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."