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Despite the rapid growth of online and mobile lending in recent years, many banks are still just getting started.

That was evident from speakers at a recent Digital Lending and Investing conference in New York, where players from across the industry talked about potential opportunities and pitfalls.

Hint: if a bank's idea of digital lending is to post a pdf of a loan application, it has a long way to go. “It’s not enough to just digitize the application or even digitize the process," said Youa Yang, the digital banking program director at Barlow Research. "We have to transform the experience.”

Following are some of the insights shared by fintech players (like OnDeck's Noah Breslow), lenders operating in both traditional and digital ways (Movement Mortgage's Mary Vaca) and researchers (Yang among them).

The lessons they have learned can help inform a digital approach to a variety of loans – from mortgages to small business.

“If you’re a bank and think this is not for you," just look around, said Karen Mills, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and the former head of the U.S. Small Business Administration. "Some of your colleagues are deep into this with great success.”

Mills held up Eastern Bank in Boston as a role model. “Eastern Bank is a 200-year-old bank, as old-fashioned as anything. Everybody wears a dark suit," she said.

Eastern hired Dan O'Malley to lead its innovation lab in the spring of 2014. O'Malley, a former Capital One executive and a data scientist by trade, did a deep dive on Eastern's transaction records and discovered that about 5% of its small-business customers at the time were making regular payments to online lenders.

A survey of these Eastern customers revealed that many just needed fast infusions of cash — something they didn't think the bank could provide.

So Eastern developed an online lending platform and rolled out a product called the "Express Business Loan" to better serve its customers and take on the fintech competitors.

"It’s a very interesting way for community banks to get in front, marketing to their own customers," Mills said.

Read on for five key takeaways from the conference.


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