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2010's Elite 8 Honorees: Where Are They Now

The recent economic turmoil and a tougher regulatory environment continue to challenge bank technology executives, who must work to improve the customer experience while cutting costs and boosting efficiencies in order to remain competitive. Bank Systems & Technology checked in with the 2010 Elite 8 honorees to see how today's challenges have changed their responsibilities and their banks' focus over the past year.




An Eye to the Future

Umpqua Bank has grown by leaps and bounds through acquisition since its inception, but its integration process is relatively easy these days. When Colin Eccles, CIO of Roseburg, Ore.-based Umpqua, was recognized as a 2010 BS&T Elite 8 honoree, the bank had just acquired three institutions in the previous three months, their integrations facilitated by a repeatable process that Eccles developed in order to complete mergers in fewer than 120 days.

A year after his Elite 8 honor, however, Eccles says his priorities and focus have changed. This year, he has focused on building Umpqua's technology infrastructure for the future and ensuring that the bank's technology operations are reliable, scalable and have high availability. He also has been working closely with business unit executives to address compliance requirements and respond to regulatory changes. "2011 has been focused on infrastructure and ensuring that technology is in place to support the long-term growth of the bank," he says, adding that his team's priorities for the coming year include achieving regulatory compliance, driving innovation to differentiate the customer experience and supporting Umpqua's growth. "In 2012," Eccles adds, "my focus will shift to enhancing the customer experience across all delivery channels."

Since investing in technology has been a high priority and strategic focus for Umpqua Bank, Eccles' IT budget has grown significantly over the past three years, he notes. "While the recent economic turmoil hasn't directly impacted my budget, I will continue to review and assess my technology organization to ensure that it is operating as efficiently as possible," Eccles says. "In addition, we will evaluate and prioritize all projects and initiatives based on their business case. Now is the time to ensure that technology resources are correctly assigned and focused."


Back to Basics

Paul Johnson, EVP and CIO of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T and a 2010 Elite 8 honoree, notes that while his job responsibilities haven't changed over the past year, the importance of IT to the organization's overall success continues to rise. "With that comes greater responsibility to find opportunities to create operating leverage and execute at even higher levels," Johnson explains.

BB&T recently completed a successful three-year IT transformation program and is applying its improved capabilities to enabling the bank's business units and corporate support functions to address challenges and opportunities wherever possible. According to Johnson, the bank's key areas of focus will be risk management, meeting regulatory demands, enhancing enterprise information management and analytics capabilities, enterprise automation and optimization, and executing key business initiatives.

The coming year will bring continued -- and increasing -- challenges for Johnson's team, he acknowledges. "We must be ever-mindful of the climate and navigate through the challenges, which include a continued tough economy and tougher regulatory environment, IT consumerization, fewer revenue opportunities, and tougher competition," he points out. "Only a few levers will be available to weather the storm.

"Expense management will be key," Johnson continues. "However, executing on key competitive plays will be important. From an IT perspective, the systems still must run and regulatory requirements still must be met. We expect fewer discretionary dollars and a narrower focus on investment opportunities."


New Beginnings

It's been a busy year for Jeff Dennes, who is now senior vice president and chief digital officer for Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington National Bank. Dennes was named a 2010 Elite 8 honoree while executive director at USAA, where he was responsible for the financial services firm's online and mobile channels.

The change, Dennes says, has been good for him, and he is enjoying the added responsibility that comes with his new post. "At USAA, I was responsible for online and mobile broken across multiple leaders; at Huntington, I am the leader in setting strategy for digital channels, including ATM, online, mobile, iPad and future touch-computing devices," he explains.

According to Dennes, creating an excellent customer experience is a top priority at Huntington and for his team. "We are working to figure out a way to insulate ourselves from the legacy systems through all these different channels popping up and the new ways for customers to access their accounts and manage their finances," Dennes says. "And as each channel evolves and customers begin to adopt each channel, we are challenged to ensure that we're creating the best experience and also that we're not creating it time after time after time."

Looking ahead to the coming year, Dennes says his team will catch up on the online space, building some capabilities that will enable a better online experience for the bank's small-business customers and continuing to invest in mobile technology. But the recent economic turmoil will negatively affect Huntington's IT budget, he acknowledges, adding that tight funding is something banks have to manage through business cycles.

"Any time you have an economic downturn like this, you've got to look long and hard at where you're spending and investing," Dennes says. "You want to come out of the economic downturn as strong as possible and invest in things that will best suit you so that when the economy does turn back up, you're positioned to go fat."


A Global Mandate

When BS&T honored New York-based Citigroup's Anthony DiSanto with an Elite 8 award in 2010, he was concentrating his efforts on modernizing and consolidating the bank's data centers, standardizing desktops and updating the firm's phone system. But in March 2011, DiSanto was given added responsibility for the financial giant's global data centers.

While the scope of his responsibilities has broadened significantly, DiSanto says, he has continued his persistent efforts to address his institution's technology challenges. "One of our continued priorities is the creation of a single servicing platform for our consumer clients around the world. We also continue to focus on our reengineering efforts as part of Citi's mandate to deliver a 'global bank,'" he reports. "These efforts, specifically, revolve around our infrastructure as well as consolidation and expansion of our internal clouds."

Like many of his peers, DiSanto also points out that the current economic situation has impacted Citi's IT budget. "There is re-prioritization regarding specific projects and a highlighted focus on reengineering the bank," he says.


A Disciplined Approach

2010 Elite 8 honoree George Tumas, SVP and CIO of Wells Fargo's Internet services group, is known for setting ambitious goals for the institution's online and mobile banking channels. And this year, he reports, while he continues to manage Wells Fargo's Internet and mobile channels, changes to his reporting relationship have been made to strengthen the San Francisco-based bank's cross-channel initiative, drive consistency in technology, leverage best practices across groups, and use common tools and processes.

In the coming year, Tumas says, the cross-channel initiative -- which aims to provide a seamless experience across Wells Fargo's Internet, community bank and customer contact center platforms -- will be a top priority for the bank. "Overall, we will focus on delivering more capabilities while managing our technology investments and expenses," he says.

"Technology represents a significant investment for our company, and the demand for technology is growing at an accelerating rate," Tumas adds. "We manage technology in a disciplined way to create efficiencies and operating leverage for the company, while ensuring our environment remains highly resilient and reliable."


Strategic Investment

When John Itokazu was recognized as an Elite 8 honoree in 2010, he was executive vice president and CIO of Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorporation and EVP of technology and operations for the firm's subsidiary, Zions Management Services Co. In that role, Itokazu managed an organization of 1,700 people in nine divisions that covered an array of areas, including customer service, security, bank cards, and services and information technology.

In his 32-plus years at Zions, Itokazu recalls, he faced myriad large-scale challenges and changes. But over this past summer Itokazu made a significant change himself -- he moved to Union Bank, where he serves as the institution's new CIO and operations officer. In his new post, Itokazu will build out San Francisco-based Union Bank's technology and operations to support its substantial growth ambitions.

Union Bank's two top priorities in the coming year heavily involve technology, according to Itokazu. "Union Bank will maintain its focus on customer service and on expanding its market share in the United States. Some of that expansion will come organically and also through strategic acquisitions," he says. "Technology and operations are key enablers of growth, so a significant priority will continue to be the investment in our systems and operations functions, along with the successful integration that comes with acquisitions."

Strategic technology investment is important to Union Bank in these extremely turbulent economic times, during which budgets everywhere are carefully scrutinized, Itokazu explains. "We have a lot of important initiatives that will add value for the bank and our customers," he says. "The key is making certain we are investing in the right initiatives and we execute well."


Opportunity From Turmoil

At First Tennessee, a subsidiary of Memphis, Tenn.-based First Horizon National, information technology is viewed as a strategic business enabler. And, says First Horizon executive vice president and CIO Bruce Livesay, a 2010 BS&T Elite 8 honoree, the regulatory and economic challenges facing the banking industry have merely intensified First Tennessee's emphasis on using technology to differentiate service and operate efficiently.

In the coming year, First Tennessee will focus on staying flexible and nimble, and "controlling what we can control," Livesay says. "In 2012, we'll emphasize operating effectively and leveraging technology to deliver the best service to our customers. Our employees understand our customers' needs and build long-term relationships."

According to Livesay, every banker is looking at the business landscape ahead as somewhat uncharted territory. "We're literally seeing history made with a combination of unprecedented new regulation and the explosion of consumer-oriented technologies," he notes. "We expect increasing regulatory burdens, low rates and a period of extended slow economic growth."

However, Livesay reports, First Tennessee's IT budget is somewhat of an anomaly. "We have invested heavily over the past three years to renew our entire software and hardware infrastructure," he explains. "The period of economic turmoil has really provided an opportunity to focus inwardly toward building a strong foundation for future growth.

"We will complete the majority of our massive IT transformation work in 2011, so 2012 will naturally see a return to a more normalized pace of investment."

 

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

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