Cross River Bank seeks to build on community partnerships in 2023

Matthew Fazelpoor//January 9, 2023//

Cross River Bank seeks to build on community partnerships in 2023

Matthew Fazelpoor//January 9, 2023//

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Last year was an eventful one for Fort Lee-based financial services provider Cross River Bank, capped off by being named as an NJBIZ Company to Watch. The company has an international reach at the intersection of banking and technology. “Cross River has always found success when we leaned into problems and challenges,” Phil Goldfeder, senior vice president, Global Public Affairs, told NJBIZ.

Cross River has had no shortage of problems and challenges to navigate since being founded in the wake of the Great Recession and successfully navigating COVID-19, originating more than $100 billion in loans since its 2008 founding. Beyond the bottom line, though, a spirit of giving back to the community is central to its mission.

“Success is not just defined by Cross River’s ability to be profitable,” Goldfeder stressed. “Success is defined by our ability to serve the communities we’re trying to serve.”

Phil Goldfeder, senior vice president public affairs, Cross River Bank.
Phil Goldfeder, senior vice president, Global Public Affairs, Cross River Bank. – CROSS RIVER BANK

The company’s foundation is its focus on collaboration and partnerships — with Goldfeder noting that the Cross River is known for merging innovation and technology with traditional regulatory structures of a financial institution. “We don’t call them clients,” Goldfeder explained. “Everybody we work with is our partner. They say, ‘a rising tide raises all ships.’ So, when you have partners, you have mutual goals and mutual benefits. And that is in our traditional business. But even more important when it comes to community.”

A big part of that, according to Goldfeder, is to have a partnership be about more than just a single action. “What I mean by that is when you have true partners, it’s not about simply making a contribution and shaking hands and going about your way,” said Goldfeder.

There are examples of this philosophy throughout the initiatives that Cross River Bank has undertaken.

In September, the company’s giving arm, Foundation@ Cross River, donated $25,000 to Rowan University’s Student Emergency Assistance Fund to help students who experience unexpected financial hardships from being derailed in earning their degree. But the money is just part of a larger partnership with the school.

Goldfeder explained how the two sides met numerous times to better understand each other and to learn how they can each add value to the relationship. “And we came to the conclusion that we want to do big things at Rowan,” said Goldfeder. “We didn’t just give money to Rowan University and say, ‘good luck.’ We gave it to a student fund, and we worked with them to specifically talk about students that are in the fintech area.”

He added that it is part of a holistic approach about helping students where they are now, but also thinking about the next stage for them and looking ahead to the next challenges.

And Goldfeder expects that partnership to evolve even further this year with the potential to integrate team members from Cross River to help students via internships or mentorships. If the effort succeeds, it will be a win for all sides while strengthening the fintech and broader economic ecosystem in the Garden State.

Goldfeder noted a similar partnership in the works with the New Jersey Institute of Technology: a pledge to be paid out over five years to create Cross River Opportunity Scholarships to support selected students majoring in fintech.

Cross River’s spirit of partnership was also on full display during the Propelify Innovation Festival this past October as the company hosted a collaborative lounge called “Cross River Commons.” That space was shared with the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, and the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce to highlight their work supporting local businesses and to help facilitate new connections with the tech community and entrepreneurs.

Goldfeder said he was particularly proud of the effort Cross River pulled off at the annual innovation festival because it went against the conventional wisdom of setting up a space to only drive potential investments and customer acquisitions. “We came into Propelify this year following the work we did in PPP, specifically around financial inclusion and providing access to financial services to communities that are historically left out,” said Goldfeder. “And as we approached Propelify, we thought that we could set up a conventional booth to do conventional work. But thought that we could do so much more if we amplify that message together with minority chambers of commerce to give them a platform to amplify their message.”

And he stressed that effort was made with that same recurring theme about strengthening the broader New Jersey economy, the larger idea of financial inclusion and access to financial services.

It also offered the opportunity to merge Cross River’s existing partnership with TechUnited, the organizer of Propelify, with these different chambers to create this common space. “For everybody of all shapes and sizes, from diverse backgrounds, to come together, talk about mutual challenges, mutual opportunities, and build meaningful relationships,” said Goldfeder. “Ultimately, the chambers had the opportunity to highlight their work supporting local small business. And the tech entrepreneurs were able to connect with the leading business advocates across diverse communities and find the commonalities that actually will create economic inclusion and economic prosperity for everybody.”

Cross River Bank, Fort Lee
In November, Cross River and TechUnited:NJ joined forces for a second year to empower women and minority business owners through mentorship programs.

In November, Cross River and TechUnited:NJ joined forces for a second year to empower women and minority business owners through mentorship programs. “When we invest and empower women and minority business owners with the resources to succeed, we all win,” said Goldfeder.

Another example of using partnerships to bolster the fintech and innovation ecosystems came in November when Cross River and the Israel Economic Mission hosted a delegation of startups to create new opportunities, connect talent, and bridge divides while promoting New Jersey as a potential place for businesses to relocate.

Cross River has a presence in Jerusalem and Goldfeder sits on the board of Choose New Jersey, which helped facilitate the delegation at Cross River’s Fort Lee headquarters. “Cross River was the perfect home to house local venture capitalists, the local small business community together with Israeli entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities in many states,” Goldfeder explained. “And this was our chance to highlight New Jersey.”

Advancing another priority last year, Cross River took part in the October launch of national advocacy group Fintech Future, which supports responsible innovation that breaks down traditional barriers to wealth creation and bridges the access gap to modern financial services in historically excluded communities.

As Cross River looks toward the new year, Goldfeder acknowledged that while there are economic uncertainties, every challenge creates a new opportunity.

“I think that there are headwinds going into 2023 with the economy, with the fintech and technology innovation ecosystems,” said Goldfeder. “So, our goal is to understand what’s coming, to internalize it and find a way to be successful.”

Goldfeder said that a big priority for the year ahead is increasing financial literacy, especially with the potential for an economic downturn.

“When there’s economic shifts and challenges, people are always looking for additional information and resources in terms of potential help that’s out there,” said Goldfeder. “And so financial literacy is clearly a big part of what we do.”

And Cross River plans to expand its programs and initiatives while continuing to build and nurture the relationships and partnerships at the center of its mission, here in New Jersey and, more broadly, across the country.

“We don’t succeed if the community doesn’t succeed,” said Goldfeder. “If local organizations are struggling, then we think, from our perspective, we’re struggling as well. So, we work toward strengthening the community, strengthening our partnerships with community organizations that are looking to do good work.”