With technology taking an increasingly important role in banking, directors of community banks need to be up to speed on the responsibilities this trend brings. 

From mobile banking to online loan applications to digital account opening, technology is crucial to financial institutions, said Patrick Neuman, a partner with the law firm Boardman Clark. He cited this as a reason directors should be tuned into their bank’s technology and cybersecurity. 

“Digital platforms create enormous opportunity, but they also require strategic planning and robust risk management practices, and that really starts at the board level,” said Neuman, who focuses on banking for Boardman Clark. “The board really does need to be informed. There are a number of different risks they need to be thinking about and a number of different kinds of strategies they need to be thinking about as their bank is expanding its digital platform to stay competitive in the marketplace.” 

Neuman and Boardman Clark colleague Cat Wiese plan to cover those issues in their presentation during the WBA Directors Summit, a virtual live event from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. CDT on May 19. Wiese said she plans to talk about compliance concerns that come along with technology. 

In the Summit, directors of community banks will hear from experts on topics such as choosing technology vendors and getting ready for the future instant payment system. They’ll also be urged to take a close look at their assets and prepare for the rebooting economy. 

Patrick Dix, vice president of strategic alliances for the financial services and technology firm SHAZAM Inc., will talk with Summit attendees about the current and coming payments landscape. Part of the focus will be on the Federal Reserve’s desire for safe, ubiquitous, and faster payments capabilities in the U.S. and what’s happening on that front. 

“We’re going to touch on what’s coming next, which is faster payments,” Dix said. “This is a topic that’s been talked about for the last two or three years in real general ways, but I think things are getting real now.” 

It’s time for community banks to start thinking about and discussing how to help create a system in which they’ll participate for many years to come, he said. Dix said it amounts to “a reimagining of the payments system as we know it.” 

“We want to pose some questions so they can start thinking about that,” he said. 

How might that issue affect bank directors? 

“In many community banks, the directors are involved in decisions like, ‘Do we change our core?’  And that’s a big decision, certainly, but it also will have impact on these kinds of future technology,” Dix said. “How will your core play with other fintech companies? Will they be interoperable with other players in the industry?” 

Dix added: “I always say to people, ‘If your biggest tech partner can’t hook up to other systems, how good of a tech partner are they? If they won’t hook up to other tech partners, how good of a partner are they?’ Those are real important questions for community banks.” 

While technology will be in the limelight at the Summit, one presenter, Marc Gall, vice president and asset/liability strategist at BOK Financial, plans to look at some other topics of key concern to bankers:  interest rates, liquidity, and earnings. 

“Right now, most banks are swamped with liquidity and not really sure what to do with it,” Gall said. 

On the other hand, there is concern as the economy improves, inflation is going to take off, and rates are going to rise. 

“Balancing that weight of a very low earning asset on your book — being cash — with the potential risk that’s out there for rising rates leads banks to be a little bit more perplexed right now as to what to do,” Gall said. 

He said banks need to assess what’s on their balance sheet and, as pandemic relief measures like Paycheck Protection Program loans go away, get back to the nuts and bolts of banking. 

Gall added that some think the Fed is going to raise interest rates faster than what it has indicated and inflation will soar. He’s not convinced this is the case and said there may be risk to banks sitting on piles of cash. Some banks feel like if they do that, it’s conservative and they’re not taking a risk, he said. 

“But we would say doing nothing is a risk in and of itself,” Gall said. 

The Directors Summit is recommended for bank management teams, beginning or experienced inside and outside directors, bank CEOs, executive officers, and bank general counsel. 

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at paul.gores57@gmail.com.