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Management Strategies

11:04 AM
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Small Staff, Big Returns

Some jobs just keep pulling you back in. Such was the case for Republic Bancorp's Greg Bixby.

When Bixby started at Lansing, Mich.-based Republic Bancorp, the financial institution was run as five separate bank and mortgage subsidiaries. He worked on the mortgage side and ran technology for that business for three years before deciding to move on.

"I had left the Republic Mortgage subsidiary briefly," he recalls. "[Republic] came back to me and said the holding company was looking for a CIO and they wanted me. They laid out a vision of bringing together all five entities and making it one company."

Greg Bixby,

Technology & E-Commerce,
Republic Bancorp
(Lansing, Mich.; $6 billion in assets)

Knowing that the bank ran eight mortgage origination/servicing systems, three core banking systems and even individual HR systems, Bixby saw the potential of uniting the disparate infrastructures. It was an offer he couldn't refuse. "We're now a holding company with one subsidiary -- Republic Bank -- which has divisions for mortgage, commercial and retail, but they are all on one consistent technology," he says. "They all share a common infrastructure."

Today, Bixby oversees a modest IT department of just 35 people. A CIO for banking and a CTO for mortgage run the day-to-day operations for their units and report to Bixby. This frees up Bixby for a more strategic role at the bank. "I hear the issues the business units have and what projects they're doing, and facilitate how IT can help these things," he relates.

Lean and Mean
Bixby admits that his IT department is a bit lean for a bank of Republic's ($6 billion in assets) size. However, he relates, the lean IT staff is a product of his operating philosophy -- keep things simple. When Bixby took the helm of Republic's IT department, the tech bubble was just emerging, as were "canned applications where you didn't have to hire 20 programmers to build them," he explains. "[My team] showed the board the advantage of using these new applications versus outsourcing or building," Bixby says. "We use low-bandwidth, centralized applications, and we don't have servers in every branch."

Bixby says there is very little customization to the bank's systems. When business units want a new technology, they must truly justify the need. "That philosophy of centralized technology selection has allowed us to keep our staff low," he says. "And this fits with the culture of [a lean] bank."

According to Bixby, the combination of scaled-down IT staffing and low-bandwidth technology saves the bank approximately $4 million annually. "We had to fight for it at first," Bixby relates. "But now it's so ingrained and adds a tremendous amount to the bottom line."

And Bixby has no doubt that technology will continue to contribute to the bottom line. "My vision is to keep very close to what the organization needs and support their technology requirements," he says. "When they roll out a new product, we'll be able to support it. We'll also continue to minimize the time we spend on managing and upgrading technology."

It all comes down to the needs of the business, Bixby stresses. "We work with the business units to see what they're doing, and bring forward ideas and technology solutions that can help them," he says. "That's the role the CIO has to provide."

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