Innovation is “How We Compete Going Forward,” Said Valley Bank’s Bardusch at Propelify #BetterFutureForAll

“The future of Valley Bank (Wayne) lies in its ability to embrace innovation.” That’s what the bank’s executive vice president and COO, Robert Bardusch, told Aaron Price, president and CEO of TechUnited:NJ, on October 6 at Propelify.

Price noted that Valley had really “embraced the culture of innovation,” and he asked Bardusch to explain.

“Valley’s been around for 93 years in the Northeast,” said Bardusch, “and I’d say within the last three to four years we’ve really put a big focus on innovation, just because of the market. When you look at where we are and who we have to compete with — our peers and companies that are much larger than us — innovation is really going to be a key to how we compete going forward.

“We don’t have the deep pockets like a lot of our peer banks like JP Morgan, Chase and Citi, so it’s really important that we find a way to innovate and compete and really bring in the innovation that’s both within our company and outside, in the United States and the rest of the world.”

Innovation “doesn’t have to be a massive home-run moonshot where we’re reinventing the entire industry. It can be small, incremental improvements throughout the entire organization.”Robert Bardusch. Valley Bank

Innovation at Valley Bank “doesn’t have to be a massive home-run moonshot where we’re reinventing the entire industry,” he said. “It can be small, incremental improvements throughout the entire organization — and we call it ‘innovation for all’ — because it’s not about creating one single group within Valley that everyone points to and says, ‘Well, all the great thinking and innovation come from there.’ What we’re trying to do is say all the great thinking comes from everybody.”

Valley Bank provides its employees with tools to help them think differently, for instance by offering courses in design thinking. The bank then tells its employees to take the information they’ve acquired and apply it to problems. “Design thinking then goes on to design doing,” said Bardusch.

Talent is Drawn to Innovative Environments

The bank has found that innovative talent is drawn to its environment. “I thought it would be difficult, coming from PNC [his prior company], for Valley to compete with the top-10 or top-20 banks that are out there. But what we find, and what’s interesting about Valley, its size being so much smaller than many large companies,” is that the bank’s attracting talent. “People throughout their careers get a little disenchanted with big, heavy bureaucracy. They want to be able to come to a company where they can actually see the fruits of their labor and get something done, so we find that that’s compelling.”

Bardusch also cited Valley’s going forward with digitizing and innovation as something that makes the bank attractive to talent. “It’s really something that’s exciting. It’s a different mentality, a different way of thinking on how were approaching and solving problems, and that’s exciting because people can actually see themselves in that and taking a part in that.”

Partnering with Startups and Incubators

While internal innovation is important to Valley Bank, the financial institution has also partnered with incubators and startups for external ideation.  “We’ve found that talking with startups has been very fruitful; we’ve had some really good discussions and ideation, and we’ve also invested in a few, and incubators, too,” said Bardusch. Valley is talking with startups that are, for the most part, in the same business domains as the bank’s customers, and that are seeking to provide value-centered relationships.

Bardusch discussed some of the areas of tech innovation at Valley.  They’ve been “right in the middle” of fintech, he said. “Whether it be payments within financial services or payments with just about every industry. We’re very interested in modernizing our payment offering and being able to make a difference there.” He noted that the bank has had great conversations with partners, “whether it be proof of concepts, whether it be partnering just to understand solutions, whether it’s investing in some cases as we’ve done, we feel that those have all been very good relationships thus far.”

PPP Response

Valley’s response to the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was a subtle one. “Not all innovation has to be earth-shattering,” Bardusch said. “Some of it is just about solving a problem in a different way. So, we can probably all remember when PPP went down, and we were all literally developing a solution for customers over a weekend. It was one of those things that got announced, and we knew that our customers were going to need this program in order to be viable throughout the pandemic. So, it was an important mission for us in order to provide that. We knew we had to turn it around pretty quickly.”

 Over that weekend, a Valley team put together a solution utilizing existing technology that wasn’t overly sophisticated. By Monday, the bank provided an online form that businesses could use to apply for the PPP program. Valley provided the proper ingredients: technology and people. The solution wasn’t just technological; Valley Bank employees were also there to talk to people who needed help. “That made a huge difference.”

“You don’t have to be a tech-enabled person. It’s really about how you inspire people to think differently. It’s not the tech: It’s the thinking, it’s the culture, it’s the empowerment.”Robert Bardusch, Valley Bank

For leaders, especially those of companies with a long history who are looking to instill a culture of innovation, Bardusch offers the following advice. “You have to just start. It doesn’t matter how small you change, but it has to start from the top. There has to be support and passion [on the part of] the leadership of the organization. Certainly, that has to permeate throughout the entire organization, and you’re going to want to cultivate that from the bottom up, as well.”  

Price also asked Bardusch about nontechnical employees and executives at Valley who may be worried that tech will take their jobs. Will they be exposed as not sufficiently tech-enabled or innovative? “You don’t have to be a tech-enabled person,” Bardusch replied. “It’s really about how you inspire people to think differently. It’s not the tech: It’s the thinking, it’s the culture, it’s the empowerment. That’s the really important part of it. And if you get people excited about that, you’ll start attracting people who are tech-centric into the conversation.”

Bardusch emphasized that Valley Bank is not a technology company that happens to be a bank. It’s a relationship bank-based community. “Technology is there to enable those relations — that’s the key here. We’re not doing technology for technology’s sake. We’re doing it so that it helps make that relationship better and provides the services that our customers are looking for.”

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