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Elite 8 2009: Where Are They Now?

BS&T catches up with some of last year's Elite 8 honorees to see how the improving economic outlook is influencing their responsibilities and priorities.



While the past few years have challenged bank technology executives to do more with less, institutions that have been focused on the basics are again looking for new ways to drive growth. And while regulatory reform remains a major concern, the technology leaders who have been staying awake at night searching for ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency increasingly are overseeing initiatives to improve the customer experience. Bank Systems & Technology caught up with most of the 2009 Elite 8 honorees to find out how the changing economic outlook has been influencing their responsibilities and priorities:

  • Dave Downing, COO, First National of Nebraska (Omaha)
  • Thomas Kunz, SVP, Director of Payments and E-Business, PNC Bank (Pittsburgh)
  • Donald Westermann, SVP, Chief Technology Officer, Eastern Bank (Lynn, Mass.)
  • Fred Cook, CIO, North Shore Credit Union (North Vancouver, B.C.)
  • John Beran, EVP, Comerica Bank (Dallas)
  • Francisco DeArmas, EVP and CIO, Whitney Bank (Harahan, La.)
  • Barbara J. Perino, SVP, Operations & Technology, The Washington Trust Co. (Westerly, R.I.)



Building the Franchise: Dave Downing, COO, First National of Nebraska (Omaha)

This year, my focus has been much less tactical and much more strategic. In the past 12 to 24 months, we've done a lot to shore up controls and processes and put the right policies in place. The biggest challenge that the financial services industry is facing is the new consumer protection and reporting legislation. "Business as usual" isn't going to be business as usual anymore.

It has been said numerous times by numerous people: "This is the new reality." The big Wall Street firms are waking up to a very different world. Community banks and credit card companies are also confronted by a new reality, and our bank plays a role in all of those markets. We're now trying to figure out how to deliver exceptional service, offer great products and stay within the new regulations that have yet to be defined.

We've been working to understand the new financials, the new regulations and how to exceed our customers' expectations. Consumers have been informed by the media that they can expect different behaviors and deliverables from financial services institutions, but no one's sure what those different behaviors and deliverables look like yet.

Those of us working in the financial services industry have been practicing our entire careers for what's going on right now. The previous two years (2008 and 2009) were all about protecting the balance sheet. The next couple of years will be about protecting and building the franchise.

A Customer Focus: Thomas Kunz, SVP, Director of Payments and E-Business, PNC Bank (Pittsburgh)

We've had several priorities over the past year. First, we continue to deal with financial regulatory reform and to find the best ways to make our bank brand relevant for all of our customers while becoming more customer-centric. Another area of focus for us has been continuing to build upon the success we've had with Virtual Wallet, PNC's Generation Y-targeted mobile banking tool. We're also always looking for new and better ways to exploit the social and mobile Internet.

Over the past year, we've focused on bringing together PNC and National City. We just completed the integration with National City this past June. We're combining the National City and PNC business models and bringing the PNC brand to a much larger footprint.

Behind-the-Scenes Efforts: Donald Westermann, SVP, Chief Technology Officer, Eastern Bank (Lynn, Mass.)

It's been a busy year, not necessarily in terms of large-scale implementations, but a lot of tuning, tweaking and rationalizing - a vast amount of "behind the scenes" work. Our focus has been streamlining operations, processes and technologies designed to improve service to both our customers and constituents.

This past October, we were wrapping up a number of large-scale initiatives, such as a directory services collapse, the implementation of our new corporate Internet site and a new enterprise telephony system. Since then we've been focused on leveraging these newly implemented platforms and their supporting infrastructure to their fullest extent. We've focused on integration and consolidation of disparate systems and retiring legacy platforms.

We've also been evaluating and implementing some emerging and leading-edge technologies. For example, our network engineering team has done some great design and implementation work, moving us from a fixed, monolithic network infrastructure to one that is more flexible and modular, utilizing multiple carriers, while reducing both risk and expense. Another area of focus has been internal process improvement, to better serve our internal and external customers. We've been focusing on service management initiatives, implementing various metrics to track and optimize our performance from technology and process perspectives.

Going for Gold: Fred Cook, CIO, North Shore Credit Union (North Vancouver, B.C.)

Prior to winning the Elite 8 honor, I became responsible not only for technology, but also for central group services, which includes facilities and administration services. Therefore, I've had to broaden my corporate perspective in terms of how we leverage technology/business tools.

In November 2009 we were in the process of converting to a brand-new banking system and moving our entire ATM/POS operations to a brand-new switch, all at the same time. And on the facilities side, we had been racing to complete a new branch design in Whistler by November in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. All three major projects were completed before the end of November 2009. Since I received the Elite 8 award last year, I have been pretty much consumed with the execution of these multiple conversions and the branch construction project.

The new banking environment and launching our new Temenos T24 core banking engine have been my main focus over the past year. The core banking engine touches everyone in the company as well as our clients and our members.

Some Things Old, Some Things New: John Beran, EVP, Comerica Bank (Dallas)

I've had several new areas of focus and priority over the past year, as well as some ongoing efforts. One new area of focus is interpreting the impact of the financial regulatory reform legislation that recently passed.

I'm also guiding the strategy of several key initiatives. The first is social networking - determining how Comerica will play in that arena. The second is developing a strategy around enterprise payments architecture, an integrated road map to combine all of our operational customer information systems and databases with our sales systems and databases. Finally, we're rolling out our employee intranet. We also have been focusing on managing expenses and guiding strategy and tactics around security.

A Modern Image: Francisco DeArmas, EVP and CIO, Whitney Bank (Harahan, La.)

I'm still responsible for all of the technology and back-office operations, both information and physical security, as well as business continuity. Last year, we were in the middle of a program to totally modernize our systems infrastructure and applications and processes. We're going like gangbusters on that this year. We've deployed several major components and implemented Oracle Peoplesoft for financials and human resources as well. We've recently finished putting in Data Support Systems' (Omaha) T.R.I.P.S. (Touchless Return Item Processing System), image-enabling our Day Two operations. This makes the entire bank image-enabled, which is a major milestone for us.

Most of my discretionary time is spent on regulatory changes. The regulatory environment continues to be challenging, and keeping up with it from a systems and a process point of view keeps us very busy.

Keeping the Momentum Going: Barbara J. Perino, SVP, Operations & Technology, The Washington Trust Co. (Westerly, R.I.)

I still hold the same responsibilities I held when I was awarded the Elite 8 honor in 2009. Our main focus for the past year and going forward is to continue to find ways to mitigate risks and reduce costs through IT initiatives and improved workflows. This past year we focused on server virtualization and implemented EMC's (Hopkinton, Mass.) VMware product. We were able to achieve both a positive ROI on the project as well as improved data recovery scenarios.

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

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