Winning big with fearless tech partnerships

A conversation with 2022 Digital Banker of the Year Allan Rayson

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In June, Encore Bank’s Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Allan Rayson was named the 2022 Digital Banker of the Year by American Banker — recognizing him for his innovative digital strategy rooted in technology adoption and delivery. Fueled by this adoption, Rayson and the team at Encore Bank saw unprecedented growth in 2021 with 95% asset growth, 119% loan growth, 107% deposit growth, and 1,276 new loans worth approximately $740 million.

We sat down with Allan to talk about building Encore Bank’s operational tech stack from the ground up, how to win with a network of technology partners, and why it’s important to establish what he calls “high-performing culture” at your institution.

First of all, congratulations on being named 2022 Digital Banker of the Year. Having known you for some time, we can’t say this comes as a huge surprise. Tell us what this means to you and the team at Encore.

Honestly, when MANTL suggested nominating me for this award a few months ago, my response was: “I’m honored and humbled, but there’s zero chance I’m going to win, so go for it.” I think what ultimately resulted in us winning was how we were able to capture all of the remarkable parts of Encore’s growth story. We’re an organization that’s only three years old and we’ve grown from $120 million in assets to almost $3 billion during that short time. I think we all feel incredibly proud of that and want to use this moment of recognition to keep that momentum. 

How has the Encore team handled this tremendous growth over the past several years? 

We work really hard to make sure we’re keeping up with everything. We’re running a commercial banking program, commercial deposits, consumer lending, consumer deposits, mortgage, treasury, specialty finance, you name it. We’re essentially managing 8 to 10 businesses all at once — all of them being extremely high-growth and with different needs when it comes to tech, risk assessment, and compliance. Digital adoption and powerful, easy-to-use technology are integral to our ability to not only keep track of all these needs, but to perform the necessary actions in an efficient way. 

How does MANTL help Encore hit goals for efficiency and growth?

The team at Encore has a set of crystal-clear business outcomes we’re trying to realize. We’re trying to build this bank to $5-7 billion in assets. We’re also trying to achieve an efficiency ratio well below the industry average. But to achieve these outcomes, we have to solve for how many FTEs we’ll need to run the business at scale. If we peel the onion back, the MANTL consumer product helps us achieve these efficiencies and business outcomes in a big way because not only is it a badass product for the consumer client, but internally it strips so much manual process out of our backend that it allows us to meet objectives and continuously set more ambitious goals while remaining at our desired FTE levels. 

And that’s already a huge benefit without even touching on the front-end of the MANTL experience for our customers. It’s easy-to-use, the information requirements make sense, and there’s not any unnecessary steps for consumers to go through. This means our team spends less time assisting in-progress applications as well. For us, the front-end is sort of the icing on the cake, completing the toolkit that allows us to successfully operate a rapidly growing FI while maintaining the team we currently have. 

How does MANTL and the rest of Encore’s tech partner ecosystem fit into your plans for the future?

This award opened my eyes to the opportunity that exists not just for Encore but for all of us — Encore and MANTL as organizations that are early-stage, members of our team as individuals, and our broader technology partner ecosystem. We really enjoy working with companies that are only two or three years in; we’re in a similar stage with respect to the evolution of our business. The key for us is making sure we’re aligned on the ways we as a bank can influence these products as they evolve and vice versa.  

Let me put it this way. I have zero developers on staff here at Encore. Yet we’ve been able to grow by almost $2.5 billion without one. That shouldn’t be possible, but with the right tech partners, it is. I have no qualms saying that out of all the banks across the country, we probably rely on our technology partners more than anyone else. I just see that reliance as a strength more than a weakness — one that will be extremely influential in how we navigate the upcoming months and years. 

Tell us a bit about what high-performing culture means to you. Why’s it something banks should invest in?

To take a step back, I joined Encore in October 2020 right as the contract with MANTL was being signed — smack in the middle of the pandemic. We had a completely blank slate from a technology perspective and were running the bank on the back of Microsoft products. But that blank slate posed an opportunity that ended up being an integral part of our culture and how we think about digital adoption. As we began to build, the Encore team worked together to develop a technology and innovation thesis that serves as our north star to this day. Included in it were our goals for efficiency and experience, and what we needed from each team member internally and tech partnership externally to accomplish those goals. We established the three pillars of driving commercial loan volume, driving core deposits, and generating substantial non-interest revenue to make sure our entire team knew what our focus was at any given time.

It sounds a bit cheesy, but all of us wear these bracelets that read We Win Together, which as I mentioned before is a spirit we like to embody both internally and with our external partners. When we first learned about MANTL, we were already well underway investigating what type of culture it would take to build a successful digital bank. To us, that looked like an institution built around very few FTEs, very few branches, and good efficiency ratios. Another aspect of building the right culture for a digitally-focused bank was maintaining excitement for the future. I feel strongly that despite the success we’ve experienced in the past three years, our team is aligned on the notion that our work is only getting started.

So all that to say, I think a high-performing culture is one that promotes clarity while simultaneously nurturing excitement for the future of our work at Encore. It’s that alignment and excitement that keeps us from being afraid of working with new tech partners, and allows us to get the most out of those relationships.

What else excites you about the future of banking?

I’m excited about the evolution of fintech into the commercial side. The b2b side of fintech will be interesting just because most of the action to date has been in b2c. Ultimately what I think has happened is we have all these people running business centers that have been using these new, slick products for their personal financial services and will begin to expect these same experiences on the business side. But like many new opportunities, it will pose a challenge for fintechs looking to get into the space simply because serving commercial customers is much less cookie-cutter than serving retail. Every company, deal, loan opportunity, and deposit will be unique. The scale will be larger. The problems will be more complex. The products that hope to serve this population must account for this in a customer-focused way. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be awesome.

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