The headquarters of Liberty Bank, the oldest mutual savings bank in Connecticut, are located in Middletown.

In a marriage of brick and mortar with ones and zeroes, the oldest mutual bank in Connecticut is set to launch one of the newest financial computing systems on the market.

Liberty Bank, whose headquarters are in Middletown, is deeply involved in converting its old system into a state-of-the-art financial solution. The bank had previously been working with an outdated platform system that was based on Microsoft DOS (Disk Operating System) and had been written in the 1980s.

“When you think about a system being dead, it practically is,” said Elizabeth Hale, vice president/director of retail operations and project manager for the new upgrade. “We wanted a new system that would put us where we wanted to be both now and in the future. In order to remain competitive we like to remain ahead of the competition as best we can.”

S1 Corp., a provider of enterprise solutions for the financial services industry, announced this week that Liberty is live with S1 Full-Service Banking solutions.

Liberty, which is the oldest mutual savings bank in Connecticut, is leveraging S1’s Teller, Call Center and Sales and Service Platform to boost operational productivity, achieve increased customer satisfaction and offer bank customers greater consistency of services via multiple interaction channels.

The system, which Liberty calls Single View, offered the bank a system that followed along with its strategic plan.

“We’re not just changing over the platform system in our 34 branches, but we’re upgrading all of our back offices as well,” said Hale. “When you really think about customer relationship management and Single View, you realize that it’s really going backward to the way banks used to be. A lot of companies have become less personal, and in our market I think that the personal aspect is important to our customer.

“It’s been a long process,” she added, noting that the project officially started in December of 2001. Bank officials spent a lot of time planning the upgrade, taking careful steps to ensure that the program was a good fit.

“We’re the oldest mutual bank in Connecticut and we’re still around for a reason. We want to make sure that the system impact on our customers is nothing but positive,” said Hale, noting that the project spent a year in development and testing before the installation began.

Driving Force

Currently the bank is rolling out upgrades at a rate of two branches per week. The customer service center was first priority because it was the “highest touch point” for bank customers, according to Hale. The system will be installed at the branches and time will be allotted for employees to familiarize themselves with the new programs.

“Once we roll it out and allow our workers to get used to it, then we’ll get out the next piece to identify the needs of our customers,” said Hale. The new software will track customer activity in an effort to better understand what individual customers want from their bank, Hale said.

So far, the project has been going well, she said, adding, “You bite your nails all the way until the day the first branch rolls out.” Despite the worrying, the acceptance level from the branches has been high, and the transition from a DOS-based program to a Microsoft Windows-based program has been smooth.

“Going from DOS to Windows makes life a lot easier for a lot of people, especially those employees that are new to the company and are used to Windows applications,” said Hale.

The workers in the front office weren’t too concerned with the change, Hale said, noting that they hadn’t complained about the outdated system. However, it was the customers who were a driving force behind the upgrade.

“Customers are becoming to expect a certain level of service,” said Hale, remarking that the old system wasn’t as user-friendly as it could have been and didn’t keep track of all of the customers’ dealings with the bank. “I think the customers noticed the old system more than our employees did. Ideally, I’m hoping they won’t notice the new system, and that the new services will be almost subliminal to them.”

She added, “It’s already proved beneficial to know who a customer talked to last and what was said. Customers haven’t been impacted for the most part outside of noticing an initial slowdown.”

The upgrade came with a hefty price tag, with Liberty spending $2 million on the project.

“It was a big financial investment, especially for a company our size,” said Hale. (Liberty has assets of $2.6 billion.) “But we’re talking about an investment in our customers and ourselves. As a mutual [bank], our depositors are it for us.”

At press time 22 branches had been upgraded, with 12 left to go. The project doesn’t just involve upgrading software but also includes swapping out all of the computers, monitors and the rest of the technology infrastructure.

Once the new machines and installed, workers have to be trained.

“It’s like just flipping a switch and having it all work out,” said Hale. “We put a lot into training, being cognizant of the fact that our employees have been around for a long time and we want to support them.”

Employees are given a week of training “despite the fact that the software is very intuitive,” she added.

The implementation of the system will continue throughout the rest of the year, with the branches finishing up in June and the back office by the turn of the year. However, the program will continue to be upgraded throughout its lifetime.

“It’s going to be a developing and growing product, and never going to be truly complete,” said Hale.

“We chose S1’s solutions following careful review of many leading applications in today’s marketplace,” said Ron Catrone, executive vice president at Liberty Bank. “Liberty was looking for a solution that could help the bank streamline its operations on a single, integrated system, as well as deliver a complete picture of each of its customers -from the Web to the Call Center to our branches – so that we could deliver a unified banking experience.”

A customer since 1993, Liberty began the migration to S1’s Teller, Call Center and Sales and Service Platform applications in its branch locations in November of last year. In addition to installing the S1 applications, the bank is completely upgrading its systems infrastructure to simplify its operations.

“Although the effort to completely upgrade our branches has been an incredibly complex process, working with the S1 team, we are successfully launching entirely new systems at a pace of two branches per week,” said Catrone. “Our staff and customers love the change. Our employees not only like the ability to immediately obtain one view of the customer, but also the simplicity of opening new accounts, making deposits and other day-to-day tasks. By equipping our staff with the right information and the right tools, we can provide excellent service and maximize every customer interaction.”

Liberty is currently looking ahead to the next step in its plan to leverage the ability to gain one view of its customers, upon completing the upgrade to S1’s Full-Service Banking solutions. The bank plans to implement S1 Analytics, a component of S1’s CRM solutions.

“S1’s integrated applications are an excellent launching pad for future services, such as consumer loan origination, digital check imaging retrieval and a research system,” said Catrone.