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Small Bank Tries to Beat Big Banks at Their Own Tech Game

With 22 branches and $2.2 billion in assets, Rockville Bank is on the smaller end of the banking spectrum. But the lender has made a big commitment to virtual banking.

The Rockville, Conn., company decided last year to create a position dedicated to overseeing its mobile, online, ATM and customer support center services. Now the role has been filled by a woman on the front line of digital banking for nearly two decades: former Bank of America (BAC) online and mobile product executive Donna Patel.

Rather than attempt to beat big banks in the race for whiz-bang apps and sophisticated platforms, Rockville plans to focus on harnessing technology to better serve its customers.

"We're not going to develop anything," says Patel's boss, Rockville Chief Executive Bill Crawford. "We just want to be fast adopters. We want the big guys to spend the money and figure out what works and what doesn't, and then we want to copy it."

Few could be better suited to carrying out that strategy than Patel, who has helped banks including Bank of America and Wells Fargo (WFC) and its predecessor Wachovia launch and refine a number of digital banking products. At Bank of America, Patel rolled out person-to-person payments for the company's 30 million digital customers and worked to fine-tune the customer service its clients receive via websites, chat rooms and phone calls. She even helped Bank One, which was acquired by JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in 2004, launch its first online banking platform.

"I've been in this digital space for quite some time, and I've seen how the way customers do business and interact with banks has been transformed," Patel says. After years of working with some of the nation's biggest banks, she was lured to Rockville by the chance to see that knowledge pay off in a hands-on way.

"Big banks... have really lost a lot of ground and credibility with customer service in the last several years," Patel says. "Coming to Rockville, it was clear that customer service comes first and foremost it has a great reputation."

Crawford says Rockville wants "to be high-touch and high-tech with customers, and we know that if you don't have a good plan with technology, you can really be left in the dust."

By appointing Patel as senior vice president of virtual banking, Rockville hopes to learn "not only what we need today but what we need to be planning for in the future," Crawford says.

Patel's hiring comes at an important moment for Rockville, which is preparing to take on a larger customer base thanks to its pending acquisition of United Financial Bancorp. It is eyeing opportunities to update its digital services. "We're asking how we can get more people online," Patel says. "Studies show that the most profitable customers in a bank are the ones who are paying bills online.... We're making sure we've got the best platforms with the best experience, which will get customers digitally engaged."

But Rockville's emphasis on technology doesn't mean its branches will go the way of the dinosaurs. "In the early days, everyone thought online banking was going to move all the customers out of the banking centers," Patel says. In her experience, she says, "the more channels you develop, the more customers are going to walk through."


(2) Comments



Comments (2)
Digital Banking offers "a bank on any device, any browser, in every clients hand or pocket", to do payments and balance en-queries. Will this be enough, or will all the current Branch banking product sales process also move to the Bank 2.0 and Bank 3.0 Digital channel system? After all, the banks have as much as a 96% saving on cost by moving Branch product sales to the Digital channel. And on top of that, the bank's clients benefit as there is no need to travel to a Branch to buy (apply for) products.

What about mobile, tablets and laptops? Client Side Portal products are mature now and can resolve the current and future dilemma we have with different devices, different operating systems, different browsers and different browser versions that want to connect to a Bank 2.0 or Bank 3.0 Digital channel system. Thus the need to have many programming streams for various mobile devices writing "Native" or "Hybrid" mobile banking applications is resolved by using a Client Side Portal product.http://pragmaticprogramme.com/mobile-tablets-laptops/
Posted by andre v | Monday, February 03 2014 at 3:04AM ET
I agree with the article but I don't believe it goes far enough. There is the whole issue of translating personal service to the customer in the online environment. That is the niche that community banks have held for so long. How can you translate that to an online environment? What differentiates you from the big boys? Just copying best practices and technologies makes you the same as everyone else.
Posted by jw81 | Tuesday, January 14 2014 at 11:55AM ET
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