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Catherine Webb Lynch, Head of Enterprise User Experience & Fintech Business Development at the Rhode Island-headquartered Citizens, says, “Our fintech strategy is integral to our mission and credo: to meet our customers where they are.” Increasingly, that place is online. According to the bank’s second annual Banking Survey, published in December 2021, 90% of consumers and 86% of businesses use digital banking (up from 85% and 71% respectively in July 2020). The nationwide survey also found, “Most consumers now choose their banking partner based on mobile and online banking capabilities, with 40% of consumers saying it was the most important factor, while only 27% cite the convenience of physical branch locations as the most important factor.”

Catherine acknowledges that, “Your last best digital experience probably wasn’t with a bank,” something that she, along with the digital practice she leads at Citizens, is determined to change. “We're striving to improve our digital experience to match the expectations clients have – expectations of simplicity, ease of use and accessibility. Frankly, life is complex and stressful enough right now, so anything you can do to make things easier for people to understand their financial position is an innovation in their life that they can be excited about.” She adds, “Experience innovation is all about leveraging the fintech ecosystem in combination with excellent user experience to create relevant and personalized digital banking solutions that can both meet customers’ evolving needs and exceed their expectations.”

Catherine believes that in order for Citizens to develop creative and compelling digital experiences for its customers, collaboration and diversity of thought are crucial. Often this means engaging with external stakeholders in Massachusetts’ thriving fintech ecosystem.

“We were one of the first companies to join the Mass Fintech Hub because we value the opportunities it is creating for collaboration and connection between industry, academia and the public sector,” she says.

The bank's commitment to forming relationships with early-stage startups has also involved partnering with incubators and accelerators to identify early-stage technologies – including MassChallenge in Boston, Plug and Play in Silicon Valley and Queen City Fintech in Charlotte.

“These relationships enable us to find the right external partners who can help drive our pursuit of innovative, customer-first solutions,” says Catherine.

And when it comes to investing in fintech innovation, Citizens is walking the talk. Recently, it was one of the investors in a Series A funding round which raised $15m for Goalsetter , a fintech platform dedicated to providing families and K-12 youth with access to banking, savings, investing, and financial education tools.

Different perspectives, fresh thinking

In July 2021, Citizens participated in the Hub’s inaugural Commonwealth Fintech Bootcamp , a two-day introduction to fintech for low-income high school graduates. A presentation by Catherine’s colleague Lamont Young, Executive Vice President at Citizens, covered how the banking industry is embracing fintech.

Catherine says, “It’s so important to push ourselves to think differently—if you're not bringing in different perspectives, you risk getting left behind. That’s why we welcome interactions with people who are able to draw upon their own different and varied experiences to offer fresh and creative thinking about how fintech can better serve our customers.”

She adds: “Mentoring is a crucial part of our comprehensive fintech strategy, too. Our engagement with startups, accelerators and academia through the Hub enables our executives to help entrepreneurs develop their business acumen and refine their pitches. In return, we get an amazing injection of expertise from people that are thinking very fast and quickly about problems that are unique to certain spaces.”

Dramatically improving the customer experience

In 2021, Citizens sponsored an effort through Mass Fintech Hub’s Project Based Learning Pilot, challenging students to design software APIs that showcases users’ financial data according to open banking specifications established by the Financial Data Exchange (FDX), a non-profit organization providing secure access to user permissioned financial data. The result was a set of secure APIs that allow Fintech applications to bring together information from a user’s various accounts (such as checking, savings, investment and credit card), providing a holistic, bird’s eye view of their finances.

Three undergraduate students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) leveraged a Java software development environment and Citizens data from the bank’s enterprise platform to bring open banking APIs to life. The students worked across many teams within Citizens to gain access, security, and information to build their solution.

“Working with our bank gave the students greater appreciation for security and how crucial it is for companies like Citizens to protect customer details, especially personally identifiable information,” explains Catherine. After seven weeks, the students demonstrated a working prototype to senior leaders within Citizen’s Technology Services department. Catherine says: “Their solution clearly demonstrates how we can dramatically improve the customer experience by exposing customer data to fintech apps to provide customers a single view of their finances. More importantly, we can further leverage this technology to do things like help improve customers’ credit scores, as well as enable them to apply for mortgages and attain approvals in just minutes.”

Catherine believes that this infusion of creative talent combined with the mentorship the students received around rigorous security protocols and regulatory requirements resulted in “really diverse thinking” – a key requirement to innovate successfully in an increasingly digital world.

“We are excited about partnering with the Mass Fintech Hub on more opportunities like this one in the future,” she says.

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