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Inside Webster Bank's Outsourcing Project with FIS

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Webster Bank has given itself a big assignment.

The Waterbury, Conn., commercial bank wants to reduce operating expense by doing more electronic banking and more mobile banking — all while running fewer branches. It aims to slash spending and investment on branch infrastructure by 20% by 2014. Another goal is to have tellers handle customer service, advice and sales on top of their traditional duties.

So in January the $20.1 billion-asset bank outsourced its data network, servers, telecommunications and storage to FIS, its core provider, as part of a new eight-year IT contract with the vendor.

Webster extended its existing core processing deal with FIS to include more services, such as reloadable debit cards and smartphone check deposit, which are scheduled to debut in the second quarter.

In January, Webster launched a mobile banking app and opened a branch in Greenwich, Conn., to house its private-banking business. In the fourth quarter it finished upgrading its ATM network to allow customers to make deposits using image-capture technology.

Executives also forged a five-year deal with the property and facilities manager Jones Lang LaSalle to oversee the bank's seven regional hubs and its 168 owned and leased branches. The company will also consult with the bank on future real estate decisions and help reduce energy consumption across the bank's portfolio.

"We're evolving into a best location, more universal banker-driven, sales and consultative model," says Jerry Plush, Webster Bank's president and chief operating officer.

"We're really looking to reduce the number of corporate facilities to make sure all our banking centers are of the appropriate size and in the best locations," Plush says.

"A lot of branches were designed in an era of heavy neighborhood or urban area teller transaction needs, and those transactions are dwindling," he says. "It's not that the number of customers are dwindling, it's just that their need to come into the branch has changed.

"When you get past your largest expenses of compensation and benefits, you've really got to control your occupancy costs if you're trying to become a very efficient organization. So you've got to examine every square foot to determine what value you're deriving versus what you're paying for it. A lot of customers are turning toward electronic offerings, so there's less demand for teller counter transactions and locations."

The servers for more than 300 banking applications that FIS manages for Webster were relocated last year from two adjacent Connecticut towns to two data centers, in Andover, Mass., and Bethlehem, Pa. The sites are fully managed by Windstream, a Little Rock, Ark., company that provides network communications, cloud computing and managed services.

Plush says the setup deserves some credit for helping the bank avoid disruptions to its network during February's blizzard, which dumped nearly three feet of snow at some of Webster's locations. Three branches that were inaccessible the Monday after the weekend storm were reopened the next day.

"There was absolutely no disruption in the Webster network over the course of the storm," he emphasizes. "So it was very, very efficient for us to house the data centers co-located with full redundancy. Over the long term that definitely will result in our not having to spend as much time focused on any type of weather-related events like the one we just went through."

Also in January, under Webster's new IT management agreement with FIS, 47 Webster bank employees became full-time FIS employees. Under their new employer they will continue to focus on supporting Webster Bank's IT.

"That's typical of my past experiences when you have an outsource agreement like that," says Colin Eccles, Webster's new chief information officer.

Before joining Webster in January, Eccles was the information chief at Umpqua Holdings in Portland, Ore., and he was information chief for seven years before that at the retail bank of the Seattle thrift company Washington Mutual. He led Computer Sciences Corporation's Hogan core banking systems' service delivery in the Americas after CSC acquired Continuum's Hogan Systems in 1996.

"CSC was a very big outsourcer, and in my CSC days this was very typical," Eccles says. "They rebadge the employees, bring them across on day one, and they continue to work with their former employer to improve services and drive efficiencies. When we announced this, that same day those 47 employees went through a very thorough orientation process with FIS and became FIS employees immediately. It was a very smooth transition."

"Those folks," Plush says, "have even greater career opportunities with FIS than they do staying within a self-contained bank IT group. FIS has handled this in an extremely professional manner. Our view was we had to ensure continuity, and that they would remain on our account for a significant period of time in 2013. That's what we were assured. Beyond that, we really can't comment further. At this point, those bankers are now part of the FIS family."

Shane Kite is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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