A Digital Banking Transformation, Powered by the Modern Data Stack
This blog was originally published on Humans of Data by Mark Manning
At a Glance
- Austin Capital Bank, a fast-growing community bank, sought to modernize their data stack to support their evolution into a product centric and digital first bank
- In just 16 months, the bank has adopted Snowflake, dbt, Fivetran, and Thoughtspot, and Atlan as its Active Metadata Management solution of choice
- The bank is now able to launch new products at unprecedented speed and effectiveness, with Atlan supporting customer data querying for a new product with mere hours of implementation effort
A member of the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies for seven consecutive years, Austin Capital Bank is a leader in community banking, using technology and data to fuel its nationwide growth.
“We started off several years ago with goals just like any other community bank, serving the Austin community,” shared Ian Bass, Head of Data & Analytics for Austin Capital Bank. “After a few years of being the sponsor bank for a FinTech offering, our founders decided we could build this kind of thing ourselves. So we started building our own digital banking products division, which is where Credit Strong was born.”
Credit Strong represented a new frontier for Austin Capital Bank, a fully digital offering of loans and lines of credit, offered to consumers with no credit history or poor credit to help them improve their scores without the common risk of predatory lending or credit cards with astronomical interest rates.
Transforming from a community bank, offering traditional products like checking and savings accounts with a brick-and-mortar location and online portals, into a digital-first bank with a national customer footprint, was no trivial task. Not only would it demand groundbreaking products and modern user experiences, but also the best and brightest minds in Data & Analytics, with the technology to help them launch and iterate at unprecedented speed.
A Modern Data Stack, Built in just 16 Months
“My role was to build a modern data stack for the bank and for Credit Strong. And when I came on board, the data and analytics stack was non-existent,” Ian explained.
Austin Capital Bank’s transactional data resided in AWS and PostgresSQL databases, and were not well-connected, making something as simple as querying across databases difficult to impossible. To meet the significant demands of a new digital products model, Ian and his team were tasked with a true ground-up build of a modern data stack.
“What I really wanted to build was a NextGen platform that I could use to democratize access to data and analytics,” Ian shared. “So the first step was to virtualize this into an environment where none of those barriers would exist. That was Snowflake.”
Moving from implementing Snowflake, Ian’s team sought a solution to ingest data without the need for significant data engineering resources, choosing Fivetran and launching in just one month as they began to integrate into their core technology and build models. Already existing at the bank were Tableau and PowerBI, serving as a temporary visualization and analysis layer.
Just 16 months later, Austin Capital Bank and Credit Strong would sit atop a thoroughly modern data stack, built to support digital financial products that required far more flexibility than traditional banking systems, and architected to run lean.
“When I came in, none of this existed. And today we have about six different SaaS products that comprise our data stack. We have ThoughtSpot, we use Snowflake, we use Reverse ETL tools. We have a lot of things in place that we can virtualize and handle with a two or three person team, as opposed to needing a big engineering team. We’re paying for these tools, but it’s offsetting costs in that we don’t need to hire teams to do this. We can run really lean, and we can pivot very quickly.”
Ian Bass, Head of Data & Analytics
But while tool after tool was successfully implemented, Ian and his team were spending significant effort responding to requests for data, and had yet to find a way to offer this data in a self-service manner while remaining compliant. Active Metadata Management would prove to be the missing piece.
Inherent to Financial Services offerings is a large amount of sensitive customer data, including addresses, names, birth dates, social security numbers, and account numbers, all valuable to bad actors, and requiring careful stewardship and strict access controls.
“We wanted to make sure that we are being good stewards of our customer’s data. Part of that involves making sure that only the right people within our organization have access to it and that we have the proper controls around it, multi-factor authentication, things like that,” Ian shared.
Their first step was creating masking policies, ensuring that only authorized employees of Austin Capital Bank would be permitted to access sensitive data. Ian’s original plan was to implement masking policies in data access through Snowflake, but found that while his team could enforce these policies using the tool, they would be difficult to maintain, and to be read at-a-glance by colleagues with lower technical aptitude.
“As we thought about data governance more and more, it became clear I wanted a tool to handle that. You really need an interface built on top of Snowflake so that you can easily see who has access to what. And that’s where Atlan came into the picture. I was really taken with the whole concept of DataOps and what that meant, and what we’re driving toward is every team being a data team.”
Ian Bass, Head of Data & Analytics
With the right Active Metadata Management platform, Austin Capital Bank could finally offer self-service to its data consumers without sacrificing strong access and masking policies.
“Atlan became a necessity. That’s how we control access in an easily repeatable fashion,” Ian explained. “And then the fact that we have data lineage on top of it, and the ability to organize all of our information and classifications, and add glossary terms linked to that data? That’s all icing on the cake for us.”
Where data consumers once had to approach Ian and his team for data requests, his team now uses Atlan to build queries that enable their colleagues in teams like Operations to run reports on demand. Moreover, with masking policies in place, this data is not only available via self-service, but is governed in a manner where only authorized users can access it.
“That was a really powerful piece of what Atlan offered for us, and I’ve been very happy with how that’s progressed,” Ian shared.
Enabling Service for a New Product with only Two Hours of Effort
Among the earliest opportunities to put their new data stack into practice was a promising new product named FreeKick. “We believe it’s a first-to-market product, in that it’s designed to help build credit for minors and young adults,” Ian shared.
FreeKick allows parents to safely and reliably establish, build, and protect their children’s credit. Built on top of a digital savings account, FreeKick automatically builds credit for children aged 14 to 25 once activated. Parents simply make a deposit into their FreeKick account and activate credit building. A parent can choose to renew the service annually, or close the account and receive 100% of their deposit back. Establishing a strong credit profile for their children can save their children more than $200,000 over their lifetime.
“We think this is going to be a differentiator in the marketplace,” Ian explained. “There may be other products or options out there, like co-signing on a car note, but there’s not really any other way to do this that avoids risk. If you come in today and deposit $2,500 with our bank, it’s an FDIC-insured deposit and you’re getting a credit building product for your kids, for free. It doesn’t actually cost you any money.”
In FreeKick, a promising business model was emerging for Austin Capital Bank. But crucial to success would be a timely launch before graduation season. And given that FreeKick was a departure from their usual products, the technology Austin Capital Bank would use to service new accounts couldn’t be adapted in time for launch.
“Our internal CRM was not going to be ready because there was new infrastructure and transactional databases to understand. They hadn’t pieced it together yet,” Ian shared.
While it was possible to launch FreeKick without full technical support from their CRM, each time the client service team would need data about account holders, Ian’s team would have to support it.
“My team, and myself, personally, would have had to be on call for the client service team, and ready to run the query at the drop of a hat as soon as they were on the phone with somebody who was asking questions about their account,” Ian explained.
Ian and his team also considered a self-service model while the CRM was enhanced to support requests for client data, but found it infeasible. This approach would demand that the client service team be given access to Snowflake, with the proper roles and policies, then trained to write SQL queries against their data warehouse.
In Atlan, Ian’s team found a solution. Insights, a metadata-based query builder, would enable their client service team to run queries about customer data in a self-service manner, without the need to learn SQL.
“We used Insights to support our client service team, and Atlan made it so much easier and saved a bunch of time for me and my team. It was an easy and effective workaround, until our CRM was ready to handle the new product. So it really gave us peace of mind. It was something that took my team only a couple of hours to put together. We could not have done that without Atlan.”
Ian Bass, Head of Data & Analytics
While only a workaround while their CRM caught up to support the new service model that FreeKick demanded, Atlan Insights ensured that Ian’s team spent just two hours delivering a solution. The alternative would have been painful: Turning their data team into an on-demand service center for basic client data requests, and taking their eye off building a bright, data-driven future for the bank.
Further Enhancements to Support Growth
With the right data technology, activated and accessible using Atlan, Austin Capital Bank is in a stronger position to launch new products and services, and evolve its business model.
“We’re in the phase of figuring out if we want to incorporate these new product launches into our existing model architecture, or if we want to break it out separately,” Ian shared. “In some cases, that could make things a lot simpler for us. Having this virtualized and using dbt and Snowflake makes it simple for us to say ‘Here’s the connections we need to make, here’s all the data and models we have, and how does that fit into the ecosystem?’ And then we know what changes we need to make, and what models we need to create.”
Downstream, Austin Capital Bank’s recent adoption of ThoughtSpot is another point of optimism for Ian and his team, affording the flexibility they need to query and visualize at the speed their business is changing.
“We’re running live queries on top of ThoughtSpot day in and day out, and life is a whole lot simpler and more effective,” Ian explained. “It’s just easy to write up new queries, spin up new live boards, and pivot quickly. If someone wants to drill down on an answer, it’s very simple.”
Additionally, Ian and his team are looking forward to cataloging Thoughtspot assets in Atlan to better understand the impact of changes to their models in their visualization and analysis layer, and completing a comprehensive, single view of their data estate.
To support their marketing campaigns for new products, and to collect the necessary data to evolve these products and campaigns quickly, Ian’s team has quickly added Reverse ETL to their growing set of capabilities. “We could have hired an engineering team to set up all these API connections, but we decided to just pay a small amount of money per year and do it through a tool that I could set up myself in a matter of 30 to 60 minutes,” Ian shared.
The road ahead for Austin Capital Bank remains ambitious, with a project to build a 360-degree view of their customers, inclusive of web activity. Also crucial to support a growing number of deposit-based products will be new metrics and KPIs, supported by Ian’s team and accessible through Atlan.
Perhaps the most exciting to Austin Capital Bank is the introduction of data science and machine learning, improving the way they market and operate. “We want to get into optimization for marketing spend. We want to put fraud detection models in place. We want to make sure that we’re good stewards of our customers’ data,” Ian explained.
Ultimately, Austin Capital Bank sees Atlan as its window to the world, better understanding their fast-evolving technology and processes, and the impacts that changes to them will make.
“I want it all to be integrated, so that we’re able to assess impact,” Ian shared. If we have a change to a field in a table that’s upstream of some model, I’d want to understand where else that gets used. And I’d know if it’s in a downstream model that combines 10 tables that are combined in a view that aggregates data, or if it’s also utilized by an algorithm to optimize marketing spend.”
“If all of our infrastructure is tied into the same place, we can make changes, and before we make those changes, understand where the impact would be so that nothing breaks. All of that will need to be integrated into Atlan.”
Ian Bass, Head of Data & Analytics
A Modern Data Stack, Paying Dividends
The way Austin Capital Bank’s data team operates, thanks in part to its investment in technology and executing the right strategy, is unrecognizable from the start of their modernization journey just 16 months ago.
“With the tools we have in place now, we’re able to measure the impact of product changes right away,” Ian shared. “We can also understand how changes in our marketing strategy impact our business. For example, we did a deep dive on keyword searches that we were spending on and made a substantial change. And we’re not just measuring the effectiveness of that, but we were also able to predict what would happen. We’re following pretty closely in-line with what that prediction was.”
But beyond the obvious benefits their technology, data team, and process offer, the culture of Austin Capital Bank, from client-facing employees to executives, is rapidly changing toward being data-driven.
“I have these tools, but the President of Credit Strong and the CEO of Austin Capital Bank also have access to these tools. They can see the effectiveness of changes within hours or days of implementing. It’s something we didn’t have in place before. We don’t have to make these new constructs and connections, they’re in place already and we can pivot very quickly.”
Ian Bass, Head of Data & Analytics