IN WHAT MAY BE THE first example of its kind, a government regulation has had the unintended effect of helping United Missouri Bank of Kansas City make money.
United Missouri, with $6.5 billion in assets, has turned its efforts to comply with the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and the Community Reinvestment Act into a way to make the bank a better marketer of its products.
What started as a way to link the bank's mortgage processing system to the PC-based compliance programs quickly became a more ambitious tool for analyzing data from other lending departments, such as commercial and auto loans. The bank also has plans to link the compliance to deposit information.
The compliance software generates color-coded maps that organize and analyze loan information from the bank's IBM mainframe.
Before installing the system about four months ago, the bank would purchase neighborhood maps and then use colored pushpins to indicate where the loans were made. It was a very time-consuming process, said Chuck Lewis, vice president and compliance officer for the 4,000-employee bank.
"Now we let the computer make the maps," said Chris Spellman, assistant vice president of the bank. "Now we can get full-blown maps every day if we wanted to."
"The system is a money-maker," added Mr. Lewis. "It's a way to assist your marketing efforts and your calling efforts while showing you the opportunities you may have on the advertising side. It can help you make money by showing where you're not receiving applications or making loans."
For example, the bank offers a special low-income home improvement loan. Although bank officials sensed that the product was well-marketed, they weren't sure. Now, with the precise information seen on the color-coded maps, Mr. Lewis said, they know exactly how well the product is selling and where.
If the numbers are bad, the bank can delve into demographic information about the area to try and determine why.
"In one case we were able to show that 37% of the people in this area rent," explained Mr. Lewis.
This analysis would be useful if discrimination charges ever arose questioning why home improvement loans weren't being made in that predominantly African-American neighorhood.
"We can pinpoint business activities to a certain part of town, by census tract, by product, by loan officer, by disposition." Mr. Lewis said. "We can show exactly how many loans have been denied on a particular street, how many have been made, and how many have been withdrawn."
Compliance is still somewhat of a struggle for banks, mostly because the pieces aren't in place to easily pull together the data necessary to satisfy government regulators.
"The biggest problem in compliance is data capture," said Chuck McDonough, a partner with Andersen Consulting in Detroit.
Mr. McDonough added that many banks are not finding it so easy to solve.
"It's not necessarily clear exactly what the regulators are looking for but it sounds like United Missouri is on the right track," he said.
The maps generated by United Missouri's compliance software--from from MapInfo Corp., Troy, N.Y.--can also show activity for areas as large as all of Kansas City or as small as one-tenth of a mile.
This level of detail is sure to satisfy the regulatory fervor of any examiner. It's also sure to bring a smile to bean-counters anxious to see the returns on certain expenses.
"One of the first things we are doing is to look at the impact of our advertising," Mr. Lewis said. "If we do a billboard campaign, for example, in a particular part of town, we can monitor the applications we get in that area."
If there's an increase that coincides with the appearance of the billboard, the bank can consider the campaign a success.
The new system also can show the bank where it's doing poorly.
For example, Mr. Lewis' staff recently output a map that showed a particular area in which applications for car loans had dropped over the years.
"We set out to do some research and found out that many of the car dealers had left the area," said Mr. Lewis. "It also showed that the ones left were used-car dealers."
With this information, the bank set about developing a new lending product for used car sales. In the future, the bank could also check its commercial lending record business area by business area to help direct marketing efforts to its weakest points.
Once the system is linked to deposit information, it can also be used as a facility planning tool, said Mr. Spellman.
"We can use it to show if we need to open a new facility or whether the facility is meeting the needs of the area," he said.
While not all lending information has the precise demographic data contained in the mortgage processing system, United Missouri can check mapping information against other sources of demographic statistics.
"If we know an area is 95% white, then it follows that the loans we make to that area are to white applicants," he said.
United Missouri has been using the mapping software for about four months. The volume of useful information flowing from the compliance software has prompted United Missouri to hire a systems analyst to manage it and let Mr. Lewis and his staff get back to their other tasks.
Mr. Lewis said the potential gains would more than offset the cost of the analyst's salary.
"It's like Christmas morning around here," Mr. Lewis joked. "The system is coming out with stuff that's so neat, we sit there looking at it until we realize we have other work to do."
All of which should help United Missouri solidify its place on the middle-American lending map.