Innovation takes center stage at Commerce every day.
Innovation, on large and small scales, happens at Commerce Bank on a daily basis. For the bank, innovation means the constant drive to improve existing products and services — or create entirely new ones — in an effort to make the experience of banking with Commerce better all the time.
“It’s at the heart of everything we do,” says Bruce Bienhoff, the director of Commerce’s commercial line of business products and operations. “It’s through innovation that we’re able to develop and deliver competitive solutions to our customers. We listen to our customers and invest in the relationships we have with them. We ask questions. It helps us solve their challenges and make their lives easier.”
Oscar Pineda-Madrid, a vice president and digital strategy leader for growth and innovation, says exploring new ideas is essential for evolving the customer experience. “You want to anticipate and stay ahead of customers’ needs.”
Innovating around the user experience influences overall satisfaction, which makes people want to be our customer and stay our customer.”
Jennifer Upton, a senior vice president and manager of strategy and innovation, likes to think of innovation as a necessary practice that keeps Commerce future-ready, agile and able to anticipate customers’ needs. “You have to always be ready for what comes next,” she notes. “We pride ourselves on having that mindset.”
Innovation comes in many forms
As Upton points out, innovation isn’t solely comprised of massive leaps forward. It’s also evident in the incremental improvements the bank often makes, whether that’s to an internal process or something more customer-facing. “We invest in continuous improvement and generate lots of small wins along the way,” she says.
Over time, those small wins add up to big wins. To use a sports analogy, if you hit a lot of singles, you’re going to get people on base, and you’re going to score a lot of runs.”
Upton notes that sometimes the innovations take place in ways that aren’t immediately apparent to the bank’s customers. “Sometimes we develop new ideas that make our jobs easier and more streamlined,” she says. “Ultimately those developments add value for our customers because we’re able to do more for them with the resources we have.”
At Commerce, innovation isn’t only about creating or improving products and services; it can also be evident in the approach the bank takes to their work. As Pineda-Madrid notes, “If you let data guide your design decision, you’ll ensure that you’re truly building a desirable and viable product. It’s a very disciplined way to work.”
Commerce’s tradition of being innovative has resulted in a number of new products and services the bank has introduced in recent years. One example is Velocity Pay, a prepaid consumer debit card that doesn’t require a checking account to activate, making it an ideal solution for consumers who don’t use traditional banking services. Consumers can also use Velocity Pay to pay bills and set up recurring payments, and Commerce makes it available nationwide — well beyond its Midwestern brick-and-mortar retail footprint.
“This product is one way we’re reaching out to consumers who otherwise might be underserved,” Upton says. “It provides people in our communities additional flexibility around how they make payments. We’re continuing to explore other features to add to Velocity Pay that will make it even more helpful and valuable for our customers. We built it with the future in mind, and it offers a lot of potential.”
Finding new ways to help customers
Several new products and services the bank has introduced in recent years are the result of Commerce’s innovation. The bank’s commercial business, for example, has introduced services that make it easier for companies to accept and make payments and to reconcile all those payments in real time.
“Our Prefer Pay® service allows our commercial customers the ability to have their own customers choose how they prefer to be paid,” says Bienhoff. “We’ve also done a lot to integrate payables and receivables to simplify the payment and reconciliation processes for our customers. For example, our commercial customers often are receiving many forms of payments, and we can combine all of the payment-related information into a single file to help them automate their cash application and reconciliation processes.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Commerce accelerated solutions that were necessitated by the times. The adoption of e-signatures, for example, really took off.
Our commercial customers wanted to do things more digitally, and the pandemic increased the usage of that technology. It’s common today, but at the time, using e-signatures in our business was rare. More customers and bankers are comfortable with that process now.”
Pineda-Madrid points out that for retail customers, the increased adoption of e-signature technology streamlines many processes, including that of opening a checking account. “It was part of a larger effort to make it even easier to open an account online,” he says. “Today we have a sleek, modern application, that works really well on both mobile and desktop.”
Innovation through collaboration
Sometimes innovation at Commerce is generated through its partnerships with other organizations — such as the bank’s relationship with SixThirty, a St. Louis-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage companies. “Working with SixThirty allows us to see what’s on the horizon in finance technology,” says Upton. “Keeping our finger on the pulse of what startups are doing in finance is an important part of our long-term success.”
Another example Upton cites is Commerce’s partnership with Paytient, a Columbia, Mo., financial technology company that allows employers to provide their employees the ability to finance healthcare payments interest-free. Commerce helped Paytient bring their services to market by facilitating the payments that are made when employees swipe a Paytient card to pay for medical services.
“Paytient offers a creative solution that makes life easier for a lot of people,” she says. “It’s a great example of the way we look for opportunities to partner with technology companies and complement what they do.”
As Pineda-Madrid notes, innovation tends to come from every corner of the Commerce organization. “It’s not just driven by one team,” he says. “It’s shared across the enterprise. That’s something I would normally expect to see at a small startup, not a well-established business like Commerce. It’s impressive.”
One of the great things about Commerce, Upton adds, is that even new team members are encouraged to contribute ideas. “You don’t have to be here for 10 years to have enough experience to raise your hand and say that you have an idea about how to do something better,” she says. “Sometimes people who are newer to the organization and have a different perspective will come with great ideas. We value that kind of input from all team members.”
Pineda-Madrid says that the bank’s encouragement of curiosity and continuous development connects strongly to its values. “Any truly great idea will have an element of collaboration to it,” he says. “And when you have diverse perspectives contributing to that collaboration, you really have something. Bringing someone into the room who normally wouldn’t be part of that team, and considering a completely different point of view, can really unlock new ideas. That kind of teamwork directly connects to Commerce’s values of collaboration.”
That spirit of discovery and partnership, Pineda-Madrid believes, epitomizes Commerce’s unique culture. “Innovation begins and ends with people. It’s a team sport,” he says. “People are the source of our inspiration. That human-centered approach ladders up to the values we focus on at Commerce, and in the long run it benefits our customers and team members. That’s why we focus on innovation every day.”