Old-fashioned innovation

Man with a plan—Standing outside Sutton Bank in Attica, Ohio, senior vice president for payment services Jeff Lewis is helping lead the charge in high-tech payment options for bank customers.

How 140-year-old Sutton Bank is embracing the latest technology to win customers over and keep them happy for life.

By Jolene Johnson

Sutton Bank in Attica, Ohio, has served its community for 140 years. It may have been founded in 1878, but by adhering to its “old-fashioned innovation” motto, the security- and soundness-focused $450 million-asset community bank looks to the future by delivering top-notch customer service and working with fintech companies to bring new products and services to the market.

Case in point: With the help of an industry partner, Sutton has rolled out a smartphone app that allows business clients and their employees to access a portion of their already-earned pay before the end of a payroll period. It’s disruptive technology at its finest. “Payroll really hasn’t changed in decades in how it operates,” says Jeff Lewis, senior vice president for payment services at Sutton Bank. “This is a nice disruptor into that segment.”

Often, when employees request an early payroll payment, it’s to pay a bill or meet basic necessities. Employees who use this fintech service can then skip a visit to payday lenders, which charge hefty interest rates or fees, notes Lewis.

Employers who offer the payroll app also have an advantage over competitors who don’t. For example, the restaurant industry, especially franchises, can be “a market segment where it’s hard to get employees to come work for you,” Lewis says. However, if there are two similar businesses on the same street and only one offers the payroll app, the one that does has a better chance of attracting and retaining employees.

On the up
The payroll technology is experiencing a rise in popularity, notes Lewis, who says national chains and large catering companies are starting to embrace the concept. “There’s an organization that works across the U.S. and has upwards of 200,000 individuals” who are considering investing in Sutton Bank’s payroll system, Lewis says.

Making payroll requests from a mobile phone is both convenient and safe, he says. Personal information like Social Security numbers is not stored on the phone. “That’s stored behind the scenes in what we monitor and what we audit from our processing partners,” Lewis says. “If you were to lose your phone, and someone were to get into it, they can see the money but they can’t do anything with it, because they don’t have any of that data available on the phone. That’s probably one of our highest priorities—making sure our processors have all the data encrypted when it’s at rest.”

“When we look at technology, our first question is, ‘What is the benefit to the consumer?’ In other words, is it technology for the sake of technology? Or, is it technology that solves
a market problem?”
—Jeff Lewis, Sutton Bank

Sutton Bank prides itself on its embrace of technology, but not at the expense of its customers. Rather, the bank stresses using common sense as a guidepost when it comes to new tech investments. “When we look at technology, our first question is, ‘What is the benefit to the consumer?’ In other words, is it technology for the sake of technology? Or, is it technology that solves a market problem?” asks Lewis. “The second thing that we look at is want versus need in the market. There are some programs we look at and say, ‘This just feels wrong for us.’ … There could be a need, but when you look at the prices they’re charging and the solution, we struggle to see how that can solve the problem in the market and what will be the benefit to the consumer.”

Fresh perspective
When the bank does decide to make a new tech investment, it takes a consultative approach with its partners in the fintech space. “For example, we were looking at a program with one of our companies on the West Coast on how they were going about it,” Lewis says. “We made a couple of recommendations on how to improve it, which would improve their bottom line. So rather than them constantly saying that we need to find more ways to drive revenue, we asked, ‘Are you looking at the following areas that help you with your efficiencies?’ We can sometimes see things because we’re the outsider looking at it objectively, rather than the insider looking at it emotionally.”

Fresh perspective
When the bank does decide to make a new tech investment, it takes a consultative approach with its partners in the fintech space. “For example, we were looking at a program with one of our companies on the West Coast on how they were going about it,” Lewis says. “We made a couple of recommendations on how to improve it, which would improve their bottom line. So rather than them constantly saying that we need to find more ways to drive revenue, we asked, ‘Are you looking at the following areas that help you with your efficiencies?’ We can sometimes see things because we’re the outsider looking at it objectively, rather than the insider looking at it emotionally.”


Jolene Johnson is a writer in Minnesota.

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