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ELITE 8 2012: Prashant Nema Lives Up to Great Expectations

Silicon Valley Bank CIO Prashant Nema knows his bank must be at the forefront of technology -- because all of its clients are there, as well. One way the bank stays ahead of the curb is through its technologists' collaborative work with many clients to provide feedback on the technology they are developing.

As the chief information officer for Silicon Valley Bank, Prashant Nema knows the importance of running a tech-savvy operation, in part because the bank's customers demand no less. Much of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based bank's customer base is comprised of the innovative technology companies and start-ups that dot the area, a crowd that can be tough to impress, according to Nema.

"A lot of our clients are the emerging technology companies, which are funded by venture capital and private equity firms, that are creating new, cutting-edge technology on a daily basis," Nema says. And the technologists at the bank, he adds, often get involved in a collaborative way with many clients to provide feedback on the technology they are developing.

As a result, the bank often gets the opportunity to screen early-stage companies and adopt their technology, Nema explains. While that certainly provides a built-in benefit for Silicon Valley Bank ($20 billion in total assets), it also means the financial institution must strive to maintain the highest technology standards. "Our clients have an expectation of us, because they are the ones creating the next generation of technology," Nema relates.

"The expectations they have are of a very tech-savvy bank that provides them a very sleek experience in terms of every interaction they have with us," he continues. "The expectations of our clients are on a whole different level than when someone walks up to an ATM at a large national bank. The bar is very high -- they expect the coolest and sleekest experience."

Nema says many of the bank's clients produce technology for the financial services space, so they look at Silicon Valley Bank as both their financial institution and a potential client. One example of this type of relationship is the work the bank has done with cloud-based payments service provider MineralTree. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company first was a client of the bank, which helped MineralTree create the payments technology that SVB now uses. "We are building out a solution with a client of ours in a partnership that benefits them, us and, quite frankly, the whole industry," Nema says. "The automation it offers will be very meaningful for those clients who adopt it."

The MineralTree solution has three major components, according to Nema. The account manager application is a web-based add-on to the business customer's existing account systems and integrates directly with the bank's payment systems. A second customer-facing app is used by the business executive responsible for payments to approve and release them; it is available as an iPad app as well as a secure web application.

The third component of the MineralTree solution is the bank operations application, which is used by the bank to manage MineralTree users. All three apps, Nema relates, are linked via the MineralTree payments server, which acts as a universal conduit for payment channels, such as check, ACH, wire, cards and emerging channels, including PayPal and mobile banking. After receiving positive feedback on the product from some of its clients that tested the technology, Silicon Valley Bank formally launched the MineralTree offering in September.

But it's not all about innovative start-ups for Nema and his team. There's still the important job of keeping the systems running and supporting and enabling the bank's day-to-day functions. "Banks are, of course, heavily dependent on technology for their automation, process streamlining, production services, and so on and so forth" says Nema. "It's a humongous task to keep these systems running and to keep the bank running."

Complicating the task, the banking industry "is heavily challenged by various new regulations," Nema observes. "You have to balance your valuable resources and make sure you keep the shop running every single day and that you are serving the clients, and at the same time investing the right resources so that you can keep growing the bank."

Nema points out that because of Silicon Valley Bank's unique position and its particular need to provide a cutting-edge customer experience, the bank invests more in technology than many financial institutions of similar size. "We offer a very rich, comprehensive set of production services for a bank our size, and hence the complexity and the offerings that we have are way more than other banks of our same asset size would be offering," he argues.

And that suits Nema just fine, as he has become accustomed to working on the cutting edge during his long career in the IT industry. Prior to joining Silicon Valley Bank in 2005, he held a variety of technology leadership roles that included product oversight. As a product director at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle, Nema managed programs in Fusion Middleware product development. He also served as a business systems controller for British Petroleum.

Replacing the Core

At Silicon Valley Bank, Nema has enjoyed the benefits of the bank's recent investments in upgrading its core banking infrastructure. In fact, the deployment of Oracle's Flexcube Core Banking solution is perhaps the biggest single project Nema and his team have undertaken. The implementation of the Oracle Flexcube platform, he says, provides SVB with the capability to manage core banking services in more than 30 currencies, helping enhance the bank's deposit and lending capabilities and enabling it to offer clients centralized access to their accounts.

IT has played "a huge role" in the implementation, Nema reports. "This is almost like gutting and replacing the plumbing of the organization. It is a large-scale project that has multiple phases," he says, adding that there is still one final, rather large phase of the implementation to complete. "The only piece left is the replacement of the legacy platform, and that is more an efficiency gain and process streamlining," Nema explains.

All of the infrastructure work is critical to the bank's strategy as it expands its global presence, according to Nema. "If we wanted to follow our aspirations and our vision of enabling, on a single platform, multicurrency abilities and hence enabling a global bank, we would need the technology that we have," he says.

But thanks to the bank's forward-looking investments, Nema believes SVB is well-positioned to remain at the forefront of financial technology. He also believes the bank will continue to attract top tech talent. The institution's location in Silicon Valley definitely helps it in that regard, but Nema is quick to point out that the bank's location has a downside, too. "It's a blessing and a challenge being headquartered in the Bay Area, where you tend to find the best talent when it comes to technologists," Nema explains. "But you are also competing with the smartest high-tech companies for those resources."

For that reason, SVB diversified its potential employee base, opening a new IT and operations facility in Tempe, Ariz., last year that eventually will house nearly 500 employees. Nema says this will help the bank recruit in the Phoenix area, which he describes as a "hub of tech talent."

When he's not in the office, Nema enjoys hanging out with his 12-year-old son. But he admits his mind is never far from the nature of his work. "In my free time," he says, "I like to hang out with my iPad and read about what's going on in the business technology space."

Bryan Yurcan is associate editor for Bank Systems and Technology. He has worked in various editorial capacities for newspapers and magazines for the past 8 years. After beginning his career as a municipal and courts reporter for daily newspapers in upstate New York, Bryan has ... View Full Bio

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