Pivotus Shows Banks Actually Can Collaborate to Build Products

EXCLUSIVE- It’s a truism that banks can’t work together, but we live in an age of consortia, where groups of banks get together on things like blockchain (though, some have said they are more like “blockchain support groups.”)

Pivotus Ventures, a wholly owned subsidiary of Umpqua Bank, famous for its highly designed branches and fanatical customer base, is taking things a step further. Rather than paying fees to an outside group, Pivotus has built a customer engagement platform called “Engage” that is currently being piloted with Umpqua customers, as well as customers at partner institutions such as CUA, Australia’s largest credit union, and De Volksbank (“The People’s Bank”), the fourth largest bank in the Netherlands. Engage will be released as a whitelabel solution in Q1 2018.

The curated group of customer/member-centric partners tells you a bit about how carefully Umpqua manages its brand.

Engage connects with digital banking platforms as a way for customers to connect directly with their financial institution, no matter what channel they have been in or what product they are using. Users are assigned a personal banker (each personal banker will of course have many customers assigned to them) with whom they can communicate via voice, video, and text chat. Data from video banking pioneer Financial Town shows that customers overwhelmingly prefer text, but there are use cases where only voice or video will do. As it happens, text allows personal bankers maximum bandwidth. Some particularity adept personal bankers may have 1,000 or more clients assigned to them.

The idea of Engage is not simply to be a customer service portal, but to take bank relationships, as Umpqua develops them in the physical world, to the digital world. Umpqua’s branches became known across the banking world long before “branch of the future” conversations became commonplace.

“Umpqua’s physical locations have always been central to our strategy,” said Eve Callahan, executive vice president, corporate communications. “What we have built couldn’t just be replaced with a banking app.” Umpqua is moving to a more “hub-and-spoke” oriented branch model, with a centralized location and outlying locations that can be lighter on staff and expertise, but more to the point, Umpqua has shifted resources to digital to build relationships in a new environment. What relationships mean online, of course, is very much still up in the air, even (or especially) in the world of personal relationships (swipe right).

Oren Goldschmidt, president of Pivotus, said Engage grew out of the realization that “the relationship is the asset, not the product. We want to create sustained personal relationships.” A chatbot to handle frequently occurring simple inquiries is being prepared for the general launch of the product, but the human interaction is of primary importance, Goldschmidt said.

The core team of Pivotus is about 30 people. Goldschmidt said. The group is based in Menlo Park. Calif. and was formed in 2015. Engage, its first product, has seen “great adoption online and in-store, even for those who had not been on mobile to begin with” among Umpqua customers, said Callahan. Pivotus won’t end its work on Engage, but the success of Engage in the world outside Pivotus’s four partner institutions should tell us where it will take things next.