Like many small banks across the U.S., First National Bank of Iowa faces stiff competition from larger national institutions. To compete, the rural bank must offer services comparable to those available at large banks while providing more attention to its customers. But, for a bank that has just $150 million in assets, the cost of technology can prove prohibitive.
Bandwidth, in particular, presented a challenge for the financial institution. "Our communication feeds to our branches were very bad," says Julie Williams, the bank's VP and compliance officer. As a community bank, First National Bank of Iowa's customers depend on face-to-face meetings in one of the bank's five branch locations, which are connected to the bank's Fontanelle, Iowa, headquarters via a WAN. "It would take 10 to 15 minutes just to do an inquiry on a customer's account balance. We were using dedicated 56K lines from our main office to the branches, but they weren't powerful enough."
No Job Too Small
Williams, who says that many telecommunication companies don't want to invest money in rural locations, had to find a company that was willing to take on a relatively small project at a price the bank could afford.
Although slow communications problems were not new for First National Bank of Iowa, the problems accelerated when it purchased three additional locations in October 2003. More than 5,000 customers with more than 25,000 accounts became too much for the bank's data pipes to handle. Almost immediately, the bank identified the problem and began looking for a solution.
"We'd be at a disadvantage if we went out and tried to find the right product on our own," explains Williams. "We don't have the staff or the knowledge." So, the bank turned to its technology provider, Unisys Corp. (Blue Bell, Pa.). Unisys quickly suggested a solution from its technology partner, Roseland, N.J.-based Expand Networks.
Based on Unisys' recommendation, the financial institution deployed Expand Networks' 1800 Accelerator data-compression appliance between the bank's headquarters and its original branch in April 2004 as a pilot test. According to Williams, the bank experienced a dramatic improvement. Now, she says, customer account information is available in about a minute. In June, additional 1800 Accelerators were added for First National Bank of Iowa's remaining three branches.
The total cost of the project was less than $5,000. "With the Expand Accelerators in place, we have literally been able to trick our 56Kbps lines into behaving like T1s," says Williams.
According to Expand Networks, the 1800 Accelerator is capable of improving application response times by 100 to 400 percent and can be seamlessly integrated into existing networks. Williams confirms that no platform changes or staff training were required for the implementation, which was handled by Unisys. She adds that there are no monthly licensing or maintenance fees associated with the product.
Williams notes that the solution helps staff avoid wasting time searching for answers to customers' questions, and customers are pleased that they don't have to wait to get answers. But perhaps best of all, she notes, "It was a bargain."
Institution: First National Bank of Iowa (Fontanelle, Iowa).
Assets: $150 million.
Business Challenge: Speed branch access to customer account information via improved communication feeds.
Solution: Expand Networks
(Roseland, N.J.) 1800 Accelerator data compression appliances.