Like many of his counterparts in the financial services industry, John Sullivan is looking to do more with less, or at least the same. Sullivan, who serves as senior VP of technology (a role equivalent to that of CIO) at Rhode Island-based Washington Trust Bancorp ($3.1 billion in total assets), a role he has held since March 2013, says his goals for 2014 are to “spend money wisely” while keeping up with compliance and pursuing technology consolidation where possible.
“We’re being disciplined on the have-to-haves rather than just going after all of the nice-to-haves,” as he puts it.
Compliance, he notes, “is always going to be at the forefront,” but Sullivan believes that regulatory compliance need not just be about marking items off a checklist, but how the bank can help improve itself strategically. Sullivan says that when he looks at new solutions the bank is considering purchasing, he asks questions such as: Will this help with compliance? Does this create revenue? Will it replace one or more things we already have?
This outlook also affects the way Washington Trust approaches its vendor relationships, says Sullivan. He and his team are actively seeking to consolidate vendor relationships as the institution continually seeks economies of scale. Vendors that can provide multiple solutions for different aspects of the business are given more consideration than are highly specialized ones, he notes. This outlook also plays into how Sullivan and his team approach renewing vendor contracts.
“As contracts are up for renewal, we try not to take the easy path of saying, ‘Let’s just renew.’ It’s always healthy to see what’s out there,” Sullivan says.
One example of this approach that aligns with Washington Trust’s goal to pursue efficiency and automation is that the bank recently decided to purchase a new loan origination system. Sullivan declined to identify the vendor as at publication time contract deals still were being finalized. With a refi market that is drying up, most banks are looking at ways they can run their mortgage businesses more efficiently. Sullivan notes that the new system will allow Washington Trust to automate manual processes and reduce paper in its loan operations. And with new regulations affecting the mortgage industry set to come into effect this year, Sullivan adds that “if there’s a way to automate from a compliance perspective, we’d like to pursue that.”
Secure Customer Data
A big focus for Washington Trust in the new year is securing customer data, says Sullivan. Not just from the bank’s end — he says Washington Trust has a “good track record” from a breach perspective — but in terms of being vigilant about the security controls that vendors and other third parties with which the bank works have in place. This is of great importance with news of data breaches becoming more frequent, Sullivan notes. He says that when dealing with any third party, which includes not only technology vendors but institutions such as law firms, he wants to make sure the bank has the appropriate controls in place to protect customer data.
“With third parties in general, we want to make sure they understand about the importance of things like password complexity and footprinting,” he adds. “We have a pretty comprehensive vendor management questionnaire, and we don’t sign off on anything until we believe [the third party] has answered everything adequately.”
Sullivan also believes refining the bank’s multichannel approach is key. He says it’s important to be involved in social media and other emerging channels where younger customers may be more active. Still, Sullivan is aware of how quickly tastes change when it comes to social media and that, while it’s important to be where customers are, "you also don’t want to invest in something that’s going to be obsolete soon."