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Episode 4: Client-First Innovation with Frank Sorrentino III

In Episode 4, Brian is talking 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 an innovative company culture.

Listen to the full episode below…

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Brian (00:01):
Welcome back, everybody. As we’ve gone through this series, we’ve met with so many different leaders of organizations, high-tech and old industry enterprise companies that are starting to innovate or leaders that have led through that change. I think today’s guest is probably the most dynamic and diverse background of anyone that we’ll ever have on this series, and I can’t wait for you to meet him. He has a very, in my mind, untraditional path to get to where he’s at today. Before we go too far, let me introduce you to Frank Sorrentino III.

Frank Sorrentino III (00:38):
How are you, Brian?

Brian (00:42):
I’m great. How are you?

Frank Sorrentino III (00:43):
Thank you for that great introduction.

Brian (00:46):
Well, it is such a crazy background. I went through and prepped and-

Frank Sorrentino III (00:51):[crosstalk 00:00:51] before.

Brian (00:54):
Well, I went through and listened to so many different interviews you’ve done and read, and each time, I pause and go, “Wow, how did you get here?” So I think before we talk about your role as CEO of ConnectOne Bank, let’s rewind two generations. How did this happen about?

Frank Sorrentino III (01:13):
Well, I come from a family of four generations of folks in the building and construction trade, stonemasons back in Italy. I was born with a trowel in my hand, so to speak, and came through the construction trades. When I was about 18 or 19 years old, I was in college for civil engineering and transitioned my business away from masonry into actual building and constructing and development. If you would’ve asked me when I was 18, 20, 25 years old, I would tell you I was going to die with a trowel in my hand. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, as they would say. I did dabble a little bit in finance. We bought an insurance company. I started a premium finance company. We did some financing of some of the projects that we did. So finance was always sort of in the background. I was always looking for something that was very different than my construction and development business, which was very, very dependent on weather and external factors and whatnot. I’m always looking for something that felt differently in business.

Frank Sorrentino III (02:27):
I got the opportunity, I didn’t know it was going to be an opportunity, back in 2004. I had had a number of banks that I did business with that were very important to me from a financial perspective, and one by one they got bought or merged with someone else. The culture there changed. My relationship with that bank changed. The third time it happened to me, I said, “Okay, enough. I’m not going through this again.” So instead of switching banks, I started one, no idea at all at that time that I was actually going to run it. It was just a great business pursuit from my perspective. I felt pretty strongly that we could do something better than what the market provided at the time, and in 2005, we launched what is now ConnectOne Bank. So that’s the short story. I’m happy to jump into any parts of that you want.

Brian (03:21):
Well, the first question I would have is what would Frank Sorrentino the first think of the third transitioning from masonry to banking?

Frank Sorrentino III (03:30):
Yeah, he probably would’ve said something like you started off with, “You’re crazy.” My grandfather was a great mechanic, meaning in the trades, a journeyman. He saw the world through one set of eyes, and he lived through the Great Depression, he lived through some very, very traumatic times in our country, and so innovation was not something that was big in his place. He was very, very grounded in his trade and in the business that he was in. So, yeah, he would’ve thought I was nuts. He would’ve been proud of me, but he would’ve thought I was nuts.

Brian (04:09):
Exactly. Exactly. We all hope that our grandparents and parents are proud, ultimately, of what we do.

Frank Sorrentino III (04:15):
Yep.

Brian (04:16):
So the founding of ConnectOne Bank, there’s a great principle where you said it was “people first,” to found this bank on people first, and that was your own experience dealing with a bank. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what that means, “people first.”

Frank Sorrentino III (04:31):
Well, if you don’t mind, let’s go back a moment into my construction background. I built a lot of custom homes, so very, very high-end type product, some of the nicest homes you may have found in the marketplace where we exist. I always felt in that business that it was about people first. It was about making our clients feel good about what they were going to do. This is one of the biggest investments they were going to make in their life, and I wanted to make certain that they felt good about the process because it wasn’t really about building the greatest product. It was about how the client felt after you were done and you delivered the home, right? You hear all these stories about builders and how they’re terrible and people can’t get along and there’s lawsuits and the roof leaks and all this other good stuff. I had all those problems, except that people genuinely liked how I approached the product. I tried to make people feel good about the process. It’s a very, very difficult process.

Frank Sorrentino III (05:28):
So when we started ConnectOne Bank, I used that same mentality here at this financial organization. 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, we’re going to put it against the chair. In that boardroom, I’m going to sit in it because I’m the client. 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.

Frank Sorrentino III (06:11):
It was thinking about what would our clients 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.”

Brian (06:45):
That whole framing of it, right, it wasn’t just about the outcome of the home but that experience that they went through, and that was what gave the affinity to you as a business leader.

Frank Sorrentino III (06:56):
Yeah.

Brian (06:56):
In modern customer experience, and everyone’s so focused on CX these days, that really is the definition, right? Experience plus outcome is customer success. It’s not about one or the other. You were doing that back so far ago and in an industry where that wasn’t common at all and transformed that to your bank.

Frank Sorrentino III (07:17):
It wasn’t common. Back in the ’90s when I was building, I was deploying technology even then to make the experience better behind the scenes, to be more organized, to be able to track certain things, to set milestones, to create schedules that we could live by and deliver on time, on budget. I use a lot of the same concepts today. Liz Magennis, who’s our president today of the company, talks all the time. She says, “You’re still a builder. You’re just building a bank now.” I grin when she says that to me.

Brian (07:54):
Yeah. Well, I think that’s some of the pieces that I take away because you did an interview in March with Tom Bergeron, and what was really cool about that is your framing of innovation was all around your customers innovating and how you support them, how you bring their innovations to life. It was such an interesting almost servant leadership for their needs, and I think the line that I absolutely loved was, “We’re no longer competing in 2021, and our customers have to get there.” Talk about that. That quote alone was pretty awesome.

Frank Sorrentino III (08:34):
Well, I’m always amazed by people who sit around a room and think they’re so much smarter than their clients are. They say, “This would be a great business if our clients would just do what we tell them we want them to do.” I laugh and I scratch my head and I walk out going, “What did I just listen to here? This is insane. Why don’t you just listen to your clients?” Why don’t we try to figure out what it is that the clients want? In some cases, they don’t even know they want it, right? But the signs are all there about what people want from a particular type of business interaction. In that particular interview, we talked a little bit about, also, what happened through COVID, how technology caught up all of a sudden here in the last … This was a year ago, so in the last year, and that we’ve done 10 years worth of innovation in less than 12 months, so an unheard of way of thinking.

Frank Sorrentino III (09:39):
But all the things that have been going on for the last 10 years all of a sudden came to fruition and at one point in time, right? Everybody’s been talking about eliminating cash. Everyone’s been talking about video conferencing. Everyone’s been talking about always on, anywhere, platform agnostic technologies. Yet all of that stuff came crashing together in March of 2020 when COVID hit. How many folks did you know that weren’t really ready? Yet there was a whole client base out there that already was beginning to experience these things. How many people use Netflix for a movie or order from Amazon? Everybody all of a sudden goes, “Wait a minute, there’s a whole different world here that I really didn’t understand. You mean I can get groceries without going to the grocery store?” It’s not that that technology didn’t exist or got invented in March. It’s that all of a sudden it became relevant.

Frank Sorrentino III (10:36):
One of our jobs here at ConnectOne Bank, as I’ve always thought, was to figure out what was relevant to our clients. What do they want? I never heard anyone come into our lending offices and say, “You know what? I’d like you to take more time to approve my loan, and I’d like you to make it more difficult on me. I’d like a few more pieces of paper that I have to sign.” So this is where I say our clients don’t tell us that, but they do just by their attractions, what they’re attracted to and what other things they’re attracted to. Maybe this is not true anymore here today, but, certainly, before COVID, bankers were still talking about, “Oh, the branch, we’re going to have a different kind of experience there, and people are still going to come in, and they want to come in and open their accounts there.” The real answer is, no, they don’t.

Frank Sorrentino III (11:32):
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. Look, I am a big proponent of really listening hard to when people complain. Now, I love this idea that you walk into a management meeting and people would like to talk about, “Oh, this client’s complaining about this. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Do they understand how much regulation we have and how we have to do this and why we have to do this?” I sit there and say, “From my perspective, a client complaining to us is one of the greatest innovative tools we’ll ever have. They’re telling us what they want. They’re telling us what’s wrong with our process, and we choose not to listen.” Usually, I make some sort of joke about let’s just get rid of all the clients and this business would be just great. That’s not a good way of thinking about it.

Frank Sorrentino III (12:32):
But most business people, it’s amazing, they take it as a personal insult when someone complains as opposed to, hey, maybe there is a better way, and someone has figured out that it doesn’t have to be the way that we’re suggesting it needs to be, and, therefore, innovation can take place if you can solve that issue. I’ll bet you that’s not the only person who’s complaining about that particular whatever it is. We have sessions here at ConnectOne Bank where we bring folks in and we actually drive to that and try to figure out, “What are you hearing? What are our clients telling us, and how can we change our process here to solve for a lot of these different issues?” So, to me, that’s simple innovation. You don’t have to figure out how to go to the moon and back to innovate something.

Brian (13:27):
That gift that these clients give us when there’s criticism, when there’s constructive feedback, when there’s complaints, all of it, they care enough to give it. They want us to get it right.

Frank Sorrentino III (13:37):
They want us to get better.

Brian (13:39):
Right. And that’s such a gift. How do you align, though, your team? Everything that you’re saying, I’m like, “Yes, that makes logical sense, and everybody must do it,” and yet they don’t.

Frank Sorrentino III (13:50):
No, they don’t.

Brian (13:51):
You stand out in the industry. So how are you managing your team and focusing on your employees to be able to innovate like that, to listen and change?

Frank Sorrentino III (14:01):
Look, it’s hard, right? It starts with having good team members, so we try to attract great people here in the organization that get it. But even still, even with that, 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 do 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, how they interact with clients. If everyone is using the same tools, and what I mean by tools are the same way of thinking about things, then you have a real culture. A lot of companies think because they have a really great mission statement they have a culture.

Frank Sorrentino III (14:58):
Whenever there’s a failure here at a company and something went wrong or a client’s not happy or we took a misstep or whatever, 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? Did you act with a sense of urgency? Were you look to make an impact? Were you forward-thinking?” 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.

Frank Sorrentino III (15:37):
If you can answer all those questions, even if you made a wrong decision, you made the decision for the right reason. So that’s part of what we try to do here with everyone at ConnectOne to get them to understand the how to make a decision, and I believe that’s the challenge. I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’ve gotten that perfected. I think we do a better job than most, but it’s hard. There’s new people coming into the organization. Every once in a while, there’s a stray person who goes off to the left.

Brian (16:12):
Goes off the range.

Frank Sorrentino III (16:14):
Exactly. You got to drag them back a little bit. But, for the most part, it’s being fastidious around, “This is how we think.” It’s challenging when you acquire another company and there’s another culture that was formed within that company that you bring inside. We’ve done that a number of times here as well, so there’s additional challenges. There’s actually great opportunity in some of those. We purchased a company called BoeFly, a small fintech up in Boston, and that actually gave us an opportunity to re-think about how we think about decision-making with a whole fresh set of eyes. So with looked to them for some inspiration around how do we think about what we can do with some of the tools we have. To me, it’s as process. It’s over and over and over again. I generally feel like a five-year-old running around here all the time asking the question why. We’re always having these sit-downs, get-togethers, try to come up with real, live case studies. What happened? Why did it happen? How can we get better? Did we apply the principles that we believe in?

Frank Sorrentino III (17:30):
I’ll tell you one thing that’s been fascinating to me is over … I don’t know how long it is now that we developed these standards and set of core values, we call them. I don’t think we’ve really ever dramatically changed them. The application of them has changed, but they’ve pretty much stood true. Again, there’s no real super secret sauce there. It’s just thinking about how can we be better for the benefit of our client. It works. I think it works. It’s a great set of guideposts for our folks as we bring them in, and I think it makes our clients feel good.

Brian (18:12):
Yeah. Culture is one of those things that’s so hard to get right and so easy to lose. I love that term that you said of guideposts because that, for me, are the values, are your guideposts for which all of the culture sits in the middle of and how we choose to operate and the decisions we make and the priorities we do.

Frank Sorrentino III (18:31):
We don’t hire robots, and we don’t train robots here. We want individuals. We have a lot of smart people. There’s a hell of a lot people that are a lot smarter than me running around this company. What we want, though, is we want everyone to stay within those lanes. They’re wide lanes, but we want them in those lanes, and that’s why you need those guideposts to keep them well-aligned. If we can do that, if we can get individualism yet give people those guideposts to keep them aligned, then everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing without having to be told, without having to really talk to anyone else in the company. You know what you’re going to expect when you speak to other parts of our company. You know what you’re going to expect when a client comes and asks for something. I think that’s a powerful set of tools.

Brian (19:22):
So I’m going to stick on this idea of culture because I think it’s come up a couple of times within our conversation. But one of the motivations around starting a bank, of getting into this, was the fact that many of your different bankers went through M&A and their cultures changed, their values changed, your interaction and relationship degraded. How, as you grow and you’ve gone through mergers and acquisitions, and we’ll touch on how you’re using technology in M&A and investments you’re doing … But how do you keep culture first as you go through those same types of corporate movements?

Frank Sorrentino III (20:00):
We make it a priority, right? A lot of times, it’s very difficult. It costs money. Sometimes, we have to do things that don’t add to the bottom line. I think it’s ingrained in everyone here, starting with the board down through the rest of the management team. It shows up in who gets promoted. It shows up in how we compensate people. We’ve been having this battle since the bank opened between, I’ll call it, the finance side of the house and the touchy-feely client-focused part of the house about profitability and we should look at client profitability and segment profitability and branch profitability. I just walk in and go, “Throw all that crap away because it doesn’t really matter.” To me, it doesn’t matter. If we’re not getting the culture right, we’re never going to be profitable in any of those areas. If we get the culture right, you won’t have to worry about those areas. They’ll fill in by themselves.

Frank Sorrentino III (21:06):
That’s been true here. We’ve never really sat down and done a profitability analysis around all the different areas that we have. We’ve never broken it down like that because I believe once you do that you no longer have a client. You have a bunch of different kinds of cattle that you’re trying to move through different gates. I just never saw the business that way. I always believed if we did the right thing for the client and we could get our staff to believe that we’re doing the right thing for the client, profitability will follow. But that’s a hard thing to get people to understand. It’s a lot of responsibility to put on people’s backs to say, “Hey, always do the right thing for the client. Even if it’s going to wind up losing us money, do the right thing for a client.”

Frank Sorrentino III (21:54):
That sounds good, and you read it a lot in textbooks, and there are companies that have great stories about it. But, at the end of the day, when you ask somebody to actually do that, not so easy to get that decision where, “All right, I’m going to do what’s right for the client. I’m going to make this the right way to do it.” So I really think that having that type of culture and being able to drive that type of decision-making is paramount if you want to run a company like we’ve run. When we engage in other M&A, it’s difficult because, again-

Brian (22:36):
Those organizations may not have been there already.

Frank Sorrentino III (22:38):[crosstalk 00:22:38]. So it’s not just an individual coming on board that we have to indoctrinate. Now, it’s an entire culture that was created. At any company, once you have more than one person, you have some sort of culture, and not all cultures are good, and so now you’re fighting a different culture to bring on board. So M&A is tough, really tough.

Brian (23:00):
And how much of your M&A process, then, do you evaluate the culture to see if it’s possible to bring that in?

Frank Sorrentino III (23:07):
Yeah. I’ve heard a lot about this, and maybe I have a somewhat backward view of this, but I don’t really look at other companies and say, “Oh, they have a complementary culture, a non-complementary culture,” whatever. I just say, “You know what? This is the culture we want to have here, and we’re going to give everybody an opportunity to come on board with this. Most of you probably aren’t going to … Not most of you, but some”-

Brian (23:38):
Some of you.

Frank Sorrentino III (23:38):
… “A portion of you are not going to like what we do. You’re not going to like the level of responsibility that we’re going to give you. You’re really going to have to come out from underneath the desk and make decisions and put yourself on the line, and so you may be uncomfortable with that. So what we find is, after year one, a lot of these people self-select themselves out. We go out of our way to train and bring that to the fore about what we are, who we are, and why we do things, but a lot of people just can’t do it. So we’re not trying to incorporate some other culture into our … This is the culture we want. We’re sticking with it. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we’re going to go off the cliff with it. This is who we want to be, and if you like it, great. If you don’t like it, there’s plenty of other places you can go.

Brian (24:31):
Do you find that culture can also affect how you buy? Meaning, how we know each other, through our friends at nCino, obviously, the culture up here, and Trisha and Josh, they’ve done a magnificent job of building a culture also around innovation and around people and around their customers. That’s what they’ve done for you, and you’ve done a magnificent job. Does that influence in your buying habits?

Frank Sorrentino III (24:56):
Yeah. I think, certainly, when we look to partner with anyone, we are clearly looking at how they think about and how they interact with their client. In this case, it’s us, right? So I think that when you go meet with someone like Pierre Naude at nCino and you hear him talk about his company and what he values, you’re going to hear a lot of the same things you would hear here, and so that feels good. Again, go back to my building days. When my client would call me up and complain about something or tell me about a problem they were encountering in their construction project, I made them feel good about what was going to come next. Pierre has that way of dealing with issues as well. His entire team is built around how can we make this process better for all of us. So that’s a lot better than meeting a bunch of people that show up with briefcases and are going to tell you how you’re going to run your business because they know better. That doesn’t feel as good.

Brian (26:10):
Yeah. And they just have done a magnificent job the same way.

Frank Sorrentino III (26:14):
You’re right.

Brian (26:14):
Right. Be you first, and put it first. Well, I want to pivot there while we’re on this technology thread because, as I look at where you’re at with ConnectOne, technology itself has always been a big part of what you do, but you’ve been leaning into it more. So, I guess, if we could start with you always were customer first when it came from a technology … You were doing actions as a community bank that we would only see some of the largest banks take. How did that become a focus for you so early on?

Frank Sorrentino III (26:49):
Again, it wasn’t that I came from a technology background or that I had some special knowledge or anything like that. I just looked at there’s a process that needs to go on here to get from point A to point B, and my client always … This was true in my building days, and it’s true here at the bank. All my client cares about is how do I get from point A to point B? What’s the certainty that I get there at the time that you tell me I’m going to get there, and do you deliver the product that you say you’re going to deliver at that point in time? How much friction is going to be involved in that process, or how much pain am I going to have to go through in order to get from point A to point B?

Frank Sorrentino III (27:32):
So if I can look at all the background processes that go on in order to do that and I can reduce that friction, I can reduce the amount of pain, I can guarantee execution, I can make you feel good about what we’re going to do, you would say to me, “You should be doing that all day long.” Yet most people fear technology. They think it’s going to take something away from them or whatever, or at least that was the way it was when I first started the bank. One of the big decisions we had to make when we started ConnectOne, believe this or not, in 2005, was whether or not we were going to have online banking. I mean, this was a big topic in community banking at the time, I kid you not.

Brian (28:10):
Wow.

Frank Sorrentino III (28:12):
I mean, the iPhone wasn’t invented till 2007 or 2008, so just think about that for a moment. There are a lot of other facts I could pull out for you about where we were in the technological curve of things that we take for granted today. So the decisions that I made at the time were, no, we need to find ways to reduce this friction. So when I think about technology, I’m really thinking about … It’s the optimization of the process, and I want to always find ways … Sometimes, it’s in your face, just like this. We’re having a video call. Technology is enabling that. Other times, it’s things you can’t really feel or know that they’re happening in the background, some automated process, something that’s going on. We’re gathering data from you from sources just because you enabled us to do it without having you collect that data and supply it to us. There’s lots of different things.

Frank Sorrentino III (29:09):
Our entire loan process … You mentioned nCino before. Our clients don’t know what nCino is. They don’t know that we have it. We don’t advertise that that’s the product we use in order to get their loan approved. You know what they do know? Their loan got approved faster than any other experience that they’ve had, and so they look to us and say, “Wow, why is it that you can do that in seven days when it takes every other bank 30 or 45 days?” Now, part of it is our culture. Part of it is the technology we use to be able to go through the process of getting that loan approved.

Frank Sorrentino III (29:48):
People hear me speak a lot here 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.

Brian (30:26):
The critics of AI and ML and digital transformation will say, “This is just an effort to reduce headcount, to reduce cost overall.” But it sounds like, from your perspective, this is how we redeploy them to really be with customers rather than process.

Frank Sorrentino III (30:44):
I think we have one of the best paid workforces of any community bank or any bank our size, and so people here do well because they’re not doing things that are unnecessary and they are doing impactful things in their careers. So they’re making more money, they’re feeling better about what they do, and we’re deploying people in places that are creating results for us as opposed to just people who are filling in pages in a book or something. I really believe that the future today is looking out at jobs that are going to be much, much more meaningful over time than they were ever before in the past. So, to me, it’s an exciting time. From my perspective, 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.

Frank Sorrentino III (31:49):
Now, you can go too far with that, too. There are companies out there where you really feel like a number because you can’t ever talk to anybody, you can’t ever express what it is that you really want, and so I do believe you can go too far with that. We saw that in the PPP loan process, right? Some banks actually segregated that process out, they created an entirely automated process, and so here are clients, going to lose their businesses if they don’t get this loan, trying to call their bank to try to find out where they were in the process who were told, “We can’t help you. It’s an automated process. It’s only going to be a binary answer, yes or no, and we can’t tell you when we’re going to give you that yes or no.”

Brian (32:30):
You know, we went through that exact same-

Frank Sorrentino III (32:32):
Doesn’t that feel great?

Brian (32:34):
We went through that exact same process. We were with a large, were, past tense, with one of the large bankers, and there was no communication. There was nothing. When that first window closed and they said, “That’s all we’re doing,” we were left saying, “What now? We’ve got 150 people that we’re feeding and payroll.” Professional services went into an area of, really, uncertainty, and to not have a banker to reach out and talk to was probably one of the scariest things I’ve gone through.

Frank Sorrentino III (33:03):
So, Brian, we had … I can’t tell you how many countless stories we had of folks that actually went through something similar that you went through, but here at ConnectOne, we were hand-holding them through the process at the same time we were moving them through a technological process to get their loan approved quick. We were the first bank or probably one of the first, and I mean a handful, two or three, to actually process a PPP loan.

Brian (33:36):
Wow.

Frank Sorrentino III (33:37):
But we added to that a part of the process where people could actually communicate with us and talk to us and talk to our lenders and know where they were in the process. It doesn’t have to be all one or the other. I believe technology and the human interaction part … We’re still all social beings, right? We still all want to have a sense of belonging to something. Some of that can be done by technology but not all of it and certainly not in the business we’ve chosen here.

Brian (34:09):
I think the majority of our listeners, well, a majority of the world, doesn’t realize that that process, when you’re talking about ushering through the technology, the SBA was writing that API in real-time in production. What worked yesterday didn’t work tomorrow, and we were there on the front lines coding against it. It was just this crazy process, to look at such a large fund being done on the fly in real-time, and for you guys to do that but also realize it’s the customer experience says a ton.

Frank Sorrentino III (34:39):
Yeah. Well, again, it’s part of our culture.

Brian (34:43):
So I want to pivot, though. If we look at your culture, we look at this idea of M&A, we look at being customer first, how did BoeFly come into play?

Frank Sorrentino III (34:54):
Again, I’m constantly thinking about how is the world changing, where is our next client going to be? We started out, as you heard me say a few times today, about being a community bank. Where is our community going to be? It was easy in 2005. The community was going to be 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? Nobody else could be next door to us, so we had a bit of an advantage by being in a particular place, and geography talked about communities, right? Our company, when it was originally founded, was called North Jersey Community Bank. We were going to be part of this North Jersey market, and if you couldn’t drive 10 miles through it, well, you weren’t in that community.

Frank Sorrentino III (35:57):
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? We ran into this company called BoeFly that has this community where they build a marketplace around franchisors and franchisees, and one of the byproducts of the data collection that they do is the ability to create an SBA loan for an aspiring brand franchisee. I looked at that and said, “Wow, this is really cool. It’s something I’ve never really heard of before. It fits all the boxes around how do we interact with a particular type of client.” There was room for improvement. There was room for some technology updating. There was room for expanding what it was going to look like.

Frank Sorrentino III (37:02):
But there was also a way to bring that inside our company to get people that were accustomed to doing things a certain way, going to the Rotary Club to hand out business cards, to think about, “Hey, this is a different way to think.” That’s a national platform. It goes across all 50 states. It doesn’t have the same types of boundaries, yet it does have boundaries. To me, it was just a wide open or eye-opening, rather, opportunity to look at the finance world in a very different way and in a way that I believed we were moving more towards than away from.

Brian (37:44):
The word that you were using around community and boundaries is so interesting, right, because technology … Still maniacal focus on customer, but breaking all of those boundaries to say that technology opens us up to be global or regional or national or whatever realm you choose to put on that or regulatory boundaries there are for that, but it enables that. And so does it stop there? Does it stop with franchisees, or is this the beginning? Will we see all banks going to this idea of marketplaces that generate this type of business really becomes for everyone?

Frank Sorrentino III (38:17):
Well, I think that’s what you’re seeing in the melding of the fintech world together with banking. I think you are seeing the ability to look beyond the borders that banks were normally accustomed to. To me, it’s pretty critical that banks think about their clients, where their clients are going to come from, what niches they want to be in, and just like it was 20 years ago where banks picked the market they wanted to be in, I think we’re in the exact same place. Just, the constraints around the market here are different today, what the market’s going to be.

Brian (38:52):
Great. Well, Frank, I wanted to really thank you for coming on. I think, as I look back on this conversation, there were a couple of key posts that you look at around innovation. One is a maniacal focus on your customers, truly putting yourself in their shoes, understanding their experience and listening, not saying their complaints are bad but they’re great. Two is this focus on your employees and creating a culture where that can be true and how you drive this culture around it. The last piece is this idea of innovation and digitization and technology in order to enable your workforce. It’s not to replace but to make them more powerful, to give them a better experience, to make them more connected to their customer in order to hear what they need to do. I think that’s a really great blueprint for anyone that’s trying to innovate.

Frank Sorrentino III (39:49):
Yeah, I agree. I will tell you one thing. When we hire folks today, when they interview at ConnectOne and they see what the capabilities are that we have and what drives us and what it is that we’re willing to put in their toolbox, sometimes that’s a differentiator for whether we’re going to hire someone or whether they’re going to go somewhere else because they look at what we’re willing to do here and the ways in which we go about our business and they say, “Wow, I want to have that. I want to be able to utilize that.” When COVID hit in March 15th or whatever day it was that we made the decision to turn the switch and send everybody home, it was like nothing happened. It was like, “Okay, everybody go home.” Everybody had exactly what they needed so that we could run our business. I don’t know too many businesses that can say that. We weren’t prepared for COVID. We were prepared for the future.

Brian (40:52):
And especially within your industry, that was really, really groundbreaking because so many couldn’t and you took that on very early in your business. So I guess the last thought on my side is if you’re in your industry and you’re not looking at ConnectOne as an employer, you may want to pause and hit the website right now because it sounds like an awesome place to work.

Frank Sorrentino III (41:14):
Thank you, Brian. Appreciate that.

Brian (41:16):
All right. Thank you very much, Frank. Thank you, everybody, for tuning in, and feel free to subscribe, Spotify, RSS, all the different things, and then we’ll have a write-up of this on the website as well. Thank you very much, everybody. Thanks, Frank.

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