An Unlikely Innovator

1115_AnUnlikelyInnovator_770

How Suresh Ramamurthi is supercharging payments and technology from a small Kansas community bank

By Rónán Lynch

Community banker and software entrepreneur Suresh Ramamurthi is hesitant to use the word “disruption” when talking about his businesses. As he explains it, he simply finds ways around problems in making transactions.

“Human beings,” he says, “have been making transactions since the dawn of time.”

At a time when thousands of people have been pouring out of banking and into the FinTech businesses, threatening to disrupt the banking world, Ramamurthi is one of the few going in the other direction. Formerly a financial software engineer with Google Inc., he and his wife, Suchitra Padmanabhan, moved east and bought a $13 million-asset community bank in the small Kansas town of Weir.

After taking over Citizens Bank of Weir, and renaming it CBW Bank, Ramamurthi dove into his new career as a community banker, taking deposits and making loans. He didn’t shy away from the dirty work: “I repossessed a Hummer,” he says.

Yet it was in the everyday work inside the one-branch bank on Weir’s main street that he was struck by the contrast between the world of banking and the rapidly evolving world of technology. “I came from a world where everything happened instantly,” he says.

Inside CBW Bank, he could see precisely what points in the network were holding up the flow of the payments processes. To make this process faster, he says, he had to “rebuild the plumbing.” As he started, he discovered that he would have to become an expert in both compliance and technology. They were functions that banks had progressively outsourced to external providers, and he found few people had a foot in both camps.

Undaunted, he trained in compliance and designed a course for his staff.

CBW Bank’s original core software provider was another obstacle, because it only sold standardized platforms for banks. Realizing that his bank’s software providers were unable or unwilling to meet his needs, Ramamurthi took matters into his own hands and began looking for suitable alternatives. When he couldn’t find any, however, he decided to develop a new transaction technology company from scratch himself, called Yantra Financial Technologies in Topeka, Kan.

“The transaction management system has turned out to be a hit,” says Ramamurthi. “It operates on a millisecond speed and can manage billions of transactions.”

Yantra’s new products—which include transaction risk management and remittance processing—found favor with other community banks. Moven, the New York mobile banking company that offers instant tracking of payments, joined forces with CBW Bank to process digital payments. In a few years, Yantra has become a provider of core payment services to other community banks.

Ramamurthi says that as marketplace lending eats into the loan business, community banks will increasingly look to non-interest income such as payments, which will in turn drive the market for real-time risk-management solutions. He says that CBW Bank itself is looking at alternative sources of loans, and he has been talking to several players, including an online marketplace lending company.

For Ramamurthi, CBW Bank and Yantra are providing community banks with new ways to make money and attract new customers. But breaking the traditional mold to create new and better technology options for community banks could be his greatest achievement overall.


Rónán Lynch (ronan.lynch@lafferty.com) is publisher and editor at Lafferty Group, a research and advisory business with offices in Ireland, the United Kingdom and South Africa.