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Lisa Valentine
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First National Bank of Omaha’s Rajive Johri Is Teaching an Old Bank New Tricks

First National Bank of Omaha President Rajive Johri is working to transform the 150-year-old bank's legacy environment.

Within six months of joining Omaha-based First National Bank of Omaha ($20 billion in assets) to revive the institution's credit card business, Rajive Johri was named president of the entire bank. At the helm of the 150-year-old bank since June 2006, Johri is tapping his 34 years of industry experience -- including stints with Citigroup (New York) and JPMorgan Chase (New York) -- to transform the institution's legacy environment and prepare the bank for the future of competition.

BS&T: What is the major technology challenge faced by First National Bank?

Johri: Even though technology has been at the heart of banking for the past 25 years, bank technology unfortunately has evolved into disparate systems and platforms that support different functions. Our biggest technology challenge is managing our large number of legacy systems. We're an old bank, and the older the bank, the older the systems. What was once state-of-the-art technology is now a legacy system.

It's difficult, complex and very expensive to integrate modern technology with legacy systems. We struggle with creating an environment in which the customer has the same experience whether he or she walks into a branch, calls on the telephone or logs on to the Web. We are constantly fighting the battle of spending enough dollars to renew ourselves while reaping the right ROI for that investment.

BS&T: Do you outsource?

Johri: We do all our processing in-house. While some in the industry believe in-house processing creates a more complex environment, I disagree. I've worked for organizations that totally outsourced technology yet they had environments just as complex as ours. Outsourcing is not the root of complexity; software customization is. The moment you customize, you cannot upgrade to new releases without further customization, making it more difficult to integrate with your other systems.

BS&T: Are you replacing legacy systems?

Johri: We are, because when we buy banks we wind up with multiple systems that perform the same function. During the past two years we've lowered costs by removing high-priority redundant systems. For example, we converted two credit card platforms to one. We reduced our number of imaging platforms from six to two and will eventually reduce that number to one. Over the next three years we plan to phase out some of our back-end legacy systems and replace them with new software platforms that will allow us to achieve better efficiency and lessen the time it takes to launch new products.

BS&T: Will you develop these new platforms in-house?

Johri: My intention is to buy systems without customization or to use ASP [application service provider] models. Another option is to rely on partnerships with vendors such as CashEdge [New York], which supplies our online account-opening and funds transfer platform.

BS&T: What about your brick-and-mortar presence?

Johri: Our strategy is to expand our footprint in contiguous areas in the Midwest and Texas. Even though we've been in Omaha for 150 years and have the dominant market share, we are proud to have recently opened a branch in Iowa -- we bought a bank in February and will open branches in Council Bluffs and Des Moines later this year. We plan to open five more branches in Texas.

BS&T: How do you continue to innovate your retail presence?

Johri: We are creating a different type of experience than what currently exists in the Omaha market. In the past 18 months we've opened four new branches, including a state-of-the-art branch we call the Future of Banking, to celebrate our 150-year anniversary. It's a high-tech, fun branch with smart ATMs, interactive kiosks, a coffee shop and an area designed for our business clients to work.

BS&T: Has this branch been successful?

Johri: In terms of customers and deposits, this branch is running at double the rate of other branches we've opened over the past three or four years. It has also attracted market attention, and a lot of people visit us.

We also recently opened a branch we call the Branch for the Unbanked in a Latino community south of Omaha. These consumers don't have relationships with banks; we are offering specialized products to bring them into the banking world.

BS&T: What were the business drivers for launching your online bank, FNBO Direct?

Johri: For the past seven years, small and midsize Midwest banks have been opening branches to defend themselves from big banks. Opening new branches is an expensive proposition. Last year we decided to launch an online bank as an offensive strategy to compete with the big banks. This is not a shotgun strategy to get deposits, but a long-term strategy to gain access to customers outside our footprint without investing in brick-and-mortar branches.

We also wanted to position ourselves for future generations of customers who will be completely online. These customers rely on the Internet for everything, including socializing, entertainment, shopping and financial services.

BS&T: What are your customer and deposit goals for FNBO Direct?

Johri: Our vision is to get 1 million customers outside our footprint within the next five years. We've been very successful. Within just a few months we met our first-year goals and proved our hypothesis that we could project our 150-year-old, all-American brand outside of our footprint and win customers' trust. We are confident that we can use state-of-the-art technology to grow, to service our customers, and to continue to add products and compete with the likes of ING and HSBC.

Today we have 50,000-plus customers and more than $1 billion in deposits outside of our footprint. We have launched three new products: a bill pay account, a CD and a credit card that pays cash back into customers' online savings accounts.

BS&T: What kinds of organizations -- financial institutions or others -- do you view as your key competitors?

Johri: Certainly we compete with community banks in some product areas. We also compete with banks such as Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Bank of the West and other big players, as well as Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. Our competition is institutions that are best of class in a particular niche. We even look at nontraditional players, such as Wal-Mart, that can be disruptive to the whole system.

BS&T: What has been your greatest career challenge?

Johri: My greatest challenge has always been transformation of technology. It doesn't matter what business I was in -- it's always about technology. Technology is expensive, the cost of every decision is irreversible and anything that is great today becomes legacy tomorrow. Staying current and competitive with technology is difficult for everyone because it's the most expensive line item on the P&L.

Name: Rajive Johri

Age: 58

Title: President, First National Bank of Omaha

Education: Engineering degree from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and MBA from Indian Institute of Management Calcutta.

First Job: Marketing at IBM in India.

Hobbies: Golf and alternative healing.

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