Be ready. That's one of Sun National Bank CIO and SVP Angelo Valletta's "Seven Rs" -- seven qualities that he looks for in people who work for him and that he believes are key to success. The other "Rs"? Be respectful, show resolve, take responsibility, do the right thing, build relationships, and understand the importance of recreation (balancing work and personal lives).
Valletta says he believes in his seven "Rs" so much that he once posted them on his son's bedroom wall and told him it was important to cultivate all seven qualities to be successful. The one quality that seems to stick out the most in describing Valletta's accomplishments at Vineland, N.J.-based Sun National, however, is being ready. "Be proactive, understand the market," Valletta explains. "Do the due diligence on products -- not that we're going to introduce now, but on things that our customers will be asking for in one or two years."
To prepare for the introduction of the bank's mobile banking platform, Valletta and his IT team did more than four years of due diligence, conducting research and focus groups with the younger consumers whom the bank was looking to attract. "That demographic of 25- to 35-year-olds -- we really wanted to capture that," Valletta says. "We knew that we wouldn't have their business if we didn't offer mobile banking."
Beyond identifying suitable systems, one of the biggest challenges, according to Valletta, was vetting potential partners. "Some of the players that we reviewed and evaluated were being bought up by larger competitors," he recalls. "Some of the partners that you thought were going to be there for the long term were not." In the end, Sun National partnered with FIS (Jacksonville, Fla.) and M-Foundry (Larkspur, Calif.)
Meanwhile, many larger financial institutions already were releasing mobile banking platforms. Valletta says Sun National ($3.13 billion in assets) looked closely at what its larger competitors were doing, but the institution wanted to tailor its platform to its own customer base. The bank's patience paid off when it introduced a mobile banking platform to its customers in early 2010, making it the first community bank in its market to offer mobile banking, according to Valletta. The platform included an app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices; a site for mobile web browsers; and SMS texting capabilities.
The response from customers has been a huge success, Valletta reports. Noting that marketing campaigns targeting younger consumers accompanied the platform's launch, he estimates that between 50 percent and 60 percent of Sun National's new accounts since 2010 use the mobile platform consistently. He adds that while the bank was pleased with mobile adoption among younger customers, it also was surprised when some of its older customers picked up on it as well. And Valletta already is preparing for the next generation of mobile banking services that he wants to offer Sun National customers -- capabilities such as mobile person-to-person payments and mobile check deposit.
Valletta's desire to always be prepared clearly was a strong driver behind another major initiative that the bank began in 2010 -- the building of a new disaster recovery center. "I'm wired to be paranoid, to be ready," Valletta says with a laugh.
The bank had previously outsourced its disaster recovery operations to a third-party provider, but that wasn't "prepared" enough for Valletta. "We wanted to have our fate in our hands," he relates. "If a fire broke out at our data center, or if a hurricane ripped through and took out the building -- if that happens, being able to return to service in 24 hours is not good enough for us."
Fortunately, Sun National had just acquired a small bank whose former operations center -- located about 125 miles from Sun National's data center -- would make a perfect disaster recovery center. "It had a data center for us -- we were 50 percent there before we even started thinking about this," Valletta says. "That helped us tremendously in keeping costs down."
Today, all of Sun National's data is mirrored and stored simultaneously in its main operations center as well as the new disaster recovery center, which helps cut the time needed to restore systems after a disaster. With the new DR center up and running, Valletta reports, the time it would take for the bank's core systems and applications to be brought back online after an interruption has been slashed from 24 hours down to just a few.
Being so focused on preparation, it's no surprise that Valletta already is looking ahead to identify the next hot banking technology. Valletta serves many roles across the organization at Sun National, which he says helps him understand the business needs of the bank and then pair them with the right technology solutions. For example, Valletta heads up the bank's ATM operations, and about a year and a half ago, he worked with partners FIS and First Data (Atlanta) to introduce NCR (Duluth, Ga.) envelope-less ATMs at some branch locations.
Now he is looking into how the bank can leverage the investment in ATMs to cut the costs of operating its branch network. Valletta is watching what other banks are doing with imaging and videoconferencing technology that allows the customer to speak with a teller, adviser or specialist of some kind via an ATM. In addition to cutting branch costs, that type of technology will help the bank enhance its relationship with its customers, Valletta says. "It makes a more personal connection," he explains.