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Making technology relationships work: Execs share their key questions, tips, and scars.

There’s no magic formula or one-size-fits-all approach to crafting successful technology relationships, but three bank execs and a consultant shared nuggets of wisdom during a panel at the Bank Automation Summit on Monday.

TD Bank’s head of commercial digital platforms, Paul Margarites, sang the praises of quick-and-dirty proof of concepts: “You need well-defined, time-boxed POCs, to figure out, ‘Does the partnership work, not just from a product capability perspective, but from a relationship perspective? Do you work well together with that partner?’ Before you go down a yearlong road of trying to figure out how you’re working together, why not do a six- or 12-week POC to make sure that it makes sense?” 

An executive in Citi’s treasury and trade solutions division, Mohit Narula, pulled from past challenges to highlight an example of when it may make sense to build internally: “A key consideration for a bank like Citi when you think about build-versus-buy, or build-versus-partner, is: ‘What’s the technical debt?’ There are a lot of legacy systems, and the moment you bring in a new partner, the challenge is the number of touch points they must maneuver to get the solution that we want. If you go deeper, it can sometimes be more complex to get a partner to know your systems than to do it yourself. That’s the tricky piece and that’s a large partner of our decision making. For a bank like Citi, sometimes it’s easier to partner when you’re just doing the last mile, versus when you’re transforming from within, because it’s more complex for a partner to come in and understand than to do it yourself.” 

Grasshopper Bank’s director of banking-as-a-service, Lauren McCollom, advised evaluating a potential partner based on its service support, cultural fit, and big picture direction: “We try to double-down on ensuring that our product roadmap and their technology stack align initially, and that we can grow with them into the future, and that we aren’t dragging them to somewhere they weren’t planning on going.” 

Consultant Zoya Lieberman issued a general warning based on her experience observing bank and fintech partnerships: “Don’t make assumptions. I know it seems like common sense, but it’s not. Whatever your definition of something is, do not assume that your partner has the same definition. Double check and triple check.”