When Terry Jorde started working as a bookkeeper at CountryBank USA in 1979, the bank used old-style adding machines, automated ledger posting machines, and a manual typewriter to update entries on 9 x11-inch cards.
Today, Cando, N.D.-based CountryBank USA relies on core processing systems from Harland Financial Solutions and Internet banking software from Digital Insight to serve its agricultural, consumer and retail customers with advanced information technology.
As president and CEO of CountryBank, Jorde has taken a self-reliant approach to the deployment of new technology, which definitely appears to be paying off. She spoke with BS&T senior editor Ivan Schneider about her efforts to increase operational efficiency through the use of technology.
BS&T: What kind of efficiency improvements have you been able to achieve?
JORDE: We just have two offices. The second office we opened about three years ago and it is 35 miles away from the first one. That made us look at our technology, as we were looking at hiring more people and putting the infrastructure in place.
Being a small bank, it was a challenge to really figure out how we were going to communicate. We decided that since we were going into a new location, we should incorporate check imaging into our operations. Before we opened our second location we made the big jump into high-speed reader-sorters with image and cameras, and set up a fractional T1 line between the two locations, so that we could process at our second location, real-time, and be able to transfer transactions up over the T1 line to our main computer.
BS&T: What has been the response to imaging?
JORDE: It has been wonderful. When we went into imaging three years ago in January, we did not give our customers a choice as to whether they could get their checks back or not. We decided that if we're going to do this, it's really important that we actually do attain the efficiency that we're trying to achieve.
With my own experience having worked in bookkeeping many years ago, even at that time I thought it was just a waste of time sitting there alphabetizing checks every day, putting them in a check drawer, and at the end of the month pulling them all out and counting them by hand and sticking them in an envelope. It just drove me nuts, because I thought, "You know, I'm smarter than this and so is everyone else that's working around me, and there's got to be a better way."
So from my perspective, I was pretty driven to do whatever it took no matter what it cost.
I can recall talking with one person who was really not very happy about check imaging. We talked about all of the things that she didn't like about it, and ultimately, it came down to, "Well, I keep my checks in a safe, and the three-ring binder isn't going to fit in my safe." We were really able to accommodate all the needs for that customer, who is still a customer today. I honestly don't think we lost any accounts, and you sure couldn't take it away from our employees-they absolutely love it.
BS&T: What are some of your main initiatives now?
JORDE: We're not currently imaging our loan documents. That would be very nice to do. We also have an insurance agency and an investment center, so we have the technology issues involved with that, too.
But we've just made sure that we have kept up-to-date. Everybody in the bank has access to high-speed personal computers, and every person has e-mail access. We encouraged them from the beginning to get on the Internet, to play on the Internet, to get comfortable with it, to use bill payment, and I think that's been real important.
BS&T: Are insurance and investment products a key part of the total package?
JORDE: Yes. In our bank, we have 28 employees, and six of them are full-time insurance agents. That's really all they do, insurance agency operations. And then we also have two full-time investment center reps who are employees, and then two licensed investment center reps who are not employees. We've really felt that our future depends on continuing to grow non-interest revenue sources. Net interest income is getting squeezed more and more, and especially so over the last year. We really feel that it's a three-legged stool, and we need to have the banking, investments, and insurance offerings.