Bringing together two banks founded in the 19th century produced a very modern problem.

After Hancock Bank of Gulfport, Miss., established in 1899, acquired in 2010 longtime neighbor Whitney Bank in New Orleans (circa 1883), executives decided to keep operating the venerable brands as separate entities for a period of time. Both banks are part of the $27 billion-asset Hancock Holding.

But the attempt at a gradual transition in branding created a technological headache, as they continued to operate separate versions of banking systems, depending on the channel. Now, several years after the banks joined to form Hancock and Whitney Bank, their legacy systems are finally coming together as well.

“They’re two very old institutions that have been part of the fabric of the community for over 100 years,” said Jennifer Wilson, Hancock’s chief digital officer, who was brought on in 2015 to help lead its digital aspirations. “We had a tendency to operate in channel silos,” she noted, such as a banker in a branch being unaware a customer who had just walked in had started a process online.

“We knew we had a technology refresh ahead of us,” she added. “We started to think about what we want our customer interactions to look like, and how do we examine how customers are interacting with us and respond to that.”

Wilson and her team worked in an overall rebranding effort, unifying branding on digital channels and streamlining the different internal systems onto one platform.

The bank this year purchased software from technology provider FIS. FIS integrates disparate legacy systems in the hopes of reducing the misunderstanding and friction that often exists between bankers and customers who perform tasks in multiple channels, Wilson said.

“They want the ability to start something in one channel and finish in another; they don’t want to start something on mobile then walk into a branch and have it be a huge disaster of a process,” she said.

The bank is only three weeks into implementing FIS’s technology, but anecdotally, Wilson said, customers have reacted positively so far. “The ability to stay continuously engaged with the customer, in real time, is a big goal,” she added.

For Hancock and Whitney, the investment is just the beginning of its digital journey. Wilson said the bank is looking at services like entirely digital account opening, providing more digital tools for customers to manage money, and utilizing video interactions to a greater degree.

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Though she declined to state the amount of the investment in FIS’ software, Wilson said the bank made the business decision to spend money on new technology “because we needed to rethink our infrastructure and ensure that we were ready for whatever new digital technology would be coming at us. We needed a major upgrade of multiple platforms, and this gave us an opportunity to think about both the branch and digital experiences simultaneously.”

Hancock and Whitney Bank’s investment is part of a larger trend in banks pursuing omnichannel projects, said David Albertazzi, a senior analyst with Aite Group.

“Customer-centricity is on the rise; understanding the customer journey better and how they interact with the bank on a regular basis, where the points of confusion are and eliminating them,” he said. “Many bank [information technology] projects happening now are fueled by this goal of customer-centricity.”

Hancock and Whitney’s transformation was also in part driven by the desire to reduce redundant systems brought on by a merger; as bank M&A activity continues to rise, this may spur more digital transformation projects, Albertazzi noted. (There was a 2% increase in the volume of bank M&A deals in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter last year, according to PwC research.)

“With the consolidation happening year over year in the industry, you have situations [after a merger] where half of customers are on one system and half on another,” Albertazzi said. “That can’t make for a good experience. So I think you’ll see more of these types of projects.”

Other factors contributed to the decision to maintain separate banks.

Whitney, by total assets, was 39% larger than Hancock. New Orleans also accounted for nearly 40% of the company’s loans and deposits after the deal closed in late 2010. Management also wanted to send a message to New Orleans that it valued the city and a bank that had been based there for more than 130 years.

"The two-bank structure has worked extraordinarily well," Carl Chaney, then a co-CEO at Hancock, said in June 2013. "It makes sense for us to keep that Whitney brand. The goodwill of both of those names is well worth it." (Chaney retired from Hancock in 2014).

For Wilson, the effort is not about simply shifting customers to digital, but making sure they have the same experience no matter how they interact with the bank.

“At the end of the day, banking is a relationship business,” she said. “People don’t want an experience engineered for them. They just want the best experience in whatever channel they are in.”

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan is a senior writer with American Banker, with a focus on financial technology.