Sunwest Bank, a $2 billion-asset bank based in Irvine, California, launched a new account opening portal Wednesday, a feature it says will help it expand its client portfolio and compete with fintechs by offering online account opening to its business clients.
Dwight Flenniken, the bank’s chief marketing officer, said its Sunwest New Account Portal (SNAP) extends to its business clients the same technology that is already available to its consumer clients, by allowing them to open accounts fully remotely.
The new portal also allows Sunwest Bank, which derives the majority of its deposits and loans from its business banking unit, to expand its services to commercial clients outside of the four states where it has a physical presence, Flenniken said.
The bank operates around 12 branch and loan production offices in California, Arizona, Utah and Idaho.
"We have a good business and, we're a commercial bank that people trust," Flenniken said. "So we're looking at states like New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. We figured, to extend our portfolio, this digital effort would be a good way to go out and let people know that we're here."
The portal was built completely in-house, Flenniken said, and allows business owners to create multiple accounts and account types at once, add authorized account signers, as well as order checks and check scanners.
"We noticed other banks weren't doing this, and that we saw all of the fintechs coming and getting into the space, and we thought that it would be beneficial to have a brick-and-mortar bank that people trusted get into the space," Flenniken said.
Challenger banks such as Lance, BlueVine and Lili target the entrepreneur and small-business market by offering accounts that can be opened entirely online, something Sunwest Bank President Carson Lappetito said is lagging in the traditional banking sector.
"This technology is readily available for consumer accounts, but only a handful of banks nationally offer this for commercial accounts," he said in a statement. "Our top priority at Sunwest Bank is to give entrepreneurs the resources to succeed, and now our customers can open accounts from the comfort of their office, home or on the go."
Flenniken said the bank’s decision to launch the new portal was partly inspired by its involvement in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) over the past year-and-a-half. The bank made 3,699 PPP loans totaling more than $927 million.
"We far outpaced ourselves, in terms of our size, in how many PPP loans we gave to consumers. And we noticed they were coming from everywhere, all over the country, and especially the western United States," he said. "So we wanted to launch this product to give people like that the ability to bank with us."
As the bank looks to grow its business accounts through digital expansion, Flenniken said Sunwest still believes a physical presence is important.
"We think fintech is great, and we think the wave of the future is to be able to be in somebody's computer or phone, giving them the ability to create their accounts and manage their portfolios online," he said. "We also think there's a huge space for relationships."
The bank’s goal, Flenniken said, is to offer its clients digital features in combination with in-person services through its branches.
"We're going to have to have both, I think everybody has to have both. Fintechs are great, but I don't think fintechs will ever have both. There's a little bit of a disconnect there between what we do and what fintechs do," he said.