Greg Corombos, News Director at Radio America 00:06
Hi, I'm Greg Columbus. Welcome to Banking Compliance Insights, a podcast series from Wolters Kluwer. This series was created to deliver insights on compliance trends and strategies for navigating today's regulatory and risk environments. Today's episode, Working Through COVID-19, Overcoming Challenges and Creating Opportunities, will focus on how the pandemic is impacting banking processes and client relationships. Here to lead our discussion on this subject is Wolters Kluwer’s Vice President of Banking Compliance Solutions, Samir Agarwal, and he is joined today by Briana Dona, Executive Vice President and Director of Operations with Univest® Bank, to share her experience serving customers in this unprecedented time, Samir, let me pass the conversation over to you.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 00:55
Thank you, Greg. It's been about five months since COVID-19 disrupted virtually every business we know. It's all over the news, and it's making headlines every day. It’s disrupted operations and changed the way that customers are served and deeply impacted the security of billions of people and thousands of businesses. Today, I've invited Briana Dona to join me. She's a Compliance and Operations Executive with Univest Bank, and she's going to discuss some of the practical insights into how Univest successfully adapted operations during this difficult time, and from what I gather, has even managed to find some opportunities to enhance customer care and business operations. Welcome, Briana. Please tell us a little bit about your role at Univest.
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 01:39
Thanks, Samir. It's good to be here. I've been working in banking for about 20 years, and I've been lucky enough to spend just about all of that time in banking at Univest. I spent several years helping customers in our branch network, and then in the last maybe five-to-six years; I crossed over to the dark side and embraced operations for the company. Those operations have spanned anything from loan servicing and documentation to digital operations and support, as well as oversight of platforms like Salesforce® and Encino® for the company.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 02:15
So, you have really been there at every job level within the bank from the ground up?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 02:22
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 02:23
Let's talk about customer culture and operations. What's Univest doing in the crisis, what has worked, and potentially tell us some of the pitfalls that you've learned from that are big no no's or don't work?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 02:36
As a bank, we've learned how to work remotely and to still service our customers. We've learned that we can move projects forward and we can do that quickly. If you would have told me that 95 percent of my team would be working from home and somehow we would still manage to get about nine months' worth of volume booked in 45 days, I would have laughed. Honestly, I would have laughed in your face and called you crazy. I still can't wrap my mind around what has happened, and I lived some of it as a blur. But I think that’s what any crisis has the ability to teach you or to show you is what can happen when people in teams come together in these times of high pressure, and like you mentioned, uncertainty. Things are either going to crumble and fall apart, or they're really going to be permanently solidified, and you forge these forever bonds. I like to joke that it's a little bit like Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed - they were bonded after what they went through. Right?
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 03:37
So true. Do you have brick and mortar branches still open now or has that changed?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 03:44
They are open again now. But we did. We had to close our lobbies. we had to conduct businesses through the drive-thru and over the phone with our customers. In the early days of COVID-19, we saw a huge uptick in the usage of online banking and bill payment, and our customers were reaching out to us with secure chat. We didn't have people coming in, and we had to really get creative with how we could use technology and the relationships that we have with our customers to service them.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 04:16
What are some of the tools that you started using?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 04:18
Pretty quickly, we realized we had to do some upgrading of our infrastructure to handle all of these people working from home, and all of these customers going online looking up their balances to see if their check had hit for the relief. We had to get people outfitted with headsets. How are they going to take phone calls if they weren't sitting at their desk to do it? We're bankers and we are a little bit old-fashioned. We have a lot of paper. So, we had to figure out how do we convert paper into something scanned that we could work through. We used tools like DocuSign® and E-Sign and we learned how to use Microsoft® Teams. These were all things that were pretty foreign to us as bankers, but it really helped us to manage and navigate this new normal.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 04:59
Have you been able to open up new business during this time?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 05:02
We have. We actually recently launched a program that we call “Open Anywhere” and that's allowed us to reach out not only to customers but also to prospects to open accounts right from their smartphone on our app. That was a project we had in process. We’ve expedited it, and we've been live with it for just a few weeks. I haven't even really gotten a chance to promote it yet, and we've already opened over 100 accounts. I think people are excited about this kind of technology, and they're really demanding it from us. It's been an opportunity for banks to dust off some of what they've been working on.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 05:35
That's really impressive. What are the things that keep you up at night, or even your upper management, up at night?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 05:40
In the early days, there was a lot. Sleep was not my friend. I would say I think the biggest concern that I have, and it’s one that I felt in my home life, as much as I felt it at work, is just the fear and uncertainty of all this unknown. I can do anything for a few days or a few weeks, or maybe even a few months. But as time has progressed, it's become clear to me, and I think everybody else, that this is our new normal. You know, there are moments that really shape your life, where there's everything that happened before that moment, and then there's everything that happened after, and everything has changed. This is one of those moments. As a banker, I'm still trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing in this new normal. To be specific and answering that question, I worry about how do I maintain a connection with my staff and my team as a leader? How do I build and maintain those relationships when we're not all physically in the same place? And then how do I do that with my customers if they're not coming into the lobby or I'm not going out on a call to meet with them? How do I maintain that relationship? Then, as a company, you start thinking about your culture if you're going to move to a remote workforce, and people aren't together, how do you build and maintain that culture? For Univest, this is so important and I don't necessarily have any magic answers. But these are the things I'm thinking about and thinking through as we settle in. The problem is the same between companies, employees, and relationships with customers, right? You don't get the same feeling on the phone or even through a video chat that you do in person. There's nothing that is going to replace that. How has that adaptation been? I mean, you've opened up 100 new accounts, the technology's just a facilitator. Are those relationships just as tight as the ones in the past? I think only time will tell. The fact that we were able to find them, service them, and get them onboarded without a lot of human intervention is exciting to us. Then we have to start thinking very thoughtfully about what does that journey looks like to onboard a customer and continue to expand his or her relationship with us? We have tools at our disposal that we can use to do that. But we have to really think about what that looks like, and it certainly shook up our roadmap and changed up some of the strategies that we had as we try to figure this out.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 08:02
So, it's a kind of different frontline. That’s really positive in how to create connectivity between people. Were there any operational issues that you resolved so successfully that they are permanent new normals?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 08:21
Definitely. I think just remote work in general. Again, as bankers, we’re not always seen as cutting edge. We tend to be a little bit behind the times with embracing that, and there was certainly a stigma for us around if we’d be as productive working from home. So, the success of remote work and the fact that we were able to work together while not being physically present in an office, sitting at a desk collaboratively, is a game-changer for us. We've helped our employees master all of these new technologies, we've still been able to serve our customers, and we're delivering a lot more than we ever have virtually. That opens up a lot of opportunities for us in the future. We've been able to get a lot done with scanned copies, and we're really trying to leverage technology and get away from those paper-based processes of old. There's a lot that we've recently used to support programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program, where we use technologies to be successful that you'll see us repeat in the future.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 09:24
Do you think that the cost is different or it's just really shifted?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 09:29
I think it's shifted. I don't know that it's higher. I think it's just shifting and changing.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 09:35
Let's focus a little bit on the pandemic itself and the impact on your business. You know, it starts with the congressional relief programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, but then as you mentioned, it very quickly translates into how you operate your business and potentially also how it impacts products that you offer in the marketplace. How have you served business customers? During the PPP program, have you been managing those loans? Or have you even started the forgiveness process?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 10:07
Univest had an amazing opportunity to serve our customers through the PPP program, and I think like many other community banks, we outperform some of the big bank players and got a lot of positive press for all of that hard work. So that's great. Univest, when it's all said and done, we were able to help. I think our last count is about 2,550 customers and we estimate about 46,000 of their employees. We put about 500 and $50 million into the local community in a six-week period. Again, it was just this Herculean effort by so many people to help our customers. The execution of that program, as anyone close to it knows, has not been perfect and it was so quick and it evolved so, so quickly. In hindsight, there are things I'd like to do differently. But in those moments, the Univest family, and community banks in general, really came together and worked collaboratively in a way that we really haven't seen before. The impacts of that are huge. You saw these companies come together and galvanize cross-functional teams, and for us, that was from all across our enterprise - not even just banking employees. We had to learn a process in days and we had to use technology that we'd only ever heard of, and we had to book unprecedented levels of volume. So, it really just brought out the best in us, and it really allowed us to plan. I think you mentioned around phase two for forgiveness. We're starting to use all those lessons we learned in round one to have a better experience for phase two. Just this week, actually, we started processing applications for loan forgiveness. We are leveraging technology this round that we didn't get to do in round one because we just didn't have time. We had days, and now we've had weeks that have turned into a few months. We're really trying to create a more streamlined experience for our customers this time. So, we have an online application that we're doing. We have a customer portal where we'll be able to give them insights into the process. Again, we're going to be able to do it better and that's really just because we have more time this go-round.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 12:17
Do you think that becomes part of the new normal for just commercial loans in general, even though for this particular Paycheck Protection Program, it was driven by a government subsidy?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 12:26
I think so. I think customers have had to figure out how to do things electronically and online for everything right now. So, they're just more open to it than they used to be and they have really impressed me with what they've been able to figure out, honestly.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 12:42
That brings me to another question around this topic, which is this push with COVID-19 and the digital transformation. It's really pushing us towards modernizing or using electronic commerce at large. How much of that do you think is well received among customers?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 13:02
There are customers that are hungry for it, that like the ability to self-serve, and they want to be able to do something in any way they want to do it. So, they might want to go online; they might want to stop into a branch; they might want to do it on a smartphone, and they want to do it any time. You know, 24/7, but we also still have a lot of customers that like a more hybrid approach. They want to come into a branch, but maybe there are aspects they want to do online. As we go into the future, we need to be able to serve any need that the customer has in any fashion at any time, and that's not always a simple task. So, it's making sure you have a high-touch, high-tech experience for your customers. But I definitely think they're more open to it and they've been more receptive. Again, it's early days for us in things like loan forgiveness and phase two, but we're using technology, and I've been impressed with how easily they have adopted it.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 13:55
Let's talk about forbearances. Look at all of our clients at Wolters Kluwer and what's happening in the marketplace and the news; it seems like forbearance requests are on the rise - deferrals for payments. It’s spanning not just commercial but also personal loans and mortgages. How's Univest handling that situation?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 14:21
We certainly have had a lot of requests. We've had a lot of customers affected, whether it was their business or they were an employee at a business that was not able to keep them employed. So this was another opportunity for us to leverage the investments that we've made in technology over the last several years. It allowed us to streamline a process that probably would have been pretty labor-intensive. We certainly had to throw people at this. So, there's been a lot of opportunities to cross-train and share staffing resources as certain areas of the bank have slowed down because of COVID. Others, like the forbearance and the collections team, have picked up so we've really made sure that we're sharing those resources, as needed. Customers are the lifeblood of the bank, and they continue to be the center of any direction or decision that we make. We want to be very much customer-focused and make sure that during these difficult times, we're still finding opportunities to delight our customers and to help them. For us, it's been really important to communicate the types of programs and help that customers have available to them, whether that's at the federal or state level, as well as just programs that Univest is offering. For us, it's been a lot of communication with them. We have a special resource page right on our website with a lot of helpful information. We just want to make sure that we're there for them in this time of need.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 15:44
What's the bank view on that? So, we're there for the customer, and we're understanding what they need and how they need it and be able to process it. I hear you loud and clear about reusing staff, lots of volumes, making sure the machine keeps churning and serving the customers. I'm curious whether there is a level of new risk.
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 16:11
That's a tough question, Samir, and I am by no means the expert. I'm certainly more an Operations customer bleeding heart. So, I think you have to help your customers as much as you're able. But forbearance and deferrals, you're delaying the inevitable, right? So at some point, the loan or the debt needs to be repaid. You're not really mitigating the risk. You're buying yourself and your customer some time. I think as the longer we go in this, we will have everybody is going to have tougher decisions to make. Because ultimately, you can't delay forever. Payment has to be made. And we have to figure out what does that look like. I think you're going to see a lot of banks having conversations around that as we are now months into this rather than just weeks.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 16:56
That makes a lot of sense. Making it more manageable at the bottom makes it manageable at the top, which brings me to another topic. How do you forecast volume that's going to be coming in? So, as you're talking about resource management, capacity management, putting folks from one area to another, is there any best practice that you could share with us on how you approach forecasting?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 17:19
Again, you're hitting me with these tough ones, but I like it, and again, I'm no expert in this area. I really think what I'm learning is how important and how powerful data can be. You're going to see a lot of banks shift to a focus on the data that they already have at their disposal. As banks, we have so much information readily accessible to us, and it's going to be really around harnessing the power of that data. It's really important that you make sure that you slice and dice your portfolio so you understand by industry or by sector, who is really being affected by COVID-19. You also have the ability to look at the effects of volume in your branches. Where are my customers going? Are they moving to digital? We're really doing a lot around data, and then the visualization of that data. We have tools at our disposal, like Tableau®, we use a tool inside of Salesforce called Einstein Analytics, and that's allowed us to visualize that data in a meaningful way. So, as you said, we can make those informed decisions and watch for potential risks. It's also creating opportunities for us where we might have customers that are underserved or markets where we want to prospect.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 18:37
Makes a lot of sense. Data is definitely what drives us to make a lot of decisions in our personal lives as well. So, as this pandemic keeps accelerating different trends. Every crisis creates new opportunities. What opportunities do you see for your bank and your operation?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 18:55
Crisis definitely leads to innovation. At Univest, we would always describe ourselves as being open to new things. We tend to be fast followers. Every once in a while, we're early adopters of technology. I think the pandemic has really helped us realize that we can be more agile. We can embrace change. It's shown us that our customers are sort of demanding that we make these changes. You know, I mentioned before that they want a fantastic user experience, 24 hours a day, in whatever channel they pick whether that's online or via mobile. We've seen a huge uptick in secure chat and customers wanting to ask us questions that way. So, I think you'll see us continue to focus on initiatives like that. We're also looking to continue to partner with the right people to help us. We're bankers. We're not always technologists, so looking at fintechs and vendors that can help us solve these problems. I think of the partnership that I have at Univest with Wolters Kluwer and the software solutions you provided us with for PPP. We're still trying to solve and go paperless, so we will look to do more there in the future to serve ourselves as far as efficiency and better customer experience. This is the kind of thing that it really shakes up your roadmap. There's a lot of opportunities for us to grow and use new technologies.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 20:19
I’m a big technology fan myself. As this translates into how we approach the market and how we approach our business, how does it enhance customer care?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 20:31
Technology allows for a better customer experience - not that you can't give a great customer experience the manual, old fashioned way. But it is finding that balance of serving the customer however they would like and do that as seamlessly as possible. Again, leveraging technologies, like E-Sign, so that they're not having to come in but can use a secure portal for them to relay and share important information with you. Secure chat if they have a question versus having to pick up the phone. Anything that you can do to allow the customer to have a better experience and to have any type of experience that they want. That's an opportunity to not only provide great customer service, but it creates an opportunity for sales.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 21:17
One hundred percent. And I just learned of something new out there, which marries our phone calls, online or mobile, and our voice together in terms of application opening. Stay tuned for it. I'm sure we're going to be talking about that soon. As pivot off of technology, just a tad, it sounds like you are well adept at what's happening around you and the market. I know that from talking to you and working with your institution that the growth to 5.5 billion dollars in assets was not easy. I know that the path to 10 billion is still hard, and it requires a lot of diligence. We touched on a lot of different initiatives that Univest has underway, and I want to touch a little bit on how do we help smaller institutions that might not be able to afford the same technologies remain competitive?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 22:10
Absolutely. I think where there's a will, there's a way. A few years ago, we were a $2 billion organization. Now we're at about 5.5 billion, and as you said, we're making our way towards $7 to $10 billion. We did some of that via acquisition, but also organically. Really, it's just a hunger and a desire to want to do better and to being open to any and all possibilities on how you achieve that. There were certainly opportunities for us to think outside of the box, to look at new ways of doing things and streamlining processes. You don't always need technology. People are our greatest asset, and so our employees really helped us to grow and drive change. Talk to your front line. They understand your customers and your market better than you realize. Bringing those people together to talk about what's going on, not making those decisions in a vacuum as a senior or executive leadership team, and really taking the pulse and understanding the business that you want to be about, and then allowing your employees to help you grow organically is very, very possible and we've certainly had success doing that.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 23:18
So, we've had a pretty good conversation around best practices and how to pivot and move in operations, and specifically on how to serve customers. It's awesome that you guys have a goal of having a higher asset class as an achievement as a company overall. What I'm really curious about is, with our listener group, they may not be at the same stage of growth that your team has come to, or they may be at the beginning stages. Everybody is at a different position on their change curve and it requires high morale in the operation. Can you share with us, because we are living in an unprecedented environment where we don't know what the future has, how do we keep morale high?
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 23:59
I think that's a great question. You know, this time has certainly been filled with so much fear and uncertainty. It's tiring and stressful. People are worn out. Let alone leading through times like this, where everybody calls it unprecedented. That's hard to do because there are no books. I'm an avid reader if you don't know that. So, there are no “how to’s” on how to survive a pandemic that has recently been written, at least. I like to remind my leaders of a quote that I love about the importance of self-care in times like this, and that quote is, "You can't pour from an empty cup." So, yes, we have goals to meet and we're aggressive in how we pursue them. But it is important to also manage your own work-life balance and to protect your space and your energy. That starts with setting some healthy boundaries. You know, not emailing your team at 10 p.m. so that they feel honor-bound to answer you. The work can sometimes wait. It's important that you take time with your family, walk, and as I said, I'm an avid reader, so reading a book. I can think of a specific example for you. Right before the pandemic started, I had made a New Year's resolution that I wanted to do a book club at Univest. I wanted to do that for my leadership team. Again, you can't pour from an empty cup. How did I make sure that I took care of them? We started reading Brene Brown's book, "Dare to Lead." My team calls it the "BBC" or Briana's Book Club. All of a sudden, COVID hits and I'm like, well, maybe we should pause and not keep going with the book club because we can't get together. It might not work. But despite all the insanity of the last couple of months, we kept it up. We moved to virtual and those meetings have literally been the one hour a month that I look forward to where we're focusing on personal growth and reflection. We're connecting as a team. That's the good stuff. You have to make sure that you're growing and you're building a business, but you're also taking care of yourself and you're taking care of your people. That's how you fill-up the cup.
Samir Agarwal, Vice President, Banking Compliance Solutions, Wolters Kluwer 26:04
Briana, that's awesome. I think I may have to take a note from your leadership and do that in my own world. It's been a pleasure speaking with you today. I think the conversation that we've had provides excellent information to many of our listeners and other financial institutions that are in a similar change curve with dealing with COVID-19. It was good to hear your suggestions and ways for our financial institutions to overcome those challenges, Briana.
Briana J. Dona, EVP, Director of Operations, Univest Bank & Trust Co. 26:31
Thanks, Samir. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat. It's always a pleasure.
Greg Corombos, News Director at Radio America 26:35
That's Wolters Kluwer’s Vice President of Banking Compliance Solutions, Samir Agarwal, joined by Briana Dona, Executive Vice President and Director of Operations with Univest Bank. Wolters Kluwer is the host of this podcast and a market-leading provider of advisory services and technology solutions for optimizing compliance and risk management programs. For more information and additional guidance, please visit WoltersKluwer.com or call 1-800-397-2341. Please join us for future podcasts focused on navigating emerging trends in regulatory compliance.