By Gamble, Richard H.
Independent Banker , Vol. 48, No. 7
From the start, Minneapolis de novo focuses on automation for its edge
Metro Community Bank in Minneapolis, Minn., is a community bank by design. It opened its doors in November 1996 with down-home friendliness and brand new technology. It has $20 million in assets and consumer, community-oriented products and services. Residential mortgage lending is a strong focus.
The bank's three primary owners were veterans of an $8 billionasset federal thrift, so they know technology on a large scale. In organizing as a de novo thrift, the bank built a technological infrastructure from the ground up, without the burden of adapt ing or converting older existing systems.
"We wanted to give friendly, oldfashioned service supported by state-of-the-art technology," says Beverly Austin, Metro Community Bank's president, CEO and CFO. "We knew the importance of starting with the right software, so we are very committed to a careful [software] selection process."
Metro Community Bank's recent software challenges have focused on constructing an efficient a client-server network and automating its mortgage lending operations. Austin says the bank shops for software with two goals in mind: They want leading-edge technology to support a lean staff and an equally lean budget.
Metro Community Bank's organizers opted to be a personal computer shop with no mainframe. Instead, the bank's PC network was designed to return a lot of application power for a modest investment. And the bank adopted a Windows 95 platform that supports wide-area network (WAN) applications.
In this environment, Metro Community Bank sought a basic back-room operating software package. In picking its foundation software, the bank wanted to avoid shouldering the expense, responsibility and staff to operate a back office. It eventually outsourced this operation, Austin says.
"We wanted to limit our staff to production," she explains. "We couldn't see using money to fund staff who did not affect our customers."
However, the bank wanted two critical features from its operations software, Austin says. It needed to compile clear, complete, accurate, easy-to-read management reports, and it needed operations software that interfaces well with other applications. The bank communicates with its remote back office over the WAN using Windows NT, and the arrangement works well. The WAN also connects the bank's corporate office-where software is on a file server-to two branches.
After talking with a lot of vendors and their references, Metro Community Bank gave the nod to EastPoint, an operations software sold by M&I Data Services, a subsidiary of Marshall & Illsley Bank in Milwaukee, Wis.
To use the software without buying and installing it, the bank signed with a St. Paul, Minn., data processor-Preferred Financial Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Midway National Bank-that has the rights to market the software.
Even with outsourcing, Metro Community Bank paid up front for the software license and set-up work. Now the bank pays a monthly fee that Austin calls "reasonable for a de novo bank," the only hint she provides on price details.
Selecting its operations software allowed Metro Community Bank to turn its attention to speeding consumer applications for deposit products and mortgages, a product area on which the bank places a heavy emphasis.
The bank first bought a package of teller software that helps open new savings and checking accounts and that assists with consumer loan applications, such as auto loans and home equity lines of credit. Then the bank looked to automate fully its mortgage lending department.
For Metro Community Bank, it was important that mortgage processing software be easy for loan officers to learn, Austin says. Mortgage lending is an important of Metro Community Bank's competitive niche. …