Agility Bank (in Organization) plans to be a community bank like no other that’s come before it.
Based in Houston, the De Novo Bank is women owned and majority women led, with a digital-first strategy aimed at turning a lot of “old truths” about business banking on their heads.
On Tuesday, May 18, we had the opportunity to sit down with Agility Founder Lauren Sparks and Chief Banking Officer Laquita Cyprian, for a 30-minute fireside chat on building the community bank of the future during a pandemic.
While you can watch our conversation with Lauren and Laquita in full, above, here are some top highlights you won’t want to miss from our Tuesday webinar.
Top 5 Highlights From Our Conversation With Agility Bank’s (in Organization) Founder and Chief Banking Officer
Our conversation with Lauren and Laquita covered a wide range of topics including their vision for the bank, how they evaluate technology partners, and what’s top of mind for them in meeting the needs of Houston’s businesses coming out of the pandemic. Here are five highlights from our conversation with them.
- Community banks are dinosaurs. They need to be butterflies. Before she filed paperwork for Agility back in March of last year, Lauren was a small business owner herself--in addition to her 38 years in community banking. While she acknowledges the perception that some have that fintechs are disrupting and will eventually replace banks, Lauren firmly believes that community banks, and the relationships they build with local businesses, are too important to replace.
“A lot of people talk about how the fintechs are taking over. ‘We don't need banks anymore.’ The truth couldn't be more the opposite, really,” Lauren said. “The community bank serves such an incredible point in the market and part of the community. And it's just that they're dinosaurs perhaps in some ways, and they need to be butterflies.
“We see the road forward is partnering with fintechs and that's really a lot of what we're about. Using technology to create efficiency behind relationships, because relationships are what community banks do so well.”
As Lauren and her team see it, the community bank of the future needs to “keep pivoting and keep changing and keep adapting.” Being a digital-first institution, one that places technology at the heart of their customer experience and interactions, allows Agility to be more nimble than their counterparts and more effectively serve the important part of the market that community banks are best-fitted to serve.
- Frustration with the community banking status quo is fueling the community bank (and banker) of the future. As a Chief Banking Officer with more than 20 years of experience in community banking, Laquita was fed up with the way business banking continued to be done the way it’s always been done.
“I was frustrated [as a banker] with not being able to create efficient strategies to get lending approvals for my clients,” Laquita said. “So when I heard about Agility, it was very exciting to know that there was someone out there who saw the need for change and actually came up with an idea to make lending more streamlined. So it's been very exciting to partner with Numerated and come up with this great new bank that we're creating.”
This “new bank” that Laquita is helping build is also reimagining the role of the banker all together. While Agility Bank (in Organization) is digital-first, it’s not digital only. In fact, one of their key missions is to build a workforce that is as diverse as the community it serves--the bankers of the future.
“The role of the banker at a digital-first bank is going to be very exciting as well,” Laquita said. “Previously, the role of a banker was a lot of going back and forth with clients for documentation and analyzing those documents.
“But, in a digital-first environment, the banker has more time to help the client anticipate their needs. They will be able to be more of a trusted advisor, because technology will eliminate a lot of the underwriting processes with loans that are in that range. The banker will just be more empowered to be more of a partner like an attorney or a CPA. So it's extremely exciting.”
- The right tech partners are as important as the right technology. Building a tech stack is a major project for any institution. But the importance of getting it right takes on a whole new meaning when you’re positioning yourself as the bank of the future.
“For us … we have to position ourselves to be in the right place and the right time, and the right partners are just a huge, crucial decision for us,” Lauren said.
When evaluating tech partners, she said their priority is to find fintechs that are forward-leaning digital partners that are vetted, “so we’re not about programming and coding and creating things from scratch.”
“We wanted to be out of the gate running with proven and robust solutions,” Lauren said. “That became really the starting point for us, and building around Numerated as an engine to really help us run the entire bank.”
- “I wouldn’t recommend starting a bank during a pandemic.” That was one of Lauren’s first takeaways during our conversation.
However, although the pandemic has delayed the opening of Agility Bank, it also in some ways underscored the need for this kind of digital-first community institution.
“Our tech stack and our business plan and our goals and our strategy, really were better backed, by the fact that there was a pandemic,” Lauren said. “It was a proof of concept for what we were building and how we were building it. So Numerated was a big choice in that. And it's really the first place we started in terms of building this business engine that we can't wait to open in a few months here in Houston.”
In addition to the way the pandemic added momentum to Agility Bank’s launch plan, it also helped eliminate a learning curve that future customers might have had to overcome with using a digital-first bank for the first time.
“The pandemic has created a situation where, now the clients that are coming to us when we open, have actually learned a little bit about that. Originally, if the pandemic hadn't occurred, we would have been doing a lot of teaching and instructing and helping to get people over that learning curve about digital financial services. But the silver lining is that those clients are already there for us and ready to join.”
- Addressing small- and medium-sized businesses needs coming out of the pandemic. While Lauren and Laquita’s team didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program, they’ve been hyperfocused on how they can immediately impact their communities once they launch (in about 60 days).
“We definitely are also motivated as a women-owned and a women-led institution to address the needs of the women- and minority-owned businesses in our market,” Lauren said. “We've probably all read about the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had in a negative way on both minorities and women in terms of employment, in terms of businesses, etc. And so all those areas where strides have been taken, they've taken a few steps backwards. So we are uniquely positioned to be in the market at a time to make a difference and have an impact.”
The highlights above are just a small glimpse at a great conversation with Agility Bank (in Organization). To get more insights, including to hear more about Agility’s diversity initiatives, their vision for the community bank of the future, and products they’re offering as a digital-first business bank, watch the webinar above.
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