helping them meet their tight deadline.

“[Every financial institution] shares the same worry of having to deal with regulators, with our vendor management processes, with understanding and getting compliance and risk and legal and everyone else to sign off on something new like a [loan origination system],” Jerry said. “I think that the team, particularly at Numerated … has really gotten this down to a science where you can execute and be up and live within that 90 days and have all those constituencies in your organization happy.” 

And for Jerry, Numerated’s modern LOS has done more than please the folks at his bank. “The idea is to delight your customer, right?” he said, “and in terms of being able to say ‘look, can you just give me these couple pieces of information and I can let you know, almost immediately, whether you’re going to be approved,’ as opposed to our previous process.

“This is transparent, it's upfront, it's immediate, and I can say that, virtually, the best references that we're getting are from small business owners talking to other small business owners.”

Providing the kind of experience that generates word-of-mouth demand has been key to the success his team has seen. As Jerry put it, “without even marketing the number of applications and the volumes that we've seen in such a short period of time, basically we were up live, I believe, and by the end of August and in full volumes by the end of the year.”

On scaling technology to more business banking products

While the process to implement Numerated’s LOS at Amerant Bank was fast, it was also structured to provide confidence in the process.

As Jerry described it, “I would tell you that the first 50 to 100 applications we took through the Numerated platform, we actually went through the process of going through a full, manual underwriting, just trying to make sure that people inside the organization had confidence in this type of credit scoring the LOS was providing. And I think what I can tell you is we got exactly what we thought. Literally matched approval or declines from manually scoring versus using the criteria that we had agreed to upfront.”

This process helped Jerry build confidence within his credit teams and is allowing Amerant to scale the use of the Numerated LOS from loans for $100,000 to loans of $250,000 and above. According to Jerry, this has created a competitive advantage as business customers begin to return to branches and continue their rebound from the pandemic.

“Over the last two years, let's face it, we all didn't have anywhere near the level of personal contact, and I think this gave us a way as people were coming back through branches or that we were able to point to it on the website that it gave us the ability to begin to ramp up that word-of-mouth marketing, because again, in our case we really haven't done any specific campaigns around it,” Jerry said.

“And let’s face it, our people know who the small business owners that they interact with, and the Numerated platform has really, really helped.” Jerry added, “I think the vast majority of the leads have probably come from a branch manager relationship or a calling officer relationship that said, ‘Hey, you should visit the site,’ or ‘Hey, by the way, I can take this application for you rather quickly, if you want to do it right now.’”

On digital business lending as a customer acquisition tool

Now that Amerant Bank can quickly and easily meet the needs of businesses in their communities, they’re starting to more aggressively leverage the channel as a means for building deeper, more profitable business banking relationships.

“I look at this as a feeder program,” Jerry says of the loans processed using the Numerated platform. “You've got a lot of startup businesses, you've got a lot of one-year-out businesses that need smaller loans and credits—maybe $100,000-$200,000—and then eventually these businesses are going to get assigned a banker because their needs are going to become more sophisticated. And it's not just a function of approving an increase in credit. And so to me, in our institution, there was a gaping hole,” Jerry said.

“The idea that we relied on either a branch manager or a business banker to sit with any customer that came in the door and there was almost like a shunning of this,” Jerry said, “and to me, it's the same situation you have to; we all talk about where's the next new customer coming from? We're all fighting for those who've got all the money. Well, how about all the ones that are just starting their business careers and launching their life after school, and you have to start and have something that's going to feed through,” he said. “And so to me, that's really where our institution has a strategic sort of objective, that's the way we've looked at it, we were really missing a solid market opportunity.”

Learn more about Amerant Bank’s success with Numerated by reading their case study, today.

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