How 3 financial services companies use internal tools to save engineering resources

Kevin Garcia
Kevin Garcia
Product marketing @ Retool

Apr 28, 2021

To the untrained eye, internal tools look like an afterthought or something a company can outsource and hand off. Not so in financial services.

According to our research, financial services companies are the most likely—out of any industry—to invest in internal tools. Almost three out of every four financial services companies dedicate headcount to managing internal tools.

Internal tools, with the right strategy, can help you save on a huge amount of engineering resources. With resources saved, you can reallocate engineers to customer-facing features. To learn more, we turned to three financial services companies to see how they use internal tools.

Brex uses internal tools to empower non-technical employees (and free up engineers)

Derek Stavis, an early employee and current engineering manager at Brex, uses internal tools to give non-technical employees more agency. These internal tools streamline the app update process to give non-technical employees more freedom and engineers more time.

Brex is a financial services company that helps companies replace their fractured credit systems with one centralized tool for cash management, credit, controls, and reporting. To make that mission possible (and less expensive), they built a Template Manager, an internal tool that empowers non-technical employees to make changes to the Brex app without involving engineers.

At Brex, non-technical employees couldn’t make changes to the content of notifications because they were hardcoded into the app. This inflexibility posed some problems.

Let’s say a copywriter wanted to make a change to some notification text. The copywriter couldn’t change the text, no matter how simple, without the involvement of engineers. Engineers, who Brex would have preferred to stay focused on core, customer-facing features, would instead get dragged away to work on small copy changes. Important changes, yes, but clearly not the best use of their time.

The outcome of this tool is that we have reduced 75% of the code that you have to write to ship a notification.

Derek Stavis, engineering manager at Brex

To make matters worse, non-technical teams across the marketing, product, and design departments had little visibility into the status of ongoing notification projects.

Copy updates were frequently stuck in PR review, meaning those teams could only guess what the state of their copy was at any given point. This lack of clarity made iteration—and the jobs of both engineers and copywriters—difficult and inefficient.

Brex recognized the problem and was up to the task. The Brex team created Template Manager to streamline notification rollouts.

Now, if a copywriter wants to change the text in a notification or configure which users the notification goes to, they can simply edit an existing template. Copywriters can make changes, get approval from the team, and immediately make it visible for customers without ever pinging an engineer.

Stavis, reflecting on the success of Template Manager, said, “The outcome of this tool is that we have reduced 75% of the code that you have to write to ship a notification.”

Ramp uses internal tools to manage underwriting

Ramp is a corporate card and expense management platform—and the fastest-growing company of its kind for the mid-market. Ramp saves companies time and money, helping them simplify processes and eliminate wasteful spend. The company’s focus on efficiency is what convinced them to invest early in internal tools to make the manual processes involved in underwriting smoother.

Calvin Lee, chief of staff at Ramp, uses internal tools to manage the underwriting process. The risk engineering and risk operations team used Retool to create a command center that enables them to manage all the operational work that underwriting involves.

At Ramp, risk management is important because part of the company’s business model involves lending money via corporate cards. That means internal processes have to be secure and efficient. Processes also have to effectively mitigate risk while giving customers excellent service.

[Retool] ultimately improves the customer experience—whether the internal process involves interacting with customers or not.

Calvin Lee, chief of staff at Ramp

Before having internal tools, efficiency was hard to come by. If a customer said they wanted to increase their credit limit, it was up to the risk operations team to decide whether it was worth the risk to raise their limit. The team would then have to seek out and comb through all the relevant data by hand to make a decision.

At other financial services companies, the process may have involved the risk operations team referencing numerous dashboards and compiling different types of data. The process would require a lot of manual work, and the results would only enable them to make a reasonable estimate of risk.

Ramp wanted that estimate to be more accurate and easier to produce. That’s why they turned to Retool.

Ramp created an internal tool—a dashboard—that provides centralized data and visibility into that data. The dashboard eliminates trips to other tools and makes available all data about all customers.

The possibility excited Lee and his team because, even though it wasn’t customer-facing, this internal tool did produce an effect for customers. Now, customers wouldn’t have to wait as long for credit limit approval. “There’s immense potential when we use tools to empower internal teams,” Lee said. “It ultimately improves the customer experience—whether the internal process involves interacting with customers or not.”

Specifically, if a customer says they want to increase their credit limit, the Ramp risk management team only has to look at one dashboard.

And because the dashboard is interactive, the risk operations team can change the credit limit from within the dashboard (as well as other settings).

“That’s where we gain efficiency,” Lee said, “by putting the information and the action in the same place. Instead of seeing information on a dashboard and making changes in another app, we can serve our customers faster, and our internal teams aren’t bogged down with processes and context switching.”

CommonBond uses internal tools to simplify the forbearance process

CommonBond is an online lender that provides private student loans and student loan refinancing. Forbearance, when customers encounter financial hardship and need to pause loan payments, is a situation lenders need to consider deeply. In an effort to build a best-in-class response, CommonBond built internal tools to transform what had been a manual struggle into an efficient, simple process.

Luke Lavanway, the director of lending operations and analytics at CommonBond, used internal tools to simplify forbearance. With internal tools, CommonBond doesn’t need to dedicate nearly as much time and effort to pausing the payment of a customer’s loan.

Before internal tools, the forbearance process was complex and slow. When a customer requested forbearance, Lavanway’s team managed the request via Jira—a process that involved 27 manual inputs. Employees were copying and pasting data in their customer relationship management (CRM) tool, their lending platform, their servicing platform, and Jira cards.

It went from being a significant workflow that needed to be managed to something that one person, in a few minutes a day, can handle themselves.

Luke Lavanway, director of lending operations and analytics at CommonBond

It was a lot of manual work. So much so that Lavanway found that two full-time employees spent most of their time on forbearance, and each request took over 30 minutes—all of which was vulnerable to human error.

CommonBond wasn’t about to settle for this inefficiency. The CommonBond team built an internal tool for the forbearance process and now manages all requests via this tool.

Now, when customers request forbearance, their request is filed among a queue of incoming requests. The team can ascertain the status of any request whenever necessary and make changes or updates on the fly.

This internal tool eliminates manual input because it joins data from databases that reflect the team’s various platforms and tools. Now, they don’t need full-time people spending most of their days on forbearance.

And because the internal tool is interactive, the team can also make status changes from the same tool they use to manage requests.

Lavanway is proud: “It went from being a significant workflow that needed to be managed to something that one person, in a few minutes a day, can handle themselves.”

Save engineering resources using internal tools

These are just three perspectives on why financial services companies invest more in internal tools than companies in other industries. Internal tools are a great way to simplify processes, eliminate manual work, and save on engineering resources without sacrificing the security and compliance requirements necessary to run a financial services company.

If you want to reap the benefits of your internal tool investment, you can apply their learnings and improve how you work by using Retool.

From managing investment porfolios to processing refunds to loan insights, see how Retool enables companies like Plaid, Brex, and Coinbase to build faster financial operations.


Kevin Garcia
Kevin Garcia
Product marketing @ Retool
Apr 28, 2021