August 26, 2007

Bank's most Innovative CIOs 2007

Although it was not quite like trudging to and from school uphill both ways in the snow, Michael Lindsey's commute between his college and his after-school job sure came close to it. While a student at the University of Mississippi (Oxford, Miss.) in 1989, Lindsey -- currently the SVP and manager of electronic delivery services with Tupelo, Miss.-based BancorpSouth ($13 billion in assets) -- traveled 50 miles both ways in order to work in the information services group at the former Bank of Mississippi (now BancorpSouth).

"I worked at the bank during my last two years of college," Lindsey recalls. "I went to school until 2:00, drove 50 miles to the bank, worked from 3:00 to 11 p.m. and then drove another 50 miles back to Oxford. It was an interesting experience."


Michael Lindsey BancorpSouth

Something certainly must have clicked for Lindsey during his inaugural time with BancorpSouth, however, because he has been with the company ever since.

Although he was a finance major in college, Lindsey was a computer user from an early age, something he says prompted him to pursue a career in banking technology. In fact, it was really through his own personal experience, he notes, that he was able to learn the IT ropes. "I got my first computer at age 11 and probably had more-advanced equipment than some banks had at the time," Lindsey jokes. However, his background in finance and, later, an MBA from the University of Memphis (Tenn.), helped to round out Lindsey's education as a bank tech executive.

Education, Lindsey says, is high on his -- and BancorpSouth's -- list of priorities. Not only did the bank help fund his education, Lindsey notes, but one of his former bosses, Dave McLeod, the IS manager when he first started at the bank 18 years ago, was a strong influence on his nascent bank tech career. "He gave me the opportunity to work on different projects in the bank and encouraged my crazy work schedule while I was at college. I don't think I'd have been able to accomplish what I did without him," Lindsey reflects.

He also had a little help during his MBA days from former BancorpSouth vice chairman of operations and marketing Harry Baxter. "Harry helped me get exposure during my MBA years and expanded my vision beyond the operations area of the bank," Lindsey says. It's no surprise, then, that he feels so strongly about education. "I'm a big fan of education because it provides a way to bring about new ideas and ways of thinking to the bank," Lindsey offers.

Banking on the Move

Thinking in new ways is what helped Lindsey propel BancorpSouth to the front of the pack in the emerging U.S. mobile banking market. While some financial institutions twice its size are still in the pilot stage, BancorpSouth's mobile banking product has been generally available since March, according to Lindsey.

The key to the rollout, he says, was to start early and help customers grow accustomed to doing things remotely and online. In 1997, Lindsey relates, the bank moved customers from home PC banking to Internet-based banking. The next step was getting people used to viewing images of their checks, rather than the physical cleared items. "We got customers used to this early on. So our next concern with regard to mobile banking was how to get the [mobile phone] carriers involved," he says. "So we approached Firethorn [Atlanta]. Firethorn used a federated strategy in which it partnered with the carriers."

Lindsey adds that between the ready-made mobile provider relationships and an application-based mobile banking model, Firethorn was a good fit to help BancorpSouth get its cell phone banking product off the ground. "This shows that you don't have to be a megabank to be the first out of the gate and to have the partnerships with major players," he states.

According to Lindsey, BancorpSouth must always think ahead when formulating its strategies in order to stay innovative. "We try to make very prudent strategic investments, and we try to do it early on," he says. "This is true with something like mobile banking. Even though it's cutting-edge and there aren't a lot of customers yet, we went out there and took the channel and decided we thought it had a future. We made some partnerships and decisions early on in the process so we could be a leader. We had that first-mover advantage to show our customers we're looking for ways to serve them and help them feel good about the BancorpSouth brand."

Of course, it's not always easy to zero in on the next big project. Lindsey says that prioritizing all the opportunities that come his way is perhaps one of the toughest things about his job. "The challenge is to prioritize properly and make sure you focus on the right things to deliver the best benefit to the business and the customers," he explains. "But our CEO [Aubrey Patterson] fosters an environment where we have great communication with each other. Instead of looking at things in silos, we see how projects can interact with each other. We think of ideas together that no one person would be able to come up with otherwise."

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