Cross River Looks to Merge Community Banking and Innovative Fintech

Speaking at the 2019 Propelify Innovation Festival on October 3, Phillip Goldfeder, senior Vice President of public affairs at Fort Lee, NJ-based community bank Cross River, reflected on his bank's long-standing history utilizing cutting edge financial technology: "We were in Fintech before it was sexy."

Indeed, Cross River has been partnered with a number of key Fintech firms for more than a decade--particularly notable given the bank's size and scope. However, this innovative and potentially risky move makes sense for Cross River given its origins. During the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008, Cross River president and CEO Gilles Gade opened the bank's first branch in Teaneck, New Jersey based on his hypothesis that a state-chartered bank was well-positioned to outperform the big national banks who were in financial distress.

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In light of this risk, Gade's choice to forge partnerships with startups providing digital banking technology just a few years later makes perfect sense. Gade believed that these partnerships could become a competitive advantage for the community bank, and it's a gamble that seems to have paid off. In the years since, Cross Bank has grown from a small bank with only a handful of employees to a significant community presence with a workforce more than 300 strong.

Cross River's number of Fintech partnerships has grown as well. Today, the community bank works with over a dozen significant Fintech firms, from online finance firm Rocket Loans and payments platform Stripe to digital currency exchange Coinbase.

Cross River's head start with Fintech may indeed have given them an advantage over much larger competitors. As Goldfeder pointed out at the conference, "a lot of the big banks are struggling to understand [fintech], and even those that understand it are struggling to change their business model."

In contrast, Goldfeder noted, Cross River's size can be an asset in this situation: that it is a small community bank lets it "be nimble enough to shift on a dime, whereas big banks are struggling to do that." The fact that Cross River also operates within New Jersey with its strict banking regulations was also a surprising advantage: "If you're a successful Fintech company in New Jersey, you can be just as successful anywhere in the world."