January 03, 2006

Technology typically is viewed as an enabler of business processes. But, for Houston-based holding company Sterling Bancshares ($3.6 billion in assets), which operates Sterling Bank, inefficient technology caused considerable slowdowns.

The bank was using outdated, DOS-based collections software in a Windows environment. As the Windows environment became more complex, the software become increasingly less compatible and error messages were frequent, relates Peggy Wilson, VP of collections at Sterling Bank. Also, the DOS-based solution didn't provide current information, she adds; every morning, the previous day's information would have to be downloaded into the system. To complicate matters, the vendor stopped supporting the software.

So, in 2001, Sterling began searching for a Windows-based system. "We needed an internal system for our draft business ... that would reduce manual effort, improve collection item processing and improve security at the operator/user level in the system," explains Wilson.

Sterling officials narrowed the search to two vendors by the third quarter of 2003. After viewing presentations from the vendors and conducting customer site visits, Sterling chose Trintech's (Dublin) I-TRACS collection reconciliation software in early 2004. Wilson declines to name the other vendor. "The decisive reason we selected the I-TRACS system ... was the stability behind it," she says. "Plus, its Windows version had been in the marketplace longer than any other similar product." Further, the solution, which can provide reports on collections for multiple banking entities from one central location and processes approximately 250 collection items per day, is highly customizable, Wilson adds.

Reworking the System

After a five-day installation, test scripts were written and basic testing of the software began in the second quarter of 2004. Sterling hired a project manager to create workflows and the system matrix, and the internal project team redesigned work processes at both the processing center and bank branches. In August 2004, parallel testing was done at two branches, and, a month later, Trintech trained the central staff on I-TRACS as the software was rolled out to all of the bank's 41 locations. Sterling purchased an IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) xSeries 335 server to house the application and facilitate disaster recovery capabilities.

Since its deployment, I-TRACS has reduced manual efforts and paper entries, enabling Wilson to reduce her staff by two employees, she relates. And, while the old system limited the bank to four item types, I-TRACS can configure an unlimited number of item types with different processing requirements.

In addition, Wilson notes, the software also improved system security by enabling the system administrator to define access rights for every function. Further, "I-TRACS improved fee revenue by allowing for automated fee assessments on a daily instead of a monthly basis," she says. "This improved the accuracy of our fee calculations."

Wilson adds that the tool's audit log shows exactly where the bank is out of balance and it has great research capabilities. "We went from researching by collection number or the amount to researching by any element in the database," she says. With the new system, Wilson continues, seven year's worth of records are accessible. "Before, we had to research manually if our search included items beyond six months." * --Vicki Gerson

Collections

***Institution: Sterling Bank, a unit of Sterling Bancshares (Houston).

***Assets: $3.6 billion.

***Business Challenge: Replace legacy DOS-based collections system.

****Solution: Trintech's (Dublin) I-TRACS collections reconciliation software.