EVP, Chief Administrative Officer
With Autobooks, Five Star Bank leaned into their digital channels to reframe the power of community banking.
Five Star Bank
Five Star Bank
- $5 Billion
- Western & Central New York
- Sean Willett, EVP & Chief Administrative Officer
Five Star Bank is a $5 billion community bank offering a wide range of consumer and commercial banking and lending services to individuals, municipalities, and businesses through a network of more than 45 locations throughout Western and Central New York. Additionally, the Bank offers customized investment management, investment consulting, and retirement plan services to individuals, businesses, institutions, foundations, and retirement plans through Courier Capital, LLC and HNP Capital, LLC. Five Star Bank has a dedicated team of approximately 560 employees who are committed to giving back through a variety of non-profit organizations and neighborhood charities.
- Launched February 2022
- Digital Banking Partner: Q2
- Autobooks Embedded Client
Sean Willett is EVP, Chief Administrative Officer at Five Star Bank. Willett has over 20 years of experience instituting internal control frameworks, process efficiencies, project management and enterprise risk management functions in global financial services organizations.
Evolution can be a scary proposition for any company, especially when it has been as enduring as Five Star Bank, an institution with a rich history of serving its New York-based communities for over 200 years. But innovation is at the heart of what they do.
“From the beginning, small business has played a central role at the bank,” according to Sean Willett, EVP, Chief Administrative Officer at Five Star Bank. “Outside of the consumer, it’s really the cornerstone of our bank. If you think about our markets, we tend to be very small business focused up to mid-sized businesses, really running the gamut of industries.”
However, the bank began to notice that their small business customer base was changing. “We began to see more business activity from the consumer side,” explained Willett. The bank didn’t ignore this emerging trend — instead they undertook a “significant exercise” according to Willett, to learn more about their small business customers.
The bank began to notice that their small business customer base was changing. “We began to see more business activity from the consumer side,” explained Willett.
The first step was to delve into the customer data — to better understand their small business demographic. They looked at third-party usage, specifically at payment acceptance providers like PayPal and Square. For Willett, it made sense that customers were becoming reliant on external apps. “Much like a consumer, business owners are looking for digital experiences that are very similar to social and leisure — very seamless. That's where I think we struggle. But I don't think it's just a Five Star problem — I think it's a community bank problem.”
As Willett pointed out, for a regional player or a big bank, this kind of insight would have resulted in new budget allocations. Not so for Five Star: “It's just, we don't have the dollars. We don't have the headlines to say we're going to spend X billions of dollars this year to solve those problems. So we have to be a little more thoughtful.”
“It's just, we don't have the dollars. We don't have the headlines to say we're going to spend X billions of dollars this year to solve those problems. So we have to be a little more thoughtful.”
In 2021, Five Star Bank charted a path forward by enhancing its extensive local presence with an expanded digital footprint. To help bring that vision to life, the bank partnered with Autobooks in December of that year.
Willett is quick to credit the bank’s participation in the Alloy Labs Alliance, a consortium of like-minded community banks that work together to foster innovation and fintech adoption. “Our work with the consortium exposed us to Autobooks, and even better, it just seamlessly integrated into our Q2 digital banking platform.”
For Willett, however, it comes down to helping their customers at a time of need. “It's a win for the small business because they can receive payments. They can send invoices instantly and digitally receive payment. And then from a bank’s perspective, we know that those dollars are not going into an outside digital wallet. They're staying with the financial institution. For our bank, that’s a clear win-win.”
“It's a win for the small business because they can receive payments. They can send invoices instantly and digitally receive payment. And then from a bank’s perspective, we know that those dollars are not going into an outside digital wallet.
With Autobooks positively impacting their customer experiences, Five Star Bank has found their small business solution for the long term. The bank has no plans to slow down, continuing to adopt innovations that allow them to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape. But just as importantly, without replacing a key differentiator, as Willett noted. “If you need that human interaction or you need to pick up a phone, you have a problem, you have a question — we're there. You're calling people in your community, your neighbors, and asking for help. And we believe that's the cornerstone of community banking.”
Explore other banking stories: