SDN EXCLUSIVE: Cadence Bank brings high-tech ecosystem to Mississippi

By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN EDITOR

The term “FinTech” may sound to a novice like the latest and greatest Bass fishing gear, but it’s a technological concept that is revolutionizing the banking sector - even in Mississippi.

FinTech primarily refers to technology used in the financial services trade, including bank branches without traditional tellers and new high-tech ways of conducting financial transactions.

Texas-based Cadence Bank has been one of the many banks on the cutting-edge of industrial innovation across its footprint, which has a substantial presence in Mississippi. In total, the company has 65 locations across Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas - with CEO Paul Murphy at the helm, a graduate of Mississippi State University.

As bank branches become more technologically advanced, the manpower, hardware, training and customer base have all seen sweeping changes in day-to-day operations as the industry pushes into the 21st century.

The Starkville Daily News recently caught up with company leaders to discuss these changes and how Cadence Bank plans to evolve in the coming years.

FINTECH ON THE RISE?

Despite many welcoming the technological changes in banking, the number of deals and total value of venture capital investment in FinTech dropped in the end of 2016, mostly due to a lack of $1 billion-plus deals.

According to the latest report from KPMG - a global network of professional firms providing audit, tax and advisory services - the global total of dollars invested by November 2016 was less than half seen in the same financial quarter for the previous year.

The good news from the report, however, is that lower investment totals could signal a trend toward smaller deal sizes as opposed to a lack of FinTech deal activity.

For Cadence Bank, though, who recently completed its Initial Public Offering (IPO) and returned to the New York Stock Exchange, recent financial numbers have not been readily available through filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission

However, company officials say millions of dollars have been invested to ensure that the company is on the cutting-edge of technological advancement while accommodating to the needs of their many customers.

Cadence Bank Chief Information Officer Tom Clark told the SDN that customers of all ages and from all regions have needs that don’t typically differ - which is a point of focus the company has used in crafting its service strategy moving forward.

Clark - who was appointed to the CIO position in 2015 - said the goal of the company is to personalize technology for the customer, with a focus on simplicity.

“The truth is what we find in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, as well as the rest of our foot print is that people crave simplicity and convenience over a lot of complexity and difficulty of use features,” he said.

Cadence Bank Mississippi President Jerry Toney told the SDN about the evolution of the older demographics, especially in the southeast, showing a willingness on the part of customers to adapt to - and adopt - new banking technology aimed at improving their overall experience.

“It’s amazing to see the evolution in the last few years with a demographic you would think would resist technology having adopted it,” Toney said.

The last several years have also seen a shift in the dynamic of the financial marketplace, with non-financial companies once seen as adversaries to banks now showing a willingness to work as solutions providers as opposed to competitors.

Clark said a great deal of focus is now on the payment industry, with mobile technology advancements allowing anyone to pay anyone from anywhere using whatever device they choose, through third party services like Venmo or PayPal.

Clark said complimentary social media payment services serve as a strong asset for banking customers, giving them another option in using their banking service through a high-tech and user-friendly platform.

“The third place we are seeing a lot of innovation is in bringing in data from lots of places ... there is a lot of investment in insurance as well,” Clark said.

FINTECH IN THE LABOR FORCE

As individual branch employment totals dwindle with the rise in technology, many factors have been praised that should - in theory - streamline the process and benefit bank customers with Cadence.

At the local level, Toney cited the talent pool coming from Mississippi State University as a driving force behind the sectors ability to access a strong labor pool.

“Mississippi State was ranked the 3rd-highest cyber security program in the nation,” Toney said. “So is the talent there? Absolutely. Local schools across the southeast have the ability to produce the talent.”

Clark spoke in a wider sense on the issue, saying the demand for high-tech labor outpaces the supply of job-ready candidates.

“Especially in a critical function like information security, it is very difficult to find experienced qualified people that don’t have jobs,” Clark said.

Clark said it can be difficult for companies like Cadence to attract and retain talent, but the skills in the labor force are there and like with many other job sectors, many prospective employees come prepared with some basic skills, then require slight on-the-job training. The problem, though, is that there seem to be more jobs available than qualified candidates looking for work.

“There is just so much of a demand, that when those folks come out of school, they don’t have any trouble finding jobs,” Clark said.

FINTECH AND CADENCE CUSTOMERS

The old stereotype of technologically illiterate senior citizens is a thing of the past. Cadence Bank and its team of financial experts have seen this shift first hand.

Toney said now, Cadence is seeing customers in their mid-80s that can use an iPad to do their online banking - a far cry from the frustration once assumed to accompany sweeping technological advances and older customers.

“When we unveiled our interactive teller, we had a client in the office that saw a news report and she was in her 80s and said, ‘I can’t wait to try this’ - in the past they would resist, keeping it simple enough makes life easy,” Toney said.

Clark said in reference to the newer automated teller platform, at its core, it is high-tech in nature, but still provides a personal touch that many banking customers look for.

“You have a human being standing in front of a screen talking to another human being that’s sitting remotely, but able to address their needs in a way that is comfortable and convenient to them,” he said. “Customers don’t really care if there is technology, they care that there is a human being ready there to provide banking services in a way that’s convenient to them.”

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