As the chief information officer for Silicon Valley Bank, Prashant Nema knows the importance of running a tech-savvy operation, in part because the bank's customers demand no less. Much of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based bank's customer base is comprised of the innovative technology companies and start-ups that dot the area, a crowd that can be tough to impress, according to Nema.
"A lot of our clients are the emerging technology companies, which are funded by venture capital and private equity firms, that are creating new, cutting-edge technology on a daily basis," Nema says. And the technologists at the bank, he adds, often get involved in a collaborative way with many clients to provide feedback on the technology they are developing.
As a result, the bank often gets the opportunity to screen early-stage companies and adopt their technology, Nema explains. While that certainly provides a built-in benefit for Silicon Valley Bank ($20 billion in total assets), it also means the financial institution must strive to maintain the highest technology standards. "Our clients have an expectation of us, because they are the ones creating the next generation of technology," Nema relates.
"The expectations they have are of a very tech-savvy bank that provides them a very sleek experience in terms of every interaction they have with us," he continues. "The expectations of our clients are on a whole different level than when someone walks up to an ATM at a large national bank. The bar is very high -- they expect the coolest and sleekest experience."
Nema says many of the bank's clients produce technology for the financial services space, so they look at Silicon Valley Bank as both their financial institution and a potential client. One example of this type of relationship is the work the bank has done with cloud-based payments service provider MineralTree. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company first was a client of the bank, which helped MineralTree create the payments technology that SVB now uses. "We are building out a solution with a client of ours in a partnership that benefits them, us and, quite frankly, the whole industry," Nema says. "The automation it offers will be very meaningful for those clients who adopt it."
The MineralTree solution has three major components, according to Nema. The account manager application is a web-based add-on to the business customer's existing account systems and integrates directly with the bank's payment systems. A second customer-facing app is used by the business executive responsible for payments to approve and release them; it is available as an iPad app as well as a secure web application.
The third component of the MineralTree solution is the bank operations application, which is used by the bank to manage MineralTree users. All three apps, Nema relates, are linked via the MineralTree payments server, which acts as a universal conduit for payment channels, such as check, ACH, wire, cards and emerging channels, including PayPal and mobile banking. After receiving positive feedback on the product from some of its clients that tested the technology, Silicon Valley Bank formally launched the MineralTree offering in September.
But it's not all about innovative start-ups for Nema and his team. There's still the important job of keeping the systems running and supporting and enabling the bank's day-to-day functions. "Banks are, of course, heavily dependent on technology for their automation, process streamlining, production services, and so on and so forth" says Nema. "It's a humongous task to keep these systems running and to keep the bank running."
Complicating the task, the banking industry "is heavily challenged by various new regulations," Nema observes. "You have to balance your valuable resources and make sure you keep the shop running every single day and that you are serving the clients, and at the same time investing the right resources so that you can keep growing the bank."
Nema points out that because of Silicon Valley Bank's unique position and its particular need to provide a cutting-edge customer experience, the bank invests more in technology than many financial institutions of similar size. "We offer a very rich, comprehensive set of production services for a bank our size, and hence the complexity and the offerings that we have are way more than other banks of our same asset size would be offering," he argues.
And that suits Nema just fine, as he has become accustomed to working on the cutting edge during his long career in the IT industry. Prior to joining Silicon Valley Bank in 2005, he held a variety of technology leadership roles that included product oversight. As a product director at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle, Nema managed programs in Fusion Middleware product development. He also served as a business systems controller for British Petroleum.