Silicon Valley Bank on Banking at the Edge of Technology

The pandemic has sped up the digital transformation across the economy, and consumers of all kinds now expect fast, convenient and relevant digital experiences from their financial institutions (FIs). Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), whose clients include startup founders and tech-savvy innovators, lives at the cutting edge of that customer expectation. Milton Santiago, SVB’s global head of digital services, told PYMNTS in a recent interview that the experience is comparable to inviting chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay over for dinner.

“What would be going through your mind? ‘What do I cook? How does it taste? How was the placement done?’ Your head is on fire,” Santiago said. “I would argue that we have the most demanding customers in the world because these are the innovators who focus their lives on transforming how people do business.”

The Physical Touch Point

SVB’s physical locations offer regular banking services, such as deposits and check cashing, but Santiago said that is not their primary purpose. Rather, those locations are physical touch points for services that cannot be digitized, including a few that are not traditional banking services — they even have wine cellars.

“They’re less about traditional banking, where you walk in and there’s a teller line,” Santiago said. “SVB provides meeting centers, areas that have professional hosting — really something that upscales the actual startup.”

The result is a very different approach to business banking — one tailored to the needs of SVB’s clients, who are involved primarily in technology and healthcare, said Kaushal Pandia, head of global digital acquisition and onboarding.

From the start of onboarding, SVB assigns each client a relationship manager (RM) to serve as a go-to person for everything from loans to assistance in finding venture capital.

“All of these discussions, these interactions, happen digitally, via phone or at one of the convenient branches,” Pandia said. “Primarily, our network of RMs globally [is] the glue [in] how our clients interact with us, with digital obviously being a layer on top of that to help them do mundane, day-to-day tasks, such as opening an account, checking their balances, doing bill pay, doing transfers, wires, ACH, etc.”

In addition to the RMs, branches have personnel on hand to greet customers as they enter and help them find the services they seek. RMs can also meet with clients outside the branch, and Pandia said SVB has become even more flexible during the pandemic.

“We’ll come to you, you come to us or we can meet midway,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where we are meeting; the whole focus is, ‘How can we solve your needs?’”

Know Your Customer on Every Level

Technology is not just a factor in the client-facing side of banking at SVB, but also helps to smooth every part of the banking process, starting with know your customer (KYC). Simple details, such as customers having to use their legal names instead of those they commonly use, can add friction and make the KYC process painful, Santiago said.

“Our customers really don’t want to talk to us. They want ease,” Santiago added.

SVB’s customers want the friction-free experiences they have come to expect from FinTechs that are not beholden to the same regulations as SVB, Santiago said. As such, SVB has developed processes and technologies that normalize and streamline onboarding to meet those expectations.

Pandia said SVB’s RMs consider banking products that fit prospective clients’ specific needs, for both where they are now and where they want to go, as well as whether a prospective client is a good fit for SVB.

That process starts before the first meeting, with the RM gathering third-party information and creating a file on the potential client in SVB’s customer relationship management (CRM) software. Once onboarding begins, that data enters the digital onboarding flow.

“The digital onboarding platform leverages any data that’s available internally [or] externally … and then we pre-fill the application as much as possible with that data, making the process a lot more seamless,” Pandia said.

At the same time, digital KYC validates clients and their companies, checking for registered entities and ensuring everyone is who they say they are. Once onboarding is complete, clients’ data is flowed into the servicing platform and they are set up with the products they need.

Using Data to Anticipate Customer Needs

Analysis of existing client data helps SVB design product profiles tailored to new clients, Santiago said. SVB also leverages data throughout the client relationship, mapping changes in clients’ habits and financial needs to continue connecting them with relevant products.

“As we look at servicing the customers on a day-to-day basis, the data allows us to be less [reactive] to [their] needs and more proactive,” Santiago said.

SVB’s platform enables real-time data analysis of everyday interactions with clients, permitting bank personnel to see when the platform fails to meet customer expectations and fix problems as they arise.

“We can hop on the phone or ping that customer to say, ‘Do you have 10 minutes to talk about your experience, and how can we actually change that?’ and that goes a long way in potentially converting a detractor to a promoter, because that kind of service doesn’t come with a large bank,” Pandia said.

SVB has a niche focus, and the selective nature of clients lends itself to close support and tailored experiences. This echelon of service would not be possible, however, without the technology behind it. Clients receive concierge-level service at SVB because its technologies free up personnel to focus on creating better customer experiences.