Employees and customers at ConnectOne Bank in northern New Jersey are rapidly adopting the "phablet," that slightly mocking term for the new generation of oversized, tablet-like smartphones that are five to eight inches long. "The cell phone itself is becoming more tablet like; 50% of people now are using [phablets] the Samsung Galaxy S3 or Nexus phone," observes Frank Sorrentino III, the bank's CEO. He himself has a Samsung Galaxy S3; he can't wait to get an S4.
"I find myself using my smartphone a lot more than my tablet," he says. "A year ago, I was giving up my laptop for my tablet; now I travel often with just the tablet and I find myself on shorter trips not even worrying about the tablet any more, I'm happy with my smart phone."
Mini and regular-size tablets are both taking the place of the laptop, he observes. "Most people are not using their laptops the same way they did before, and we're seeing a shift away from heavy duty laptop usage to netbooks and Chromebooks for those apps where you want keyboard and a more tactile interface," says Sorrentino.
ConnectOne (the $1 billion-asset Englewood Cliffs, N.J. bank formerly known as North Jersey Community Bank; that's a whole other story) has converted from Microsoft Office to Google Apps, so email, calendar, address book, video conferencing, and chat all work on any Android device — smartphone, tablet or phablet.
"I'm testing an Android tablet for the first time, which I really like," he says. It's the Samsung Note.
The bank's senior executives have all been given iPads and many have smart phones. The bank is platform agnostic. "There are those who love Apple, those who love Google. Our programs work across all those platforms," he says.
Two years ago, all board members were given tablets with meeting-related reports and documents loaded on. Sorrentino is looking to move other types of reports to iPads, too, as well as branch interactions between staff and walk-in customers. "We've looked at Microsoft Surface; there are some unique features that are interesting," he says.
For customers, the bank offers iPhone and Android banking apps that include mobile check deposit.
"For a while, it looked like Apple was taking over the world. If I were to make a prediction, I would tell you Google is going to take over the world. Tomorrow it will be somebody else. It's hard to keep up but you have to do it," he says.
The bank also connects with customers over Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. "We're looking at every single way we touch the customer today and seeing how we can do that more effectively," he says.
As ConnectOne puts more effort into digital channels, its branch network growth has slowed. It opened no branches in 2012, for the first time since the bank has existed.
"When I meet someone, the first question they ask to gauge how big the bank is, how many branches do you have? I say, that's not important, what you really want to ask me is how much we have in assets or deposits. There's still this mental perception that big means more branches."
Within the branches, manager meetings are now held via Google Hangout or Skype videoconferencing.
At the beginning of the year the bank hired a chief technology officer. "That speaks volumes for a bank our size about what we think is important," Sorrentino says. The bank's core processor, FIS Global also helps the bank with its technology decisions.
But, he adds, "it has to be part of the DNA of the organization to want to do those things. "A lot of bank CEOs I've spoken to say, all that sounds great, why don't you go out and test it and mess up? We're going to sit back and wait till it's all perfected. They're still waiting to see if typewriters and 8-track cassettes are effective."
The bank is in taking its loan origination process completely paperless. Staff try to use Google Drive as much as possible to share documents, rather than printing them out. "There's lots of little things we're doing to make the organization more efficient from a dollars and cents standpoint and take away some of the tedious parts of jobs," he says. We're taking a hard look at how all our processes work."
Technology helped the bank weather last fall's Superstorm Sandy. "Having our documents, workflows and processes up in the cloud gave us a huge advantage," Sorrentino says.
Employees could work from home. Phone calls could all be routed to cell phones. "There's so much possibility when you start putting things on the cloud. Physical location and connectedness is not so important anymore," he says.
Has there been any downside to switching to Google Apps?
"Yes: that we didn't do it sooner," Sorrentino says.