By Rebecca Sausner

Things at Rhode Island-based Washington Trust are holding up quite well. Total loans grew 12 percent in the first nine months of 2008 and deposits increased $127.7 million in the third quarter. The bank declined TARP funds, but raised $50 million in a private placement. Barbara Perino and Mark Gim say the belt will tighten this year, but support of strategic initiatives, particularly in wealth management, will go on. Bank Technology News, a SourceMedia publication, interviewed Perino and Gim about IT spending for 2009.

BTN: Can you talk a little bit about your IT spending plan for 2009 and what kind of spending projects are on your horizon?

Barbara Perino: We're looking to do several things around four key initiatives: improving business processes, delivering great customer service, generating new business either from our existing customers or new customers, and lastly you can't ignore regulatory compliance, nor can you ignore security.

BTN: What are some specific projects you'll implement this year?

BP: One of the biggest projects we're working on, and we worked on it in 08 and will be working on some additional facets to it in on 09, are enhanced technology initiatives within our wealth management division. We're looking to expand our product and delivery mix for that particular division so we can be competitive against some of the larger firms that we compete against in New England. We have three divisions, and our hope is to put those three divisions on a unified platform, thus increasing our operational effectiveness.

BTN: Tell us about the platform...

BP: One of the first initiatives we put into play was to put in a common customer relationship management system; that way we had a means of tracking leads, of correspondence and contact with our customers. And secondly we took a look at the three divisions as a whole, the platforms they were offering, as well as the investment alternatives they were able to offer their customers given the platform they were operating under. So we are in the process of determining if the platform will fit all three divisions. It's kind of hard because they are different and do offer a different approach to investing, [so a common platform] doesn't necessarily meet everyone's needs.

BTN: What else is on tap for 09?

BP: One of the things we're looking at is delivering business intelligence data to the front line customer service and sales staff. We do a great job of looking at customer profitability [and] household profitability. In the past we have not had a means to easily provide that data to the front end staff.

...Also, with the information [we have put] together on customer profitability it gives them the tools to say, 'Okay, this is a good customer but they don't have their mortgage with us, or they may have their mortgage but they don't have a home equity with us'. It gives them that opportunity to cross sell the customer because they have that information readily available to them.

Mark Gim: This was a good example of deploying technology in a way that helps sustain growth, as well as provide better customer service. I think banks as a general rule sit on top of mountains of data about their customer base.

BTN: Is this an in-house solution or a vendor purchase?

BP: We've come up with an in-house solution, using technology that we already own to do this. We looked at purchasing and we really didn't find what met our needs for the right price.

BTN: How has your spending plan changed, or not changed, given the current economic conditions?

MG: As with most financial institutions, you have to consider every dollar. Every year we've gone through the process where only some of what goes in through the wide end of the funnel comes out at the small end. That small end is even smaller this year and the burden of proof is much higher for the advocate of technology solutions particularly...Technology is being asked to be more of a cost savings and business efficiency device today than it has been, and I think that's going to be true going forward.

BTN: Barbara, you have definite ideas about how vendors should approach you to sell a product. Can you share those with us?

BP: I first say, every vendor should know what my budgeting cycle is. Don't call me in November when my budgets have been done since September....Second, you have to convince me that your product adds value. When you send me emails that are so nondescript, and you don't know enough about my institution to know how your product will truly add value, it's wasting my time.

What I say to my vendors is this, 'Will your product have a direct impact on my bottom line by either increasing revenues, reducing costs or providing efficiencies with respect to staff? Will it fill a product void for my customers, is it something I don't currently have and want to offer my customers, and will that therefore give the bank a competitive edge in my market? Will it improve my customers' experience in some way, shape or form? Or, lastly, will it mitigate risk or eliminate a single point of failure that I have right now? So those are some of the things I look at when they ask, 'How do you get to me?'

Bank Technology News is written for CIOs, CTOs and IT professionals who are responsible for identifying, recommending, purchasing and supporting the front-, middle- and back-office technology needs across financial institutions. It provides critical information and analysis on the relationship between banking strategy and technology execution at financial institutions.

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