While many CIOs tightened budgets amid the financial crisis, First Horizon National Corp. CIO Bruce Livesay saw an opportunity to build a competitive advantage by upgrading his company's banking technology systems and infrastructure. That investment, which began when Livesay joined First Horizon in 2008, could position the Memphis, Tenn.-based company's regional bank for a brighter future. First Horizon, which also has a capital markets division, is the holding company for First Tennessee ($26.3 billion in assets) and also operates several branches outside the state under the parent name.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we're ahead of the game a little bit and that we are making significant investments in our technology," Livesay says. "When other companies were hunkering down and not spending any money, we were making decisions to position us for our future."
The investment is part of what Livesay calls an "All In" approach, in which his team is working on multiple fronts to enhance the bank's technology and its contribution to the business's overall success. Simply, for Livesay, technology makes business possible.
"The simplest way to describe my role is to say that my job is to help our business leaders serve our customers," he says. "Here, I've always viewed technology as more of a business process enabler and efficiency enabler."
Before the bank as a whole can grow, Livesay insists, it must have all the technological pieces in place. His team concurrently is working to restructure the IT organization to align with the business, stabilize the infrastructure, renew key systems and applications, and position the data center for growth.
"Technology is a critical enabler - it's absolutely essential for the growth of the organization," Livesay comments. "You have to have the applications and the infrastructure for not only supporting our business, but you also need to make sure that the technology applications are stable and that they're scalable. Really, you cannot grow if you don't have all the infrastructure in place."
That also requires a holistic view of the role technology plays as part of the business strategy. To Livesay, it is more than the sum of the IT department's parts; it's how technology contributes to the overall success of the company.
"Some organizations limit their view of technology to more of a cost of doing business or more of an order-taker role," Livesay says. "Here at First Horizon, we take a much broader view."
It is a view in which technology and business are aligned; where First Horizon's IT department strives to understand its users - whether customers or employees - and to provide a better overall experience. And in that respect, Livesay believes, the approach adds value to his team members' relationships with the business side, taking IT's role beyond the mechanical obligation to simply provide technology and get out of the way.
"It really gives them a sense of purpose," Livesay says of his IT professionals. "They are much closer to what we do and the value we bring to our constituents."
First Horizon made headlines in July as it brought its data center operations back in-house, an example of how Livesay works to bring technology and the business closer together. Though First Horizon had outsourced its data center operations two and a half years earlier, its requirements changed after it sold off its mortgage company, according to Livesay. The outsourcing agreement, he adds, didn't scale down to fit the needs of a realigned First Horizon.
Rather than continuing to outsource after the initial contract expired, Livesay says, it was better to restructure how the company managed its data rather than scale down services with a third party. "The bottom line on that decision is, we believe it's going to help us serve our customers better than other banks," he relates. And it brings 65 jobs to the community of Maryville, Tenn., where the data center is based, as well as cost efficiency and less risk, Livesay adds.
The decision whether to outsource is "different for every bank in their particular situation," he says. "In our case, it was the timing and strategic decision to refocus on the fundamentals."
Looking Toward the Future
As technology advances, and regulation continues to be defined, Livesay says he works to understand what's ahead and its potential impact on First Horizon. For example, the bank recently launched its mobile banking platform, something Livesay believes will be a significant part of how customers bank in the future. "I think you're going to see very rapid adoption," he notes. "People really are starting to use it to bank from anywhere."
With the number of connected devices in the public's hands today, spurred largely by Apple's iPhone and iPad, the mobile channel will contribute to the uptake of social media among banks as well, according to Livesay. "We're living through a very interesting moment in time where we're seeing convergence between social media and these mobile devices," he says. "Essentially, you have customers and employees who are always connected. From a technology perspective internally, we're really trying to focus on seamless technologies that are channel-agnostic."
First Horizon has a Facebook page and monitors Twitter, and uses those platforms to respond to questions, Livesay reports. The bank acknowledges the importance of having a presence where the customers are on the web, but it also has been careful to establish internal protocols as to how the bank's employees interact, he points out.
"What we have tried to do here is stay ahead of it," Livesay says. "Everything in this space is so new that there are still a lot of standards and legal implications that are yet to be defined. ... But there's no doubt that [social media] is going to continue to evolve and be an ever-increasing interaction tool between employees and customers."
Livesay emphasizes that as new technology is released and new trends come about, he is confident in his team's ability to adapt and stay a little bit ahead of the competition. He is not one for complacency, he adds.
"I tend to be a little less patient than most," Livesay admits. "I can never get it done as fast as I would like. That's what keeps me up at night."