Business of Fintech

Bank of the West is extending its fintech accelerator to its retail bank

  • Bank of the West wants to extend the reach of the program from just commercial banking to also reach retail banking and wealth management
  • The incubator-type program is a collaboration between Bank of the West and L’Atelier, the innovation studio of the BNP Paribas group, which is headquartered in Paris with posts in San Francisco and Shanghai
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Bank of the West is extending its fintech accelerator to its retail bank

Bank of the West is expanding Finlabs, its startup program that pairs fintech companies with its different business lines.

Now in its third year, the bank wants to extend the reach of the program from just commercial banking to also reach retail banking and wealth management particularly, as well as the rest of the enterprise.

“Working through this program and engaging with external fintech partners is a key way to start driving more innovation in the bank and give employees more opportunity to engage with some of these companies,” said John Finley, head of innovation and customer journeys at Bank of the West.

For the past few years, large banks like Wells Fargo and Citi and even a few midsize regional banks have hosted or become involved in accelerator and incubator programs to help bring more ideas for digital banking solutions into their companies and ultimately invest or acquire those teams to produce the solution for consumer banking customers. Bank of the West, however, has made fairly little noise when it comes to its innovation initiatives.

In the last year, the bank has hired a retail banking head and is now in the process of revamping its branch network of roughly 500, by putting each of it branch employees through a training program and implementing a universal banker model on a retail level. Some of the top-of-mind priorities for the bank when seeking participating startups are customer onboarding, Know Your Customer processes, lending solutions and ways to use artificial intelligence to make some current banking capabilities run more effectively, Finley said.

The incubator-type program is a collaboration between Bank of the West and L’Atelier, the innovation studio of the BNP Paribas group, which is headquartered in Paris with posts in San Francisco and Shanghai. L’Atelier focuses on research, advising client companies of every size on business transformation and helping startups grow and develop their solutions. About a year ago, Bank of the West and its parent company BNP Paribas underwent a rebranding that flaunted both the global reach of the French banking giant and the local flavor of the smaller San Francisco-based Bank of the West, as well as its proximity to Silicon Valley.

While BNP Paribas has an investment fund through which it has made fintech acquisitions in Europe, Bank of the West doesn’t have a similar fund dedicated to fintech, nor has it made any fintech acquisitions of its own.

Bank of the West has been trying to grow its wealth management business over the last few years, particularly being so close to the tech world. Following its rebranding last March, it has tried to reach the high-net-worth customer that tends to do business with larger companies like BNP Paribas. In November, it hosted a small number of high-net-worth BNP clients for a four-day event focused on impact investing, during which it brought the clients together with some of the world’s largest tech companies to discuss entrepreneurship, multigenerational family wealth and investing with purpose. Last month, it launched an app called Voice of Wealth to bring news and market insights to that customer.

“We’re taking an approach to reimagine what we want an experience for our customers to be by looking at the end-to-end journey based on the needs of the customer,” Finley said.

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