Let's be frank: 2009 was not the year that most community banks undertook groundbreaking technology projects. Rather, projects that focused on increasing efficiency or wresting cost savings out of existing technologies and contracts found themselves at the top of most CIOs' to-do list.

In Bank Technology News' annual ranking of the Top Community Bank IT projects we found some great examples of this. Fauquier Bank bank has seen its processing costs cut by seven percent by changing core vendors, and expects to see associated EFT/ATM income increase by five percent this year. Circle Bank of Novato, CA estimates it added 20 minutes of additional productive time to each employee's day with the introduction of an HR portal. The State Bank in LaJunta, CO engaged more new business customers in two weeks than it had in the previous two years after negotiating an investment-free partnership with Bling Nation, and Hampden Bank of Springfield, MA shook things up with a teller capture system that cuts keystrokes by 80 percent and estimates annual cost savings at just under $60k. And, perhaps the most innovative solution BTN considered, Union Savings Bank of Danbury, CT cut its fraud losses 90 percent in one year with a program that included a new biometric video surveillance system integrated into its Fiserv teller system.

If this year was about savings and efficiency, next year looks about the same. Abound Resources, a Texas-based community bank tech consultantcy, surveyed executives from more than 120 community banks in late 2009 and found 40 percent of CEOs are optimistic about their institution's prospects this year. Insight into this relative lack of optimism can be found in their priorities for 2010: 70 percent listed "clean up the balance sheet," followed by 63 percent who vowed to "Improve (their bank's) efficiency ratio." Technology came in fourth on the priority list, and not in a "buy more" sense. Some 52 percent of respondents said they wanted to get more value from existing technology; the same number said they plan to use technologies for better efficiencies.

But Abound's research also found a disconnect between what community bank CEOs had in mind and what their CIOs, CFOs and COOs were focused on. CEOs want efficiency, but CIOs are looking at more innovative technologies, with mobile banking, customer relationship management, online account opening and document imaging high on their 2010 priorities list.

The beauty of the projects on this year's Top Community Bank IT Initiatives? They straddled that line, finding both innovation and efficiency in their ROI.

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