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Management Strategies

12:04 PM
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Conquering IT Growing Pains

Heading technology for a bank that is bent on branch expansion is no laughing matter -- even if you are a distant relative of a certain comedian. Yet, Commerce Bank ($36 billion in assets) CIO Kent Seinfeld says he lives for the challenge.

"There is never, never a dull moment," Seinfeld says of his job. "The growth is on many different axes - I have to try to anticipate all the barriers so they don't stop us. Having to think about this all the time is what people like me live for."

The former mainframe techie has held CIO roles at other banks, and Seinfeld says the job is more or less the same from institution to institution. "The only difference is the growth rate [at Commerce]," he explains. "We don't really grow through acquisitions -- it's mostly organic."

Kent Seinfeld,

Commerce Bank
(Cherry Hill, N.J.; $36 billion in assets)

Seinfeld oversees a staff of about 400 people in what he describes as a fairly classically organized IT department. The bank does not do much systems development in-house, preferring to buy solutions from vendors. However, the infrastructure and its servicing are kept inside the bank.

Young at Heart
What makes running IT at Commerce Bank a bit different, relates Seinfeld, is that the bank is not as mired in legacy infrastructures as some older institutions. "Because we're a fairly young institution, we don't have many programmers on staff," Seinfeld explains. "We're a purchaser of bank applications from vendors. Outsourcing of development and insourcing of execution isn't actually unique, but it's weighted more heavily here than at more mainframe, legacy institutions."

Still, IT growing pains are to be expected within an expanding bank. In fact, the IT organization sometimes finds itself playing catch-up, concedes Seinfeld. "Commerce Bank is light on process and procedure and intense on customer service," he relates. "The process side is building from a just-in-time point of view where we have one foot in the first generation and one foot in the fifth generation of how we do things." The key to painless expansion, Seinfeld asserts, is using the minimal amount of technology to its optimal level. "We're trying to grow up without too much bureaucratizing."

Commerce Bank's customer model is simple, but it is difficult to execute from a technology standpoint, Seinfeld explains. The idea is to give customers whatever channels they want. At Commerce Bank, the branch is just as important as the online offering, he says.

"We want sharp technologists, but we also want technologists who can understand -- or learn to understand -- the culture of outstanding customer service," Seinfeld notes. "You have to know what you're ultimately serving. Being able to look at the customer with a servicing eye and being able to go back and execute properly is a challenge for the CIO and everyone else. I've never worked harder in my career."

According to Seinfeld, technologists at banks are part of the business at the most basic level. "We're an information-based business, so you're integrated into the fundamentals, the core of the business," he says. "As IT relationship managers get more ingrained in the lines of business, that fabric will be woven tighter to where it will be hard to separate IT from that. If you have a problem, IT is involved."

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Conquering IT Growing Pains
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