As part of our ongoing #WomeninFinTech series, we spoke with Kathy Strasser, Chief Operating Officer/Chief Information Officer at IncredibleBank about her experiences in and thoughts on the fintech industry today.
To start, please tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved in banking and fintech?
Strasser: After a 20-year career at Wausau Financial Systems (WFS) in various roles throughout the organization, I was approached by IncredibleBank’s CEO Todd Nagel (then River Valley Bank). He wanted a non-banker with a technology background to help him launch the internet-only division of River Valley Bank, IncredibleBank, into a leading digital bank reaching customers across the entire United States.
I never imagined myself working for a bank until 2015 when I joined as the EVP and Chief Operations Officer. Over the next few years, I’d play a key role in accelerating the growth of the bank and its digital transformation on both the technology and people side of our business.
While technology and payments are strong interests of mine, I’m most passionate about leading people, which is what IncredibleBank allows me to do. In my current position, I’m responsible for helping people find their motivation and providing them with purpose and the autonomy to be brilliant at what they do. By nature, I’m a problem solver, change guru, and love everything happening with digital transformation.
How have you seen the financial services industry change in 2020, and where is it headed in 2021?
Strasser: The work we’ve done over the past five years prepared us for this shift to digital technology. Our people were ready to meet the needs of our customers in a remote environment. We leaned on the expertise of employees from all parts of the organization for the PPP program, in addition to helping 1,000+ homeowners buy new or refinance their homes. We launched Zelle in September, made digital improvements to our customer experience, implemented new technology to help facilitate the PPP program, plus we became the first community bank to go live on TCH RTP in March.
We know that the momentum we have seen with digital is only going to continue and competition will shift as BigTech continues to make its foray into financial services. There are a few areas that are always top of mind for us: digital transformation and growth, continuing to master our incredible customer experience, talent management, employee engagement, and continuous growth in our business lines.
How can community banks make sure they’re not being left behind, especially when it comes to embracing new digital technology?
Strasser: Companies like Apple, Amazon, PayPal, and Starbucks are already in the payments space, which is traditionally a medium for banks to grow and retain deposit accounts as well as build customer relationships. We’ve remained competitive by prioritizing the customer experience and partnering with companies like Jack Henry to deliver new and innovative technology. Community banks need to stay at pace with this broader competitive market and having a differentiated customer experience that is both personal and meaningful is a strong start.
What does digital transformation entail within your institution?
Strasser: Digital transformation is about technology and people. Our people come first in our digital strategy and transformation, which is why culture must be approached with a growth mindset.
We start by mapping out our digital competencies and identifying areas of focus that will move the needle on customer experience. Some of these included the ability to confidently move between different devices and building relationships via digital channels. Our key values for our digital culture are speed, openness, and autonomy. Technology had to improve processes, productivity, and customer experience, delivering direct value to our institution and customers.
How can women help other women climb within the industry, and do you have any advice for those starting out their careers in technology or finance?
Strasser: The future is bright, and I highly recommend technology and finance for everyone, especially women. Women in the field can be a good example and share their experiences; I’m always willing to mentor, meet with young people getting ready to go to college, or those figuring out the next step in their career.
I’d give the following advice: 1) Focus on your role and how it contributes to the success of your company; 2) Seize new opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask; 3) Learn every single day; 4) Build relationships and your network; 6) Find guidance from someone greater.
What are fintechs and banks missing right now that women are uniquely positioned to help with?
Strasser: With diversity comes a background of many different experiences and approaches to problem-solving, disagreements, negotiations, leadership style, and approach. Dynamics and conversations change when the table is filled with both men and women and as a result collaboration and innovation happen. For example, knowing a large percentage of women make household decisions is important when creating and seeking feedback on new products and features. For any growing company, it’s important to have a diversified pool of candidates to choose from, and that includes women.