Open Banking Gives Alerus the Tools to Help Customers

Jun  04 
John Gomes  Director of Solution Strategy, Bank Solutions, Fiserv 

Personal financial wellness strategy taps potential of open data sharing

Alerus is building on a vision to go beyond the scope of traditional financial services and give its customers something different – something that can empower them to make better financial decisions. And as a major provider of banking, mortgage, retirement and wealth management services expanding well beyond its North Dakota roots, the bank is in a unique position to continue turning that vision into reality.

Open banking has been at the heart of that transformation. Just as leaders at Alerus were working through the financial wellness experience they wanted to create, the vast potential of open data sharing began captivating the industry. Alerus followed the developments closely and created an open banking strategy as the foundation for the new customer experience.

Changing the Game for Financial Wellness

The bank launched a digital portal to help customers achieve financial wellness over their lifetimes. Alerus made sure the portal is easy to use, available through online or mobile, and able to combine all of a customer's financial accounts – deposits, loans, retirement, trust, wealth management and credit cards – whether held at Alerus or anywhere else.

Customers are assigned a wellness score that factors in all of their account data to help them get a holistic view of their financial health. The score adjusts as a customer's financial life unfolds.

The bank also offers highly personalized digital advice and services to help customers change course to meet financial goals such as getting married, saving for college, buying a house or preparing for retirement.

Clear Mission, Complex Execution

Delivering all that with an easy, intuitive and secure customer experience was not simple. It required a complex ecosystem behind the scenes with secure connections among diverse systems and environments.

Alerus needed to combine tools for financial wellness scoring, trust, wealth management and account aggregation. Not all of those data sources are open, nor is the data in perfectly standardized formats.

With some ideas and rough whiteboard drawings in hand, Alerus CIO Jon Hendry worked with the bank's technology partner to sketch out how the vision could come to life. That led to using integration framework and services to bring all the parts together – retrieving information from each source, normalizing it and delivering it to a custom user interface for display to customers.

The result is a digital experience called My Alerus, which the bank launched in late 2019.

"After introducing My Alerus, we opened more online accounts in three months than in the past three years. But the true measure of success will be seeing financial wellness scores go up over time," Hendry said. "We're already getting calls from customers who didn't realize they weren't on the right path for retirement and are asking for help. That lights us up because that's what it's all about."

Why the Strategy Is Working

Open banking creates a wealth of new opportunities to help community banks thrive, but success isn't guaranteed. It starts with understanding the value of working closely with a supportive and forward-thinking technology partner.

Leaders at Alerus were intentional about their approach. The first key to their success was focusing on the experience they wanted to create for customers and then asking how technology could enable that strategy.

"This transformation is not about selling product," Hendry said. "It's not a technology or a digital strategy. It's truly a customer-wellness strategy driving all of this."

They chose a strategy that's a natural extension of the organization's strengths. Alerus has four major divisions – banking, retirement, wealth management and mortgage. The bank's leaders felt they had a wealth of tools and advice to help people manage their finances. The goal was to combine those tools and services and partner with third-party Fintechs with additional financial capabilities to create a unique and compelling digital experience that extends beyond traditional financial services.

Another essential factor in the strategy's success is the organization is open to change in support of the transformation. The launch of My Alerus was accompanied by an organizational restructuring behind the scenes to eliminate silos between divisions. The bank also staffed the call center with people who can help customers with advice, in addition to smaller-scale requests such as changing passwords.

"We reorganized our people so the human structure and the technology structure complement one another," Hendry said. "Now, one advisor can help a customer with all financial needs."

Just the Beginning

The launch of My Alerus is the first phase of an ongoing transformation for the bank. Alerus plans to continue building out the portal with more data and tools and to customize the experience to suit individual customer needs.

Hendry said working with the right technology partner has positioned Alerus to quickly and seamlessly present new Fintech solutions that meet the unique needs of different customer segments.

"You just can't buy technology off the shelf and expect it to be successful anymore. It's not one size fits all," he said. "Open banking gives us more options to customize the experience for someone who's 35 versus someone who's 55. It allows us to be creative with our technology solutions."