Banking for the Future

Local banking expert Bryan Toft shares how community banks can keep up with the digitalization of banking.

Digitalization is a game changer. Across all industries, it’s shifting the way business is done — for better or for worse. However, it can be a challenge to keep up with the multitude of technological advances, from the cloud to new apps and online processes. With more than 13 years in the banking business and a degree in computer science, EVP Regional Manager of Commercial Loans at Sunrise Banks Bryan Toft has seen the impact of digitalization on the banking industry firsthand. We sat down with him to find out how local banks — and their customers — can prepare for the future.

With the expansion of financial technology, how has the way that community banks do business changed? Has it expanded their capabilities?

Community banks need to continue to get faster and smarter. The “community” is no longer limited to the geographic area around brick and mortar locations. It has expanded across many traditional boundaries, especially to those customers that share a bank’s values. Financial technology has helped bring the customer experience to a new level, especially mobile and online. For example, at Sunrise Banks, we recently revamped our entire online banking experience and are about to implement a new software that will help us make decisions on small business loans within hours.

Digitalization has made branch locations less important for commercial lending. How has that affected the commercial lending process as a whole?

A few years ago, I remember meeting with a customer who I had worked with for more than a year who had loans over $1 million with the bank. In the middle of the conversation he asked me, “Where is your bank located anyway? I’ve never been there.” Today, the commercial lending process isn’t centered around meeting at a bank branch, but more around going to the customer and anticipating what they need from a relationship or technology standpoint. It’s amazing how much can get done outside of a physical branch location when you have the right technology, personnel, and mindset. 

What is the key to building the personal relationships with businesses that community banks are known for in a time where your customers may never physically step inside a branch?

Even though branch traffic is down, I think the process of building personal relationships is largely the same. You still treat people the way you would want to be treated and make every attempt to exceed expectations. Technology has also helped expand the availability of bankers. Now customers don’t have to wait for an answer between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. They can send a late-night or early morning text or email and get their question answered quickly. At Sunrise Banks, we believe that responsiveness and follow-through is key to quickly gaining trust and building relationships.

Many community banks help revitalize urban neighborhoods. What do banks focus on in neighborhoods like the North Loop after revitalization has taken place?

Banks should always continue to focus on improvement before, during, and after revitalization. There are businesses and people in every area that want to grow and push for their goals. At Sunrise Banks, we want to help in any way we can.

After all the changes and innovation that financial technology has brought to community banking, what do you see on the horizon for community banks and their commercial lending programs?

Going forward, I think commercial lending needs to focus on speed and ease of process. How can we make it easy to gather the information we need to make an informed lending decision? How can borrowers sign documents as if they were checking out at Amazon? It’s easy to say, but difficult to do because it all needs to take place within the context of following the law and required regulation.  Success in banking and commercial lending will require foresight and continuous innovation.

Sunrise Banks

Headquarters: St. Paul, MN

Inception: 1986

Leadership: David Reiling, CEO

Employees: 220

Description: Sunrise Banks seeks to radically change the way urban communities and underserved people thrive by empowering them to achieve their aspirations. Sunrise is certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a designation earned by approximately 100 banks nationwide. Sunrise Banks is also a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values and is a certified B Corp for its demonstrated commitment to transparent corporate governance and positive community impact.