As other banks seek to lure customers with PC banking, Internet tools, and other IT bells and whistles, Northern Bank of Commerce remains steadfastly committed to giving small business customers personalized service. While its back offices are automated with hundreds of thousands of dollars in systems, the technology itself is designed to be completely invisible to the customer, says the Portland, OR-based bank's president and CEO John H. Holloway, Jr.; the goal is to provide "a personal, friendly voice and a banker on your doorstep."

This old-fashioned approach is not rooted in tradition; the bank is only three years old. Rather, it's based on months of research by bank executives. They found that while customers wanted fast, customized service, they didn't want to know about the technology enabling it. When the bank began purchasing systems, for example, it was ready to sign on with CFI ProServices' home banking solution, PersonalBranch, but executives nixed it when customers said they had little interest in it.

To enable officers to spend time personally wooing customers, the bank's back offices rely on turnkey systems, including CFI's DepositPro and LoanPro, which allow new customer accounts to be easily keyed into the system and filed. Most of the information is then sent to Alltel's Horizon system to be processed into individual reports. Each night, that information is automatically downloaded via modem to the bank where officers can view and massage it using Acquire, from Wesgroup. The system can also display the entire bank's position on a daily basis, says bank svp John Ellsworth. Further, Momentis's Executive Information System is in place so that executives like Holloway can drill down further into individual departments, examine the profitability of any customer, and create additional reports. "So I can tell you instantly whether a particular relationship is worth our time," Holloway says.

This kind of timely assessment is critical now that the bank is attempting to put bankers on the doorsteps of an increasing number of larger customers. The acquisition of U.S. Bancorp by First Bank System has afforded Northern Bank a slew of potential new customers who prefer doing business with a locally based institution. And so far its strategy seems to be working for the $45 million-asset bank. Loans have grown 46 percent in the last 12 months.

-prince tfn.com

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