If there was just one takeaway from American Banker's recent summit on digital banking, it was that banks ought to be placing bets on innovative pilots — and perhaps some innovative partners — so that they aren't left out of the future.

"The environment is changing so rapidly," says Brett Pitts, executive vice president and head of digital/Internet product management at Wells Fargo. "Consumers are leading us."

Entrepreneurs can be one source of guidance along the way.

"We are not afraid to work with folks that are sitting in the garage," says Jim Simpson, senior vice president and chief technology officer at City Bank in Lubbock, Texas. The bank was one of the first financial institutions to let customers turn their debit cards on and off via a mobile app.

Similarly, BBVA Ventures, the division of BBVA that bought digital banking interface Simple, is on the lookout for more technology partners to strengthen areas where the bank is weak.

"We realize we can't do everything ourselves," says Jay Reinemann, BBVA Ventures' executive director. "We need different types of talent and different types of products to satisfy customers."

A big part of the customer experience these days involves apps, many of which are driven by imaging technology that reduces the need for customer data entry. U.S. Bank, for example, uses smartphone camera and imaging software that allows for mobile bill pay, remote deposit capture and credit card balance transfers. Those won't be the last of the image-related tools the Minneapolis-based bank rolls out, says Niti Badarinath, head of digital strategy and mobile banking at parent company U.S. Bancorp.

"What was delighting someone a year ago is now in the [expect] stage," he says, citing mobile deposit capture as an example. "[Customers] move from 'wow,this is innovative' to 'why don't you have it.'"

Companies outside of the banking industry are establishing a large portion of customer expectations. "We are competing with every other app on your phone," Badarinath says.

In a bid to keep up with consumer demands, U.S. Bank is piloting a mobile shopping app called Peri, while Wells Fargo is trying out an app for Google Glass.

What will take with consumers is anyone's guess — and bankers are some of the first to acknowledge both the limitations and the need to keep trying.

"I don't know how it ends," says Badarinath, who was recognized at the conference as Bank Technology News' digital banker of the year. But "the cost of just moving is less than just sitting and waiting for the right time."

Digital Banking Summit 2014
When: June 2-4
Where: Los Angeles
For: Online, mobile and tablet banking executives, retail banking heads, digital banking entrepreneurs and industry vendors
Key Themes:

  • Delivering ideal digital solutions
  • Opportunities and threats for banks
  • Customer security in the digital age

Host: American Banker