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Phil Britt
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Moving On Up

Bank holding company upgrades ACH processing to Web-based platform from Goldleaf.

First Financial Bankshares, a $2.4 billion holding company with 10 member community banks, signed its first contract with Goldleaf Technologies for ACH software nearly 10 years ago, back when some of the largest banks were starting their first forays into the online world and there was little volume in the way of online financial transactions.

Throughout its use of Goldleaf's DOS-based ACH origination product, and then the vendor's PC-based product, Abilene, Texas-based First Financial Bankshares was impressed with the combination of value and price that the vendor offered. So, when Goldleaf launched a beta version of its Web-based Goldleaf Client ACH product in early 2002, the holding company jumped on board - without considering other vendors' offerings - according to Kelly Jones, who handles treasury management for First Financial Bankshares and is vice president of First Financial Bank of Abilene, one of the holding company's member institutions.

"We've always been very happy with Goldleaf. They have the best tech support of any company I've worked with," says Jones. "We didn't think there was a need to look at anyone else."

No Time Like the Present

Since NACHA was planning to move to Web-based information exchange, First Financial Bankshares decided the time was right to transition from Goldleaf's PC product to its Web-based product, Jones explains. Additionally, the Web product offered better efficiency and security (including 128-bit encryption) than the PC-based system, according to Jones. With the PC-based product, users had to send un-encrypted e-mails with the information, or deliver a disk with the data to one of the holding company's banks. Neither method was very secure, Jones says.

It took just six weeks for First Financial Bankshares, which handles the ACH business for its member banks, to transition from the pilot phase to full use of Goldleaf's Web client, Jones relates. "We didn't expect anything less from them - when Goldleaf puts out something in beta, it's pretty close to being ready for going out in full production," he says.

First Financial Bankshares could have run Goldleaf's Web-based product on the same Dell 486 platform that it used for the PC-based product, according to Jones, but the institution saw the change as a good opportunity to upgrade to a Dell Poweredge 1400 SC.

The Web-based Goldleaf Client, which is privately labeled for the holding company, is easier to use and provides better reliability for customers than the older, PC-based product, relates Jones. With the PC product, if there was a computer failure and the customer hadn't backed up the information - and most didn't, according to Jones - the customer would have to start the process over again. With the Web-based product, the customer goes online to access the Goldleaf server, initiates the ACH and then closes the session. The information is always stored at Goldleaf.

That convenience, along with the banks' pricing and relationships with their commercial customers, many of whom operate small businesses, helps First Financial Bankshares add about one new customer a week, according to Jones. The banks' customers initiate 140 to 150 ACH transactions each day.

"We make it so they can't refuse it," Jones says. "We are a relationship-based holding company - we don't charge an arm and a leg for [ACH services]." First Financial Bankshares even will send someone to help a business with the product setup and the initiation of the first ACH transactions, he adds.

The next step for the holding company will be to add the Goldleaf Manager product when it is released as a Web-based offering later this year, Jones says. With the Web-based manager, the bank will no longer need to download files to a PC, add all the necessary information and then upload the files to the Goldleaf server. Instead, the bank will be able to perform all the necessary functions via an online interface.

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Snapshot

INSTITUTION: First Financial

Bankshares Inc. (Abilene, Texas), a holding company for 10 community banks that handles ACH transactions for member institutions.

ASSETS: $2.4 billion.

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Provide Web-based ACH capabilities for business customers.

SOLUTION: Goldleaf Client from Goldleaf Technologies (Brentwood, Tenn.)

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