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Under Barbara Perino's Direction, IT Helps Washington Trust Compete With the Big Banks

At 209-year-old Washington Trust, Barbara Perino has overhauled legacy systems, developed customer insight capabilities and built an infrastructure that supports the community bank's growth strategies.

Washington Trust Company, founded in 1800, is the nation's oldest community bank. But this doesn't mean the bank fears change. In fact, under the leadership of Barbara Perino, SVP, operations and technology, the Westerly, R.I.-based institution -- which was founded in 1800 and operates in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts -- has replaced almost all the legacy systems that were in place when she took the job. Along the way Washington Trust ($2.9 billion in assets) also has developed sophisticated customer insight capabilities that make it competitive with much larger institutions in its market.

"We might not be the largest bank in our area," Perino says of Washington Trust, "but we're very nimble [and] able to get at information that helps our customers. We're big enough to serve the large credit opportunities presented to us, yet ... we're still small enough to have the personal touch. That may be what differentiates us from everyone else."

According to Perino, an accountant by training who joined Washington Trust 21 years ago as controller, what differentiates Washington Trust's IT team is a simple summary of its mission. "Our role is basically to support the product managers," she says. "Our goal is to make sure we have a strong, scalable infrastructure. That way, as we grow and expand, we have the technology behind the scenes to support the bank's growth strategies."

Simply put, the strategic plan is geared around growth. But, Perino says, it was clear when she took on the operations and technology job 11 years ago that the capabilities of the bank's systems at the time were an impediment to growth and customer service. So the first order of business was an overhaul of the bank's customer delivery channels.

"We took a look at all of our systems and said, 'What do we have to replace, and what do we need that we don't have right now?' " she recalls. The answer to those questions has been replacement of every legacy system but one and the addition of a number of new applications.

Barbara Perino, The Washington Trust Company
"We had very disparate systems," Perino relates. "Our goal was to get all of our customer delivery systems on real time. What we realized is, you have a customer who goes to the ATM, they use a voice response unit, they use Internet banking, they go to the teller line. From a risk perspective as well as a reputation perspective, we wanted to be able to say, 'OK, here's your balance.' It's not: 'Here's your balance at the teller line, here's your balance for online banking, or when you dial in, or at the ATM.' "

Getting to Real Time

The bank ultimately selected Open Solutions (Glastonbury, Conn.) as its core systems provider. Among the benefits of the technology, Perino explains, are its relational database capabilities. "That was pretty much the tool that we needed to get one or two of our systems into a real-time mode," she says. ROI considerations were also a factor: "The controller in me," Perino says, drove her to commit to payback on the investment through efficiencies gained.

Subsequently Washington Trust has integrated a loan origination system with straight-through processing (STP) capabilities. "A loan is originated and can automatically be uploaded and onboarded onto our core systems," Perino says. "It was a huge undertaking, especially for a group of people who had never done a core conversion before as a team."

In addition to efficiency, this has provided Washington Trust with a wealth of insight into its customers -- resulting not only in revenue opportunities but also in better security and fraud prevention, according to Perino. "We built a strong skill set with individuals who were able to extract data and build a data warehouse for many purposes, [including] product profitability and customer profitability," she says. "You can ask me the most convoluted query about a customer -- if you want to know every customer who has a debit card and who has a mortgage and who lives in this town -- but doesn't have a checking account with us -- we can tell you that now. When we had disparate systems, that wasn't something we were able to accomplish easily."

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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