Southwest Bank of Texas, which at almost $4.3 billion in assets is the largest independent bank in Houston, has built upon its strengths as a financial institution to act as an e-business consultancy to area businesses and organizations.
"Most mid-range businesses don't have a robust data processing staff," said Jim Massey, executive vice president for information technology at Southwest Bank of Texas. "If they can find a way in which they can either transact their business or market their services via the Internet, we can help them with the creation of their Web site and even help them collect payment for product."
These technology capabilities help to set the bank apart from the pack. "Our customers find us a little unusual, being a technology provider," said Massey. "But once they see the style and capability of the product that we deliver, they are even more impressed with us as a bank because we're using the same tools to do our internal work."
As a regulated entity, the bank already has to meet technical specifications above that of a typical organization. "Our firewalls are robust, and our data security techniques are very well done," said Massey. "With that thought in mind, we've tried to take our data processing expertise in a secure environment and offer it to our clients."
From its foundation more than 11 years ago, the bank was an early convert to digital check images. "We started, in essence, in capturing all items via image," said Massey. "We have all the images of all the checks, and of course, have always put forward our check statements with images attached - in the mail, in the old days."
From there, Southwest Bank of Texas has taken a leadership role with digital check exception processing for corporate treasury clients. "We were one of the first banks in the nation to do positive pay, which allowed customers to look at checks."
Using this service, corporate customers can examine an image of both sides of a check on the morning after the bank captures it. That helps to track down exception items before they move further along the payments system, helping to eliminate fraud, error and "contentious situations" between the bank and its customers, said Massey.
Now, Southwest Bank of Texas' technology expertise has helped it to build additional partnerships with a wide range of banking customers.
One example is Harris County's tax office, for which the bank collects property taxes. That used to be done through a traditional lockbox service. "Now, we take that same process and we put it into an Internet environment that allows the taxpayer to pay their tax online, with a Web site that we created for the county which we host for them in our secure firewall-protected environment."
By allowing the bank to handle its tax collection chores electronically, the municipality can shed some of its own bureaucracy. To that end, the county has been airing television ads touting the availability of the online payment service for taxpayers.
The relationship creates new opportunities for the bank to develop new business.
"From a municipality's point of view, you can collect any kind of payment, whether it be a traffic ticket or whether it would be a payment that a spouse is making to dependent children," said Massey. "All of that makes us, then, a good value partner for a municipality."