January 23, 2021 / VOLUME NO. 141
A Community Bank Teams Up With Google

One community bank’s ability to collaborate with one of the biggest of the Big Tech companies came down to its core.

Starting this year, Google, Alphabet’s ubiquitous search engine, is launching checking and savings accounts in partnership with 11 financial institutions as part of its payment app. The firms include large banks like Citigroup and BBVA USA, fintech companies BM Technologies’ BankMobile and Green Dot Corp., and community banks like Seattle Bank.

Google Plex accounts carry no monthly fees, minimum balance requirements or charges for overdrafts. They also work within Google Pay, which allows users to pay and view past transactions in a stream, and features offers and rewards from businesses through merchant partnerships.

It perhaps goes without saying that Seattle Bank CEO John Blizzard sees Google Plex accounts as a way for the $731 million bank to attract digitally-focused customers’ deposits and relationships with an innovative, co-branded product featuring a best-in-class user experience. But he says the collaboration would’ve been impossible if the Seattle-based bank hadn’t converted from a legacy core provider to the cloud-based core Finastra as part of its open banking tech strategy. 

For instance, the Plex account interface lets users earmark funds in a budget and shares spending insights that would be difficult to program on the back end using legacy tech. 

“This is a perfect example of how we can leverage our tech strategy and open banking,” he says. “We’re a relatively small bank in the scheme of things, and this is a great fit for us.”

Blizzard says converting a core is “the hardest thing” a bank can do, and that most conversions only happen as part of an acquisition. But he points out that the size of community banks means they can be flexible and are capable of taking control of their technology, starting at the base with the core platform. For Blizzard, controlling the tech stack has been and will continue to be “the most important thing banks will need to stay relevant to customers in a digital world.”

“We would have never been able to do this with our prior core system or provider. It would not have been feasible,” he says. “That’s why we call it a game changer.”

Kiah Lau Haslett, managing editor of Bank Director
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