A core systems transformation is perhaps the biggest technology project a bank can undertake. Core systems do more than just run the business; many banks are replacing legacy systems with newer ones in order to provide better, more tailored customer service and become more efficient.
There are many factors a bank must consider when looking at replacing or upgrading its core systems -- the cost for one, and also whether to do a wholesale replacement or take a piecemeal approach. In addition, there is also the option to take all the core systems into the cloud. But perhaps the most important factor in a successful core conversion is having a top-down commitment to the project.
That's what Busey Bank ($3.6 billion in assets) found when it recently moved its core systems into the cloud to meet its growing business needs and increased compliance requirements, says executive VP and CIO Leanne Kopischke. "The buy-in across the company is the biggest part, and the understanding that it's a significant change, for front-line associates especially," she says. "A big part of it is how well the organization is committed to the change."
Kopischke began her banking career as a teller during high school before joining Champaign, Ill.-based Busey in 1993. She progressed through various operations and management positions until being appointed executive VP and CIO three years ago. Kopischke has seen a lot of changes during her time at Busey and says the key to dealing with a major transformation, such as a core conversion, is to involve everyone in the company.
Busey Bank is a subsidiary of First Busey Corp., which also owns a wealth management company and has a payment processing arm, FirsTech Inc. Busey Bank is First Busey's retail and commercial bank subsidiary, operating 30 full-service and two limited-service branches in Illinois, a full-service branch in Indianapolis and seven locations in southwest Florida. It also specializes in agricultural financial and farm brokerage services, which have been a part of Busey's business since it was founded in 1868.
In 2007, Busey merged with Florida-based Main Street Bank & Trust, expanding the bank's footprint and nearly doubling its size with a combined total of 1,000 employees. The merger got the bank talking about how it could better run its operations and serve its customers, a discussion that ultimately led to the need for a core transformation, Kopischke says.
Busey wasn't alone in rethinking its core systems after a merger. Banking is seeing a resurgence of core conversions following a downturn after the financial crisis, says Karen Massey, an IDC Financial Insights analyst. "We kind of peaked in the core replacement area in '07-'08, and then the numbers went down in '09," Massey says. "And now they're coming back, though not at the same pace as 2007."
One reason for this uptick is the increase in M&A activity in the banking industry, she says. As banks grow, they make new and different demands on their core systems.
In Search Of A Partner
Busey decided to unify and strengthen its tech infrastructure three years ago. It wasn't just looking to improve its core processing but also wanted a technology partner to work with as it continued to grow, Kopischke says.
Busey didn't conduct a formal RFP process, she says, but instead spent a year meeting with industry experts, gathering feedback from its employees and exploring a multitude of systems. The bank eventually asked two companies to host product fairs and demo their systems. Computer Services Inc. (CSI) was the one that best met Busey's needs and organizational goals, Kopischke says. Busey employees who used the Paducah, Ky., vendor's system found it to be the most user-friendly, she adds.
CSI's NuPoint cloud-based core platform had the flexibility, customizability and ease-of-use features that Busey needed, she says. For example, its Smart Branch Delivery system, which is hosted at CSI's headquarters, lets Busey configure, maintain, update and deploy new branch capture programs without requiring a physical site visit.
The cloud-based core also eliminated the hardware and software investments required with in-house systems, Kopischke says. In addition, since the Main Street Bank & Trust merger, Busey faced growing compliance demands that its existing infrastructure wasn't equipped to handle. CSI offered several products, including its WatchDOG CIP software, that help Busey better comply with the Patriot Act, the Red Flags Rule and other federal laws and regulations related to fraud, identity theft, criminal activity and terrorist financing. Busey also is using CSI's WatchDOG Pro, a Web-based tool that screens customers against U.S. and international watch lists.
Hosted core systems, like the CSI ones Busey is using, are attractive to small to medium-sized banks since they mean "somebody else can take care of the nuts and bolts," IDC's Massey says, especially when it comes to helping them deal with compliance issues. Hosted systems usually provide cost savings as well, she adds.