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CRE Technology Trends
Hello, and welcome to the second webinar in our Preparing for the Future Today series. Thank you for joining us and taking time out of your busy days. We hope that you and your families are safe and healthy during this challenging time.
Today's topic is commercial real estate digital technology trends. My name is Dhiren Patel, and I'll be serving as your host. I lead our Commercial Real Estate, Deposit, and Payment Solutions group comprised of over 30 professionals across the country that work with you to run your businesses as efficiently and securely as possible. From AR to AP, liquidity management and fraud prevention, we understand the challenges in our industry are unique and continually evolving.
In our first webinar, we had a panel of experts talk about AP automation. And one of the common themes that we heard over and over is that the environment around us has accelerated many of the trends that we saw coming into 2020. The phrase forced to adapt was one that we hear and we heard quite a bit.
We're also learning that the only constant in this world is change. Partnerships and collaboration are key, and we appreciate the ability to work with you to solve challenges and also for your input and guidance as we build our platform for the future. Today, we'll build on many of those concepts and see how from a product management, development, and innovation perspective we're not only keeping up with the world around us, but we're really looking into the future.
Technology has continued to play a major role in our daily lives. This webinar is a perfect example of that. After seven years of meeting in person in Minneapolis, we had to pivot to this format, and it's important that we're able to connect with all of you.
So let's meet our speakers. Today, we have two leaders that truly focus on preparing for the future today at all times. Our first speaker, Sayantan Chakraborty, Head of Product Management for our Global Treasury Management group. In the five years that he's been at U.S. Bank, he's really led our digital transformation in the treasury management space.
If you were in Minneapolis last year, you were able to see [AUDIO OUT] many this team has worked to build. My personal favorite is the onboarding tracker, which might just be because I think of pizza every time I see it.
He'll be joined by Bradley Matthews, Head of Product Management and Marketing, in our Corporate Payment Systems group. Bradley's team has continued to push the envelope and innovate across our commercial card platform, and I'm excited to hear what his team has in store.
Together, Sayantan and Bradley and their teams are at the center of everything that we do around strategy and preparing for the future today from a technology perspective. From enhancements of our current offerings to new partnerships and product launches, their teams work tirelessly to bring you the tools that you need to operate in this environment.
Last year, they talked about a lot of things, including APIs, agile development, and how consumer preferences were driving a lot of change in our daily business lives. Let's hear what has changed, what has not, and what we can expect from treasury technology as we close out 2020 and head into 2021. Welcome, Sayantan and Bradley.
Thank you, Dhiren. We're excited to be here with you all today, albeit in a very different format than in prior years. But we really wanted to take a look back at what we talked about last year and some of the changes that we've seen, as Dhiren mentioned, as we've pivoted along the way because of COVID.
So I wanted to start off with talking about one of the big announcements that I had last year, which was Expense Wizard. If you recall, the Expense Wizard was an app that included a new form of payment integrated with expense reporting capabilities. And this is really geared at that infrequent traveler, someone who didn't necessarily have or need a card, but needed to be able to travel and to have all of their expenses flow through in real time so that they could quickly add the appropriate information, expense those, and then have those go through the normal expense reporting system.
That was going to be the big one this year, and I was really looking forward to telling you about how amazing that launch had gone, but no one is traveling. So unfortunately, that one has really been stalled with COVID.
However, one of the key things-- and I'll be talking about this throughout the discussion today-- that we're able to do was pivoting off of that into a new product, Instant Card. What we've found ourselves is a very different need but served by the same technology.
So the need was, you now have a bunch of individuals that were stuck at home, but still need to make payments, but are not equipped to make those payments. And so their needs are less around travel but more of, get me a card or a capability to pay someone now so that I can make a payment, make it quickly, and add the information. And that's exactly what we did with Instant Card. So I'll talk about that a little bit more. That was one of our big pivots.
The other area that I talked about last year as well as Sayantan was the digital onboarding experience, simplifying it, making it all digital. And that was clearly the direction we needed to go, as Dhiren said, looking at your consumer experience and trying to replicate that.
But that has become even more important now. Obviously, very few in-person meetings. No one wants to sign a paper form or hold a pen that anybody else has held. So having a completely digital experience that is simple and quick and easy is really what we have continued to double down on and focus on throughout this year. So Sayantan, you want to talk a little bit about your changes and reflection upon last year to this year as well?
Yeah, no, thank you, Bradley. And yes, it has indeed been quite a year, and probably that's an understatement. I think as I look back from the time we were all in Minneapolis together last year, as you rightly said, we talked about a lot of themes, really centered around digital transformation, onboarding. And one other theme that is more specific to the treasury management area is around real-time payments and Zelle.
As we said last year, we were thinking, hey, we are on the verge of starting to see an accelerated usage of faster payments or real-time payments in the United States. The US has lagged behind other major economies in the world as we know in adoption of these real-time payment networks, and we were really hoping that 2020 would be the year.
I think interestingly, what has happened is while we haven't seen a huge, large-scale adoption especially amongst businesses, the consumer volumes have continued to grow for Zelle. The usage has continued to grow.
Also, it has been interesting that businesses have looked at these new payment options and have said, how can we use them in a very real way, in a very practical way to solve a business problem that is here and now? So what is happening to my business right now as I am evolving around the pandemic where I can use these innovative technologies to solve a business problem?
And we have seen interesting examples across many different market segments. And just to name a couple here, a lot of universities around the country had to issue refunds to students for a variety of fees that were obviously for things that were not utilized. And we saw many of them utilizing Zelle. It was a very efficient way of sending refunds back to students.
We also saw the number of refunds back to patients by large hospital systems increase, and we saw these hospitals use Zelle as a means of sending the patient refunds back. So while a large-scale adoption is still underway, we definitely saw a need-based usage, which was interesting.
The other thing we saw was a lot of new technology-based product solutions found highly effective and practical usage to help our customers with business continuity. Overnight, many of our customers became a work-from-home enterprise rather than an on-site enterprise. And that brought in very real and very practical challenges.
For example, if you need to sign a bank agreement, you are in your office. You print it out, you sign it, you scan it, and you email it back by a secure email or howsoever you fax it. Now suddenly, many people at home did not have those printers. So while digital onboarding and digital signatures was already well underway, it got accelerated because customers were also trying to manage business continuity.
Other interesting examples are check printing. Many customers who print their own checks now suddenly did not have access to that secure printing stock or their secure printing facility. So they started looking at their banks to say, hey. Can you outsource my check printing work for me as I operate in business continuity mode?
Customers also said, hey, can we use real-time payments as an alternative or as a backup to ACH and wired payments? So what we are seeing is that that is adoption to help with business continuity. But my view is that once customers start using it, they're not going to go back. They're going to find value in the use of these technologies, and adoption will continue to grow. I wonder, Bradley, if you are seeing something like that in your world.
Absolutely. And we've seen a couple areas. One you mentioned, the check writing. And that's really a prime example, having the checkbook in the office that you can no longer access or pass around for multiple signatures. So that really drove a huge amount of online payments that we saw and were able to help our customers through our card programs, whether it was a traditional corporate purchasing or virtual cards. This also drove a large integration with the number of new partners and accounting systems so that we could have those payments embedded directly in there.
We also saw a big shift in mobile adoption and online payment where today, you know, there is a lot of times you go to the store, you see the sign that there is that cash shortage [INAUDIBLE] because no one wants to touch cash. Are we're seeing that today. The stats are that about 23% of users have now used mobile payments for the first time, but that 27% want to use it for everything. We expect that that's going to continue to grow. And we're seeing that post-COVID that we're nearing 70% adoption of mobile payments from our users.
And so going back to the theme of consumer behavior driving business behavior, we expect that this is going to continue into the business users' life as we get back to the BAU world, whatever that may be. But having mobile payments at the forefront is where we see that trend continuing to go, and being ready and available with our new products for the customer.
Yeah. No, I think this team that you picked up, Bradley, around contactless, I think this is really becoming a major theme across many industries. So we have been hearing from a very diverse and interesting set of customers.
For example, sports franchises. As they are working to welcome teams and fans back in stadiums, they are starting to look at how to make the entire live sports watching experience in stadiums to be more contactless. And really, then payment just becomes a part of it. How do you manage the transaction and that entire interaction in a more contactless way? So we definitely see a lot of those conversations happening.
Specifically within the real estate segment, we are seeing a huge shift of first-time homebuyers, younger first-time homebuyers as they're looking to move to suburbs out of big cities, and just a general growth in the single family and condo segment outside big urban centers. And we are looking at ways in which we can help these new homebuyers help pay for their upfront deposit, for example, in a contactless way, in much more of a digital way.
So the nature of these economic shifts that are happening as businesses are adopting I think are also fueling the need for new ways of transacting money and new ways of interaction between the business and their customer with payments being at the front and center of that.
And the other part, it's not just a payment. It's also the servicing associated with that payment. So we are also seeing a lot of demand for DIY or Do It Yourself. We briefly touched upon this theme last year when we were together and defining it an emerging theme of our times. And we have only seen that accelerate. And some of that is people just want to get the whole transaction done digitally themselves, and that's been an area.
One thing that concerns us a little and something that we look at on an ongoing basis is that as more and more of our interactions and transactions are moving to the digital avoid, there are obviously bad actors out there who want to take advantage of that. So I wonder, Bradley, if you are seeing anything around increased fraud risk and the concern for increased security around these digital interactions and what you guys are working on.
Absolutely. Yeah. The concern is out there. Certainly, individuals trying to take advantage of this terrible situation are out there. And I think we've all experienced it on the consumer level. Increased usage of one-time passcodes, but also increased integration where you log into a new system and you can log in with your Google or Apple or other credentials that are out there and preexisting.
And I think that's really part of what we are looking to do to increase that security. First is obviously increasing the security through the one-time passcodes and other utilizations. But the other big one is simply eliminating that and building that rapport, using capabilities and systems that individuals are already used to, that they have high confidence in, and leveraging those integrations to drive the security to make sure that we are integrating into them is really a big trend for us. How about yourself, Sayantan?
Yeah. No, I think the one point that you made around integrating security or a higher amount of security within an existing workflow, that really resonates with customers. And customers don't want to necessarily add a step. They just want to make sure that security is embedded.
And definitely, one area of very heightened interest we have seen within our world is the concept of account valuation. How do you verify the account from which you are either pulling funds or you are making a payment to? Because you want to make sure that there is no risk of account takeover or there hasn't been a bad actor who has gone through a business or who has perpetrated business email compromise, and then you somehow are exposed to the risk of sending a payment to the wrong account.
And I'm sure many banks are working on this, but clearly it's an area of focus for us where we have rolled out the ability to verify account ownership before initiating a payment. So that's something that we are seeing definitely a lot of pick up on.
And we are also just-- it's not just new technology. It's also the basic blocking and tackling, making sure all your accounts are protected with Positive Pay, you have the ACH debit blocks and printers enabled on your account, that you're regularly reviewing your account security. You know, you may have had employees who have left your company. Have you updated your account entitlements? Have you looked at the limits for wire transfers and other payments on your accounts, within your online banking experience?
So really, it's not just new technology. It's also just that enhanced review and enhanced blocking and tackling of basic features that have always been available. So absolutely, I encourage every single participant who is listening to us on this call to undertake a regular account review. Make sure your accounts are enabled for all of the security features that your bank has to offer. So clearly a big area of focus.
The other sort of aspect of this as we think about new features and new capabilities is increasingly, it is going to be harder and harder to get everything you need from one single service provider, because as we are looking at these software-led solutions or software as a service-type solutions, we are increasingly seeing customers use different components. So you may be doing one software, using one software for the procurement part of it. You might be using another software for managing your contracts. You might be using another software for managing your accounts payables. You may have a different system for cash forecasting, and so on.
You really need these systems to effectively talk to each other. So the need for quick integration, and hence the need to use APIs, is back in focus. I would say it was always in focus, but it's definitely in more focus. And Bradley, I know this impacts your area quite a bit, so what are you seeing in the area of microservices and APIs?
Yeah, and I think it's interesting. And I do want to clarify, because for a long time, we were talking about APIs that we were developing that we would give directly to our customers where they could integrate and do so really in a one-on-one basis. And that provided a lot of value, and still does.
But I think the ones you're talking about that we're really focused on is APIs [INAUDIBLE], tools that our customers are already out there using on a regular basis. Instead of them having to go to multiple systems, to your point, let's make it a single system or as fewer systems as we can that really can provide the integration into the banking services that they need.
So absolutely, we're seeing that through a significant expansion of our virtual card capabilities. We've had the ability to request the card, cancel the card, et cetera. But now it is, can we change the limits? Can we manage the controls on the card? Can we partner with other providers who want to be able to issue, for example, as I talked about, the Instant Card or card [INAUDIBLE] that go directly into an end user's mobile wallet?
So all of those are critical, but the key theme is around simplifying the experience, providing that integration that goes to the simplification, the security. It really ties to a number of areas that are benefiting our customers by us partnering directly with the third parties and partners that are already out there, as opposed to working directly with clients on a one-on-one basis, which then involves their IT resources which are already very heavily over-utilized. How about on your side, Sayantan?
Yeah, no. I think the point that you made around-- I think I like to think of this as an ecosystem effect. So there are a lot of service providers who serve an industry. In this case, the real estate industry. And these service providers each have their own piece. And these solutions need to come together for an end user, for one of our customers.
And the best way to make that happen in a secure way and in a relatively simple way is for these service providers who are part of that ecosystem to be able to talk to each other and connect each other using microservices. So absolutely, we are seeing that.
And I think this concept of open banking is starting to take off even in the institutional banking area. Just for the sake of interest, I would urge the listeners on this call to take a moment and just check out the U.S. Bank's Developer Portal, because it really gives an idea of how banks are thinking about the concept of open banking.
And this concept that you talked about, which is you publish these APIs and the services out. Partners can come in and can connect and integrate. And then that way, the services can talk to each other. And for an end user, it just becomes easier to use different components of the services from different providers.
Clearly, an immediate area of focus for both of us and I think for many of our customers also is really in the area of accounts payable automation, and really thinking about how to integrate APIs and also historically very strong but legacy payment technologies and create more automation in the AP space, accounts payable space. So on the card side, Bradley, how is that playing out in real life?
Yeah, it's really a significant focus, you said, on the accounts payable. So integrating into various accounting platforms, payment platforms, and a number of property management systems, et cetera, that really integrate payments into it from a seamless fashion. So we are seeing the need to be able to request, manage, issue payments all through that provider there. And because of that, as I mentioned, an increase in the availability and the variety of APIs.
I think the other part that's really interesting is there's a lot of established players, but a lot of times I'm very focused on the fintechs that are out there, the up-and-coming players. And this is really an opportunity to support them and to be in partnership with them.
A lot of times I get the question of, is a fintech the best dream you have or the worst nightmare? And it is a little bit of both. But doing the APIs and providing this capability really enables fintechs to grow their capabilities, to do things in a unique way, but still leverage our core capabilities and providers. So we really see this as a future enabler of new businesses that can provide new capabilities to our joint customer base.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And as we think about the word of accounts payable, it really starts from that entire procure to pay or order to cash cycle. And really, there are so many different elements and components in the workflow.
And we see customers where they kind of want to build their on salad bowl, so to speak, where they pick up different components within that workflow. They may be looking at procurement from one service provider, invoicing from somebody else, supplier management from somebody else, and payables, just the processing of payments with just their bank or somebody else.
And there are others who are saying, hey, listen. I just want to buy the whole basket from one provider. And it really-- there isn't one way that is better than the other. I think it really depends on how a company wants to organize its AP function.
And also, where it wants to spend the technology dollars. So clearly from a bank perspective, we are seeing the need to serve both, which is providing that full basket for those who need it. And really making that available through and within the customer's own treasury management system or their ERP system.
And I know within this industry, there are some very specific ERP systems that are used. So really building standard connectors, making sure that we have either API-based or just plug-and-play connector that can connect with the different ERP systems that can be used within the-- that are being used within the industry.
But also, there are other players who are already solving the various parts of the accounts payable ecosystem. But how do you connect with them and making sure that the bank products work seamlessly with the other products that serve that ecosystem?
And again, you know, API has become really important in that endeavor. So absolutely, lots of different flavors playing out right in front of our eyes right now. And I really don't think the pace of that has slowed down this year. We definitely see a lot of dialogue and market interest continuing to push the agenda on the AP side.
And I know you guys are seeing a lot of innovation on the B2B side, on the card side as well. So is there anything that you would like to maybe point out there, Bradley, that's interesting?
Yeah. I think you hit on it that we can build a complete ecosystem. But you're right. Customers are really looking for the best solution for them. And that may not be, to your salad analogy, the standard, off-the-shelf salad. They may want walnuts instead of almonds.
And this is really where they can get into that mix, where they have a system from the procure to pay cycle that works really well in their procurement, but they need some help on the payment, or they need some help in other areas. So our ability to work with and play across those is significant. And you're right, has continued to grow throughout the year.
I think the one question that I get asked a lot is how can companies prepare today for kind of the coming trends? And I think this is part of it, is you're looking at these various providers. You want to be able to look at those that provide that flexibility, those that have the APIs that are open to working with others to really provide that.
And so I'd say that's one of the big takeaways is just looking across that continuum to make sure that as you're picking, you're choosing smartly that are having and supporting that open environment. What other steps might you have, Sayantan, for how they can prepare today for tomorrow?
Yeah, no, I think sort of doing what you need to do today and preparing for tomorrow, I think the key here is really using and choosing technology wisely where we are looking at and our customers are looking at the usefulness for solving a real problem that is in front of them. But they're really making sure the technology is forward-compatible or future-compatible. So as you grow and evolve that.
For example, in the B2B payment space, we know ACH and virtual cards are really the mainstay, along with checks. But we know at some point, real-time payments is going to become something that will be at scale, something that will be used for a significant percentage of the payments.
So just making sure, if you are investing in a new technology, if you are looking at invoicing, if you are looking at a way in which you create your vendor master, just make sure that even as simple as, hey, real-time payments as a payment option. You don't need to enable it today. Just make sure that you have the ability to enable it at a later date.
Otherwise, again, it becomes a big technology project at that point, and you don't want to be left behind when each of your peers and your industry partners are adopting a new technology. And your suppliers and vendors are asking you for it. So I think just looking at that forward compatibility becomes really key, both for choosing new technology and really for choosing the partners that you want to work with.
And I would say the same principles really apply to the accounts receivable side as well, [INAUDIBLE] accounts payable. So cash application and exception management has become really, really important in the AR space.
Again, you know, people who have the ability to just walk across the desk to one of their colleagues and to sort it out, you no longer have that flexibility. So they want to be able to use automated workflows and automated exception management within their AR system. Whether it's a homegrown system, whether they have got it from a vendor, or it's something that they're just using from their bank, they want to make sure that accounts receivables are fulfilling their needs of exception management and cash reconciliation.
We are also seeing some interesting innovations come to fore, and there is one that I am particularly proud of, which I will spend a minute to share with this group. So we heard from many of our customers that, hey, our consumers still like writing checks, so they're not quite ready yet to give up on checks.
However, it is becoming a concern. People don't want to walk into a property management office and maybe drop a check off in the drop box. They would rather avoid a trip. They would rather avoid a trip to a post office and mail a check.
So we looked at this unique business problem and said, is there a way that technology can solve that problem? And thankfully, the technology was already there. When we deposit a check to our own bank account, we can take a picture of that check and deposit it to our bank account. It's available. It's something that many of us probably use every day.
So we said, why can't we extend the same principle to a check that a consumer is writing to a business? So why can't I write a check, and instead of mailing it in, why can't I just scan it on an app and deposit that check directly against my accounts receivable or against my bill? And that's a product we are testing and piloting right now. It's being used in the market. And we hope that this will really make the checks a more digital product.
And I never thought that that's going to happen where we innovate around checks. But I think where we live right now, the world that we are in has helped us invited to that stage.
And they're also hoping that as customers use-- or consumers use checks in a digital way, they would be more and more open to then moving away from checks towards more natively digital products like Zelle, like real-time payments, like ACH, and so on. And I wonder if that's something that you are also seeing, Bradley. I know you talked about the Instant Card space, which is taking a paper-based behavior and using that to convert that into a digital behavior. Is that something that you are seeing as well?
Absolutely. And yeah, I'll take a second and talk about Instant Card, because just like you, I'm really excited about this. Again, as I mentioned in the beginning, it was our pivot from the Expense Wizard.
So Instant Card is an app that we just launched a couple months ago, back in July. And it is geared towards getting a card and ability to pay into the hands of anybody who's doing business work for you. So that could be an employee or non-employee, a contractor, an end user. Whoever it might be that needs to spend on behalf of your organization.
And it works very simply. You have an app that the person who is issuing the cards, whether it's a manager or someone in the front office simply goes in, puts in the email address, a phone number, and some dollar amounts on the card, and pushes Send.
That individual gets an alert. They download the app if they haven't already. And as soon as they log in and click the button, it's added to their mobile wallet, Apple, or Android pay. And then they can go to any location and accept those or online and use it instantly. This all happens within a matter of seconds.
And we're seeing a huge uptick in the interest and utilization on that where it started as the home office user. To your point earlier, they didn't have a printer. They didn't have that extra monitor. And this is an ability to get them the capability to buy what they need immediately.
But in the theory space, one of the big examples-- and we've talked to a number of you all-- is about permits. These are generally larger dollar items that are $10,000 to $20,000 where you would get a check, you would go into the county office, you would write the check, get the permit, and go out.
And there were previously some convenience fees. There may still be. But the inconvenience and/or the inability to get a check to address that immediate need is really pushing through. And again, it's going back to that inertia comment, a new ability to use Instant Card or another form of payment.
And so Instant Card is really coming up there where I can say, I need a permit. I get it pushed to me. It's good for $20,000 today only. I go in. I tap my card, pay for it. I've got my permit, and it knows exactly what job the permit was for. I've got the limit, and it was all done in real time. So we think that Instant Card has really broad applicability and really speaks to the digital adoption we've looked at, and is really solving a problem that has come up today that is advancing the speed at which we're transitioning away from checks and other traditional forms of payment to make it more convenient and easier for everyone to use.
Yeah, and I think this notion of, hey, does this technology get the job done I think is really becoming a pivotal question. A lot of the technologies or the digital initiatives that the industry, the banks have been working on really for a number of years now have sort of also come with that inertia where change is hard.
And I think what I'm seeing right now is really, hey, I have a job at hand, and I need to get that job done. Is there something that can help me get that job done? And I think that is helping overcome that inertia in the short term.
And then really, we are hoping that as these technologies and some of the new things we are working on, that other technology companies are working on, our customers are working on, they find practical, real-life usage, that we can then grow and evolve from there and really make these as mainstream.
And one of those ones really is around data analytics. We have talked about data being the primary asset in our business for a very long time. And really, interesting things have been done, but I'm not sure we have really gotten to the heart of and the power of what data can do for our customers. So that's another area where I'm starting to see some really practical usage coming out around data analytics. So Bradley, is there something you are seeing at your end using data? And then I'll give a couple examples that I'm really excited about.
Yeah, absolutely. So we are definitely seeing the need and have seen that for a while. And it was one of the drivers for Expense Wizard was the lack of data flowing into an expense reporting solution that was causing the pain and frustration at the end of the month, trying to remember why you had an expense.
And so we as a bank can solve that by accelerating when we get the data, the amount of data, and then providing that to our partners. So as I mentioned in the Instant Card and the permit office example, you can put in it the job number or the permit location, whatever it might be so it is enhancing the data beyond just the transactional information. And I think the more we can enhance the information, the more valuable that data becomes.
But to your point, we have a large amount of data already, even if it's just transactional. As we go to enhance it, we need to provide better systems and capabilities to do it.
And to me, it goes back to an example I've seen with photos. If you think back to the days when you had a film camera, you would take classes and spend hours trying to get that single perfect picture.
And now it's changed because you have the camera on your phone, and you may take 1,000 pictures in a span of a couple minutes. One of them's going to be perfect. But now the question is not getting the perfect picture. It's finding the perfect picture.
And that's where data analytics and AI come into place where, how do you judge that perfect photo? How do you find a trend in your data that is relevant? And that's where I think the trends and the future of data analytics and AI come into place is having the tools to provide that insight for you.
And we're looking at that, looking at a lot of new tools that can provide really great insights into the data, not just in Excel-based, here's a list of information. It's really answering a specific question you have. What does my Q4 look like compared to last year? What do I project it to become? What are the opportunities that I have for saving? Are there any individuals that I should be concerned about that I need to follow up on?
So all of those are questions that people have that they're going and running a series of reports and doing a lot of work so that we can start eliminating. So I know you had a couple examples that you wanted to highlight, Sayantan.
Yeah, no. Bradley, you really captured the essence. We spoke last year, I think, about this topic a little bit where we talked about sort of robotics, the combination of robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, machine learning starting to really become real in terms of technologies that can actually help our customers and help the bank.
So absolutely, we saw that grow this year and evolve into some maturity, and a couple of things where it's really been interesting and powerful to be able to help customers. It has been very, very simple, very foundational things.
So I earlier talked about-- we were talking about fraud and security, about how it's important to review the account features on a regular basis. OK. So what's the easiest way to do that? If there was a really friendly way of presenting a view to customers of all your accounts with every single fraud feature as being a checklist to just show you what's enabled, what is not, and where you are-- back to that point on converting data into insight, where your vulnerabilities might be, that just makes it really easy.
And then from a digital perspective, when you have vulnerability or where you may not have a key box checked. Then just giving you that action box right now to enable it now, to really going back to the do-it-yourself digital onboarding.
So really, what's been really powerful for me is being able to put data together in a way that it can be used in a practical way, providing some really simple insights using that data, and then connecting that to an action button where not only can you review the data, you can review the inside, you can compare yourself with your peers in the industry. And then where you feel appropriate, you can take action.
So I think in the past, a lot of these things would have been in a meeting. So maybe you would have probably had a weekly risk review meeting where a bunch of SMEs were probably getting together across the desk and sitting together and trying to solve this and make decisions. Yes, you may be doing that today, but you're doing it on a WebEx. So it's so much easier if these reports are readily available in much more of a human readable, human usable way. So I think this concept of using human-centered design now specifically around data insights and then action I think has really starting to become mainstream now.
And really, part of this also is another idea which we talked about last year, which is the studios. So we talked about studios as being our new way of product development where we have created these end-to-end agile studios where we have people from product management, sales, risk, technology, operations, design, a variety of other disciplines working together, co-located-- co-located being the key operative word here, and working on real customer problems.
And we are inviting customers in. We are bringing customers in. We were bringing customers in. They were coming, spending half a day, one full day with us. We were fortunate to get their time. And that's how we were exploring customer problems and then building new solutions.
Guess what? That model has completely changed. So the question is, do we still have those studios? And the answer is, we just converted those studios overnight into virtual studios. We are using tools. We're doing the same thing, and we're doing it virtually.
So we definitely welcome all of you to learn more about those and as to how we do our process that we have designed to be 100% in person to really about co-location, people working together, and kind of converted that into a very virtual process using technology. Again, finding real-life ways of using technology and solving real problems. I wonder how product development is evolving at your end, Bradley.
Yeah, it's the same. Yeah, we really-- we talked last year about the innovation studios. We talked about doing agile sprints and design sprints. And we've continued those obviously in a virtual environment.
It used to be that it would be a Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 session where we were hunkered down and you'd start the week with a business problem. At the end of the week, you were showing potential solutions and prototypes to customers.
And we are still doing it, but it is happening all virtual. And there are some really great tools that are helping us do that. I'm really excited about it. So one of the ones we have coming out of that, which was a simple solution but a potentially challenging problem, which was some of our customers, because of increased spend and lower credit limits, were having challenges spending with what they wanted.
And so I think this is an area where we worked really well together in funding these accounts to real-time payments. So we're able to, as we spend and as the need arises for your ability to spend to increase, we can fund that in real time on a day-to-day basis, really eliminating the need for a higher credit limit. It's just, you have a high spend today? Then let's fund the account for that amount and just spend as we need to to support the business.
So it really has changed the model from an underwriting credit perspective, getting some really large credit limits, to one of, I need to spend. I have money on hand. Let's make the process efficient and focus on that.
So that was one that came out of those environments. We have another one that we're working on now, which is still the same thing we've talked about today and last year, which is a simplified experience. So we're looking at our smaller customers, what we're calling our emerging mid-market, and how we can best support that group.
Their needs are simpler than a lot of large organizations, but they still have needs that we need to take at the forefront. We need to integrate it to the systems that they expect and do things in a really seamless fashion. So we've been spending the last few weeks building out a prototype for that process that we'll be then developing next year.
Yeah, and we are happy to share our experience with some of these tools that we have been using virtually to do product development with the audience as well, because we have found-- obviously, we have experimented, and we have found some tools that are really working well for us. And really, a lot of the examples that both Bradley and I shared to date have been prototyped and have been rolled out virtually using these tools.
This has been a pretty heavy and active year for us in helping our customers adapt and evolve, so there is really a ton of new capabilities that we have been able to roll out. And really, thanks to all of these tools and technologies that have helped our teams be effective in a virtual environment. So we are certainly happy to share our experiences with those for anyone who might be interested in applying those in their world.
I think in closing from a product perspective, I would say none of us obviously planned for this year, but I think this has really given us the opportunity to focus on solving very real problems and really focus on the actual user, the human user. What is happening in that human user's life? And how can the services be enhanced in practical ways to make it easier for that person who is using our parts and services to really be more effective in their organization?
And it's really been a very rewarding and very humbling experience in many ways, being able to do that this year. And we really look forward to kind of continuing that into 2021 from a product perspective.
Yeah, absolutely. It has been a really interesting year, to say the least. We began the year with this slowdown that we might be going at a slower pace, and I will say it has been anything but. Everything that we're doing has been accelerated. I am working longer and harder than I have in a long, long time. And you're right. It is solving problems that are there today so we can really make an impact to our customers.
But one thing that has really resonated with me that was talked about a little bit throughout this discussion today is inertia. And I think that that's really a key concept that we have come up with for years, various new technologies and capabilities that solve pain points.
But it is a challenge sometimes to overcome that inertia. I've been doing it this way for forever. Why should I change? Because it's working well enough. And you know, COVID has really forced the hands of ourselves and some of our customers to try new things. And I think that that is one of the things that benefits us, because customers are very willing to try new technologies that can really benefit them, see the benefits, and hopefully, those are long-lasting utilizations that we can see.
But I think that that is one of the areas that I would say that as you are in this environment, as you're thinking about this year and next is overcoming that inertia. And certainly, take a look at, to your comment, Sayantan, a problem that you're having. There's probably a solution that is out there or that is coming, and that we and others can help you with.
And try that solution out. It may not be the same as you've done it before, but it may end up being a lot easier and better for you in the long term. So we really encourage you all to reach out, to try any of the products we've talked about, or to share any problems that you are having that we might be able to help you with today or in the future. And with that, Dhiren, I will turn it back over to you.
Thank you, Sayantan and Bradley, for your insights and your continued focus on challenging the status quo to bring truly innovative solutions to our clients. You touched on several items that can and already do apply to the real estate industry from digitizing a check payment in the multi-family space to leveraging something like Instant Card to streamline building permits in the homebuilder space.
I also think that the comments made on account validation are a major item as our clients think about security and protecting their assets. With so many large payments being made in the real estate space, being able to validate that the counterparty is who you expect them to be I think is a growing kind of need, and I'm glad that we're now able to address that.
To our audience, thank you for your continued partnership, and most importantly for your time, to be able to learn about how our industry is changing, what's coming in the future, and where a lot of these innovations can really help you prepare for the future. Now more than ever, I think we need to learn from each other, we need to collaborate, and we need to work together to really, as we heard, make things as easy as possible. And I hope that you see that we're in that fight with you.
We also hope that you join us for our next webinar that's going to be held on December the 3rd. You got to hear a lot from Bradley and Sayantan around, what's happening? What's coming? We thought as we close out 2020, it would be a great way to get a panel of leaders in the commercial real estate space from a client perspective to speak about what they have faced in 2020 and how they have solved many challenges, and really how they're heading up for 2021. So please be on the lookout for that invitation over the next couple of weeks.
In addition, your feedback is extremely valuable. And as we continue to focus on areas that you are telling us are important to you, please do to take a few minutes to take the survey at the end of this webinar. We have already heard from you that things like robotic process automation are of interest, and a topic that has really been more at the forefront in your organizations. And we will be hosting a webinar to kick off 2021 on that topic.
Finally, we hope that you and your families continue to remain safe and healthy as we move into the holiday season. Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of the week. And we appreciate you joining us to help prepare for the future today. Thank you.
Thank you all.