Innovation Spotlight: First Internet Bank
David Becker, President and CEO
Before he understood banking, David Becker understood technology and its ability to shape the customer experience. Highly attuned to how people would want to bank in the future, Becker started First Internet Bank in 1999, now a $2.4 billion asset institution in Fishers, Indiana. In his 35 years working in financial services technology, Becker has created five companies listed in Inc. magazine’s 500 fast growing companies and continues to engage in philanthropic initiatives to support the economic growth of central Indiana.
When you first told people you were starting a branchless bank, what reaction did you receive?
Nearly 20 years ago, I had an idea to create a bank that lived entirely online. At the time, I had three financial services software companies. Today, we would call them fintechs. My experience as a service provider to the financial services industry, and my years as a consumer and business bank client, gave me deep insight into how banks worked, and, candidly, how they could improve.
How did bankers react? I initially presented my concept to a traditional bank, explaining how a bank could build a nationwide business with an all-online presence. After the presentation, though, the bank’s CEO rejected our concept. He claimed computers weren’t fast enough and the alleged consumer wouldn’t buy in. Essentially, he said it couldn’t be done.
Fortunately, consumers did not share the same skepticism. What’s unique about our story is that this online banking model was born following a focus group with my friends and neighbors. I asked them about how they’d prefer to bank. The ideas flowed. Eighteen years and $2 billion in assets later, we have demonstrated the success that can follow when you remain focused on the customer.
What lessons did you learn working in the technology sector that later helped you as you were growing First Internet Bank?
Before launching First Internet Bank, I worked in and around financial services for years. I saw an opportunity to improve upon the industry’s shortcomings—primarily improving efficiency and the customer experience, both of which rely heavily on technology paired with a human touch.
What’s helped us grow so quickly is that we’ve recognized that we need talented people who can handle anything that comes in the door. Because we have no tellers, per se, everyone who works on our retail banking team, for example, needs to be trained across multiple technologies to handle multiple functions, from complex IRA transactions to mobile functionality to starting new deposit accounts.
And because we’re using technology like mobile banking and biometrics, to revolutionize the banking process, there really isn’t any limit to our potential growth.
How can bank boards start to adapt an entrepreneurial mindset that allows for innovation?
Because we were a pioneer of the branchless model, we’ve learned to use technology to help us adapt to challenges and reinvent ourselves. Technology enables us to expand our business, enter new verticals to diversify our revenue streams, and serve customers across the country—without a costly branch network.
Technology is an increasingly important part of our business, and there is much to be said about the ways fintech is changing the landscape of our industry. However, I would caution boards against looking to a fintech solution as a quick fix to bring innovation to your organization. If you truly want to foster a culture of innovation, look to your existing team.
Today, our hire is the “dissatisfied banker.” We look for the banker who says, “What if we did this instead?” We want the people who challenge the status quo and offer solutions to help us make it better. At First Internet Bank, we call this our “entrepreneurial spirit,” and it permeates the organization.
Our people are the key to our success. Some are bankers that have finally been empowered to do what they’ve always wanted to do. Others are industry outsiders that we’ve hired to bring new solutions to old problems.