BankAtlantic Bancorp is embarking on a technology overhaul to prepare itself for growth.
The first step of the three-year, multimillion-dollar effort was hiring the company's new chief information officer. Former Alex Sheshunoff & Co. consultant Dave Bartholomew started in the post Nov. 1.
He is responsible to update and integrate virtually all aspects of BankAtlantic's systems.
"We really need to improve our capability relative to technology," said Steven D. Hickman, chief operating officer. The new CIO "will be helping us tremendously."
The move was a significant step in the evolution of the 46-year-old company, which, with $3.8 billion of assets, became the largest Florida- based financial institution this year after Barnett Banks Inc. was bought by NationsBank Corp.
In the wake of industry consolidation, BankAtlantic officials have put the company on an aggressive growth track over the last two years, adding offices, key executives, and many business lines.
With the growth came the realization that many systems are inefficient and outdated. Loan application data must be entered manually at least three times during the approval process. And the company has had no way to capture and leverage information about its customers.
Shortly after the company recently launched its ambitious "Daybreak Fax," delivering to small businesses early-morning financial statements on demand, it pulled the service because of numerous malfunctions. It hopes to restore it this week.
"There are certain frustrations," Mr. Bartholomew said in an interview during his fourth day on the job. "They have a lot of work to do."
Mr. Bartholomew would not disclose the cost of the technological improvements more than to say it is "less than $10 million." When all is in place, he said, BankAtlantic will have new lending and teller platforms, new call center systems, and an integrated data warehousing system, among other improvements.
The technology effort is associated with a business-line rationalization in which the company is trying to decide which businesses to leave and which to expand, while getting a better handle on expenses.
Officials plan to make those decisions in the next month. The changes probably will lead to a fourth-quarter charge to earnings of undetermined size, Mr. Hickman said.
The Fort Lauderdale-based company also took a charge in the third quarter, establishing a $15 million valuation allowance that resulted in a $9.5 million loss for the period.
The loss was attributed to the writedown of mortgage servicing rights, losses in the company's trading portfolio, and expenses related to business initiatives that grew $5.6 million in the third quarter.
Deborah R. Beylus, an analyst at J.W. Genesis Securities in Boca Raton, Fla., said investors are starting to lose patience because BankAtlantic said this year that it would have many of its expense issues wrapped up by the third quarter. The news about the fourth-quarter hit did not go over well, she said.
Nevertheless, the company's core banking business seems to be headed in the right direction, Ms. Beylus said.
"The company has really been expanding. They have tons of new expenses, but they are doing very well," she said.
"It's just going to be a bumpy road until they get everything ironed out."