“Technology isn’t a cost center. It’s a profit center.”

We sat down with Christian Ruppe, VP Digital at Horicon Bank, to talk about the latest challenges he’s facing in the digital space—and his vision for what’s next in community banking.

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In 2016, Christian Ruppe co-founded Monotto, a fintech dedicated to improving financial literacy and planning for millennials. When Monotto was acquired by Wisconsin-based Horicon Bank in 2021, Christian stepped up to lead digital strategy for this 125-year-old community institution with $1.2 billion in assets. We sat down with Christian to talk about the latest challenges he’s facing in the digital space—and his vision for what’s next at Horicon. 

Tell us about Horicon Bank. Why is it different? 

We have great people, first and foremost. But we also want to enable our customers with technology. We want to grow. And this team is totally willing to keep improving things, to keep making Horicon bigger and better. It’s really exciting and satisfying to work with an organization like that. 

Fred Schwertfeger, the President of Horicon Bank, talks about “the importance of driving a shift in the traditional community banking model.” What needs to change about community banking? What needs to stay the same? 

Community banks invest in their communities, and that’s an incredibly important thing. But more and more, when customers interact with their bank, they’re not always looking to go into a branch. So all of your capabilities should really be possible through your bank, your app, and your website. You need to give the customer the power to communicate and connect however they want. And a lot of community banks don’t have the technology necessary to make that possible. So more customers are saying, you know what? Bank of America can do this on their app. Wells Fargo can do this. So community banks are losing a lot of people, and we need to find ways to turn that around. Every other industry is finding ways to automate. They’re finding ways to put the power in the hands of the consumer. And it’s time for community banks to catch up. Going forward, I really only see two options for consumers: a megabank that doesn’t know any of its customers and just offers products, or a forward-thinking community bank that knows its customers and helps with their needs. And if you want to be the latter, you can’t keep doing it without technology. 

How do you think customer expectations are changing when it comes to business account opening? 

I think there’s a general assumption in the industry that people want to apply for business accounts in-branch. But I think that’s changing. A huge chunk of businesses are one person or a couple of people, and a lot of them want to go online and apply for a business account in a few simple steps. Yes, maybe they want to have a closer relationship to help them with the full range of their banking needs. But ultimately they’re just people running a business, and they want convenience as much as anybody. 

You’ve focused a lot of your efforts on improving financial literacy for millennials. Do you think these changes in customer expectations are largely generational? Or do you think it’s more universal than that?  

I don’t think the changes are generational. Obviously, millennials have grown up in a digital-first world. We’re used to technical solutions, automated solutions. But older generations are getting on board really fast, because when people know technology is better, they use it. So that distinction between generations, at least in terms of digital behavior, is quickly disappearing. At least that’s what I’ve observed. 

How do you see the relationship between digital channels and brick-and-mortar branches evolving? How do these channels reinforce or amplify each other? 

Many of today’s customers don’t want to talk to a person until they need to. So at Horicon, we’ve tried to build around that expectation. The second you want to engage with a live person, we help you connect. We’ll set up a time for you to meet with someone. And we’re also bringing more of our technology and more digital experiences into our branches, so that sharp distinction between the two channels is starting to disappear. We absolutely believe in the future of branches, because almost every customer will want the option to engage in-person at one point or another. But we want the two experiences to be beneficial to each other—not take from each other. 

What role has MANTL played in Horicon’s digital transformation? 

MANTL’s been a huge part of this. And I think the team at Horicon really recognizes the importance of investing in a solution like MANTL. Technology isn’t a cost center. It’s a profit center. As soon as you start thinking of your digital investments like that—as soon as you change that conversation—then investing a little more in better technology makes a ton of sense.

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