Bank executives rely on data to make all sorts of decisions, from staffing to loan approvals to branch locations, but their eyes can glaze over if that data is not presented in a visually engaging way.

Recognizing this, fast-growing Bank of North Carolina in High Point has made it a top priority to improve the way it packages and presents reports.

Once heavy on grey type, its reports are now dotted with colorful graphs, charts and heat maps so that busy senior executives and board members can quickly assess things like loan data and branch profitability and keep better tabs on the integration of acquired banks.

The $3.2 billion-asset bank is jazzing up its data reports with software from SAS that creates visually appealing interpretations of numbers. Heading up the effort is Chief Information Officer Michael Bryan, who says that top executives especially like heat maps when it comes to analyzing loan data.

"You can draw 300 fields, and the heat map can tell you in different colors what components of that data are strong and which are weak," he says. "If you wanted to look at a pool of delinquent loans, you could see what they have in common."

The bank's focus on improved data presentation comes at a time when all banks are looking to make better use of data to gain a competitive edge or improve efficiency. (Many banks have old core systems and still use Microsoft Excel for their reports.) More visually engaging data can help executives make quicker decisions, help make the case for a new technology or a bigger budget for an existing project, or simply convince a skeptic of a fact or trend. It can even be useful to regulators, who are requesting ever more data in their examinations.

At Bank of North Carolina, the first application for the data visualization software is with loan information. Loan committee and board reports will be derived from the new software, replacing the current Word and Excel-based reports.

Loan performance will also be charted across geographical maps. The visualizations will tell the loan committee at a glance where the biggest concentrations of potential problems are.

Another place the software will be used is branch performance and profitability - the bank plans to replace its current branch reports with the SAS tool, and also generate dashboards of branch profitability. Up until recently, the bank's four regions each assembled branch reports from scratch each quarter, each in their own way.

The new reports will show sales in branches, networks, channels, ATMs, debit cards, and mobile banking. The bank will be able to see what locations customers are coming from, even for accounts set up online, which will help inform decisions about staffing models, customer traffic, and channel distribution by branch as the bank continues to expand into South Carolina, including moving into metro areas like Charlotte, Greenville, and Raleigh.

The bank first implemented SAS analytics software in August 2012 and spent a couple of months defining what data should be included. It rolled out dashboards on things like loan growth, deposit growth, profitability, and risk metrics like chargeoffs, past-due loans and exceptions.

The SAS tool is also helping the bank more easily digest its acquisitions.

The bank has completed 11 acquisitions in the past four years - roughly doubling its assets in the process -- and each acquired bank came with its own unique set of reports, data formats and data tags. One bank might use a numerical code to represent delinquent loans, another might use a more descriptive tag such as "90days".

"It was getting complicated and overwhelming for the report routing people to keep up with all these different acquisitions, and the coding schemes used by the different banks," Bryan says.

Indeed, each bank it acquired had its own codes for everything. If Bank of North Carolina wanted to look at defaulted loans across the company, it would have to go into the database of each bank, figure out what code it uses for defaulted loans, and cut and paste that data into a spreadsheet.


Now data from all the banks is being brought into one central database with one set of data tags. A report creator can drag and drop the data he or she wants into a report creator tool, pick the type of visualization they want, and set up a report, along with automatic updates.

"All the coding goes out the window," Bryan says. "If they know their line of business, they can tell within a glance if they want to include [a column of data], and drag and drop. That's what was really appealing."

The data visualization reports will be virtual -- board members already have been given iPads onto which the new reports can be loaded.

"We want to make everything paperless, and use visual reports in color," Bryan says.

New reports are also simple to generate, he says. Rather than entering data into spreadsheets, report creators drag and drop the data sets they want to see onto a worksheet. "Our senior leadership team can sit down with our two developers and ask for something and the next afternoon they offer a test," says Bryan. "It blows their mind that they got something so quick."