In Episode 4 of our “Innovation in the Enterprise” podcast series, CodeScience CEO, Brian Walsh, speaks with Frank Sorrentino III, Chairman & CEO of ConnectOne Bank, about the importance of putting the client first, and how leveraging technology to solve client problems and serve client needs can both foster innovation and strengthen a company’s culture. 

Here are our top five takeaways from the discussion, lightly edited for readability.

Listen to Episode 4 now!

1. Frank emphasizes a “people first” mentality as the basis of an unwavering company culture:

You need to have a strong corporate culture. I know that gets a lot of people mushy with a mission statement, it’s words on a wall. No, that’s not really what it is. It’s how people make decisions about what they’re going to do every day in their business lives and how they interact with each other, how they interact with the regulators, and how they interact with clients. 

Whenever there’s a failure here at the company and something went wrong or a client’s not happy or we took a misstep, I never really ask about the event itself. I ask about the decision-making process. “Did you go through the words that we really care about? Were you people-first? Did you think about the other side of the equation when you made that decision?” You ask those questions, and, inevitably, you get tripped up on one of them. You’re like, “Yeah, I didn’t do that.” So that’s where the issue is.

2. What does it look like to put the client first? When Frank put the client above all else, it took his business to the next level:

When we started ConnectOne Bank, I cared about the client first, and in this case, I was the client. I sat up and said, “Hey, wait a minute, every time we have a meeting in this place about what we’re going to do next, I’m going to represent the other side of this transaction as we think through everything that we’re doing.” I think that’s a little bit… I don’t want to say it’s unique, but it’s certainly a different way of thinking. 

It’s not thinking about profits, it’s not thinking about growth, it’s not thinking about all the normal things that they teach in business school. It’s thinking about what our clients would think about every single thing we’re going to do here and how would they feel about this experience? That’s what we brought to the table. It made for some pretty interesting conversations with people like CFOs and chief credit officers and chief lending officers. They just weren’t accustomed to that. They went to the school that taught them how to say no to things, and I went to the school that said, “The answer is yes. Let’s figure out what the right questions are.”

3. Frank also credits some of his success to quickly pivoting with the industry’s changing landscape: 

I’m constantly thinking about how the world is changing, where is our next client going to be? Where is our community going to be? It was easy in 2005. We’re going to pick the best real estate in town, we’re going to put a branch there on the corner, we’re going to make it really comfortable, and we’re going to have great drive-ups and a nice parking lot and a coffee lounge, and people are going to come in and that’s the community, right? 

Obviously, as we sit here today, the word community has changed dramatically and what represents a community has changed. So I started looking for, okay, what things are going to look like a community but have a digital fence around them as opposed to geographic fences? 

4. Leveraging technology to reduce friction has helped Frank streamline and improve day-to-day client interactions

People hear me speak a lot about the sausage-making part of our business. Yes, we have regulations. Yes, we have auditors. Yes, we have all the other bits and pieces, lenders, credit teams, compliance teams, and all those things. I don’t bring all those people into the room when we sit and talk to a client, but they’re all there and they all need to play a role in getting from that point A to point B. So the utilization of technology to reduce that level of friction, to make it a better process for you, so that you and I can actually have a human interaction where you’re pleased by what’s happening — to me, that’s what it’s really all about.

Technology is not about cost-cutting. It’s about business optimization. It’s about getting the best process down that we can get so that our clients feel good about that process.

5. In Frank’s experience, a complaint from a client isn’t a problem — it’s an invaluable insight: 

To try to understand what your client wants and see it through the lens of other actions they’re taking, to me, is just incredibly critical for how we think about what the next thing is that we want to do here. I am a big proponent of really listening hard when people complain. From my perspective, a client complaining to us is one of the greatest innovative tools we’ll ever have. 

Check out the podcast now to listen to the full episode and view the transcript!

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