Commerce Bank undergoes a branch makeover

If there was a bank reality TV show called "Branch Makeover," the US-based Commerce Bank should have been on it. Until last year, most of the tellers at the St. Louis bank's 340 Midwestern branches operated as if the personal computer age had never happened.

"We actually have a pretty sophisticated Web platform system that our more specialized bankers use," said Chuck Kim, executive vice president for retail administration for the parent company, Commerce Bancshares. But "our tellers were still using 10-key Sharp calculators," he said. "It was cheap, and our tellers were pretty fast using them. But we realized that with our tellers being a key touchpoint for our customers, we could no longer live with them being so information-deprived."

Moreover, Commerce Bank had recently bought a number of small banks in its three-state footprint that encompasses Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. Some had more advanced teller systems, some had more primitive ones. Either way, they needed to be standardized, Kim said.

Last year, Commerce Bank hired Getronics. The Dutch IT vendor claims 17 out of the top 20 banks around the world as customers, with 28 percent of its revenues coming from the financial services sector, according to Michael Kerr, vice president of financial services at Amsterdam-based Getronics.

"We do not develop core banking systems. We do only front-end systems. But we are totally accustomed to connecting the two," Kerr said.

Much of Getronics' business comes from banks like Commerce Bank that want to upgrade the antiquated technology at their branches. Many of these banks had held off upgrading their branch offices in the late 1990s as pundits declared -- wrongly so far -- that Web banking would spell the end of bank branches.

"Everybody says branches should go away, but they haven't," Kerr said. "The Internet is incredibly useful, but at the end of the day, people still go to ATMs to get cash or to branches to deposit checks."

Commerce Bank chose Getronics to upgrade its branch technology. It finished rolling out the technology just a month ago.

"It was a big leap forward," Kim said. Now Commerce tellers are armed with Dell PCs running Getronics' Globalfs software, an application built on Microsoft .Net that gives the computers capabilities somewhere between thin clients and full-fledged PCs.

Connected to a server in each branch, the system gives tellers quick access to relevant information about the customer in front of them.

"There's only so much real estate on the first screen," Kim said. "So do we give tellers the full details about a customer's trust account? No, but we put up a flag indicating that the customer has one."

In addition to improving customer satisfaction and the ability for tellers to upsell customers, the Getronics system also integrates well with Commerce Bank's existing online banking software, Corillian Voyager. So well, in fact, that they share a common back end, a similar look-and-feel, and nearly all the same features.

The Globalfs software also allows Commerce Bank to collect more information on teller performance.

"We had good information on what is going on at the call center or the Web. We didn't have it for our tellers," he said. "We also now get a lot more reporting on what is going with our tellers. Now we know which types of transactions take a long time. We can also do more intelligent staffing. And we can cut the time for tellers to do their end-of-day balances by 50 percent."

Kim expects to make back his investment in Getronics in three to five years.

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