September 29, 2008

The only time Dave McLeod, EVP and chief technology officer of Jackson, Miss.-based BankPlus, can't hear his BlackBerry beep is when he is atop his lawn mower. Ironically, McLeod initially set out to become a doctor but left his pre-med program for a technology career because, he says, "I didn't want to be on call all the time."

The top technology executive at $2.1 billion-asset BankPlus laughs at his naivete now. Although "I would've made more money as a doctor," he says, "I can't think of another job I'd want to do" — that is, until he's pushed on a flight of fantasy. "I'd play baseball," McLeod says, adding, "I follow the Atlanta Braves, but I'm a Red Sox fan."

Had McLeod taken the baseball route, he likely would have had quite a batting average, given his many technology successes — even at the highest levels of competition. For example, though not all of the top 10 U.S. banks offer m-banking yet, and only vastly bigger competitors in McLeod's locality — such as Wachovia (Charlotte, N.C.; $812.4 billion in assets) and Regions Financial Corp. (Birmingham, Ala.; $144.4 billion in assets) — provide the service, BankPlus' m-banking offering already is a hit with customers.

Within five months of m-banking's launch in February 2008, 10 percent of BankPlus' online customers had adopted the service — in a channel where the industry views less than half of that adoption in a year as success. Of BankPlus' more than 100,000 customers, 30,000 bank online and 3,000 use m-banking. McLeod partly credits the bank's success to having made m-banking easy for customers: they use the same log-on as for online banking and can use any mobile carrier's device, he explains.

Dave McLeod, BankPlus"Today [m-banking is] just an extension of our Web site," McLeod says. Customers can pay bills from their mobiles, so long as the billers being paid have already been set up through online banking. With m-banking, McLeod explains, "The only thing you can't do is set up a [new] biller."

He notes that BankPlus hopes to realize revenue opportunities from m-banking in the future, adding that the institution plans to offer m-banking functionality not available online, such as text alerts notifying users when purchases are made with their bank cards.

This brings to mind McLeod's son, a college student who is part of "a generation that has adopted text messaging to the nth degree," according to McLeod. "Text messaging is the only way I can communicate with my son," he says. "He'll always respond to a text message, but there are times he won't pick up the phone -- too embarrassing to say 'Hello, Dad.'"

Creating Convenience

The early introduction of m-banking is in keeping with the BankPlus philosophy: "Any touch point we can create, it's a convenience factor we'll deploy," says McLeod.

While creating convenience for customers isn't always a technical consideration — McLeod points to BankPlus' decidedly unbanker hours: "I don't know of another bank open widely 7 a.m. till 7 p.m.," he comments — another technology touch point that the bank introduced is the $550 scanners that BankPlus provides to its small business customers to enable remote deposits. "It was important for us to extend our footprint without extending our footprint," says McLeod, who notes that such conveniences are good for customer retention.

Despite the success of BankPlus' customer-facing initiatives, the deployment McLeod rates highest is the bank's 14-month move a few years ago from IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) mainframes to Sun (Santa Clara, Calif.) midrange servers for core processing. "We save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year," with greater reliability, he reports, citing 99.95 percent uptime. "At least once a week we'd lose the connection with the mainframe. [Now,] I can't remember the last time — it's a different world."