Technology tool-related capital investments, such as new software, mobile apps and cloud computing services, are as important as a healthy workforce to many small business owners. But you must be strategic about the technological applications you choose, using your goals as a guide.
“It’s a really exciting time for small business. For the first time, you have access to tools and solutions that may have been cost prohibitive in the past, and you can buy them by the seat and without the need to build and support an enterprise infrastructure. This allows you to build a cost effective, end-to-end automation platform that really impacts your business,” says Frank D. “Buddy” Cox, Jr., executive vice president and chief information officer at Cadence Bank.
Smart Business spoke with Cox about how businesses are using technology to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively.
What emerging technology is impacting business productivity and profitability?
Cloud computing, a modern name for traditional outsourcing, has not only grown in adoption, but reach also has been extended from a focus on the enterprise to small business. This shift away from having to build a robust, secure and resilient in-house infrastructure to support software solutions, and instead migrating to a model where all critical infrastructure is built, maintained and shared by the provider, makes most all enterprise-level solutions available to small businesses in a very affordable way.
With Microsoft 365, for example, you can fully leverage Exchange, SharePoint and other enterprise-level solutions for less than $10 per employee per month. Platforms such as salesforce.com, when combined with modern real-time accounting platforms like financialforce.com, allow for a level of work flow and integration once reserved for large scale implementations.
Another technology that’s transforming business is the mobile platform. For most, it has become a primary computing device, allowing people to conduct business anywhere and at any time. When leveraged as a part of an overall business automation platform, the results can be very meaningful.
How are these new technologies transforming banking?
Banks continue to work with businesses that are building end-to-end automation solutions by plugging in at the right points in the process to provide real-time financial information and transaction capabilities. This includes, in many cases, unique one-off solutions to support a customer’s proprietary automated framework.
In the mobile space, we have seen an unprecedented adoption curve. A survey conducted by Constant Contact in March found that 66 percent of small business owners currently use a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, for work. That same survey revealed that mobile apps increasingly are becoming part of how small business owners manage operations. Business owners clearly want to run their businesses and conduct their banking from the palms of their hands. Strategically, we are very focused on building feature-rich, secure and easy-to-use mobile applications that positively impact the day-to-day operation of businesses.
Mobile also is a much more capable and rich development platform than anything that we have built upon in the past. For example, not only can you turn your debit card on or off using a mobile app, but by leveraging location services on your device, we allow you to specify the use of your debit card only if it’s within a certain number of miles of you.
What are some challenges with the adoption of this technology?
Moving your data to the cloud or carrying sensitive data around on your smartphone present risk. Privacy, security, backups and business continuity are all topics to vet. Understanding from your provider how your data is stored, if it is encrypted at rest, how it is backed up, who has access to your data and how that is being properly controlled is extremely important. Third-party audits can be employed to validate that all of this is in place and functioning according to design. You must hold your vendors accountable to the same high standard with which you would grade your own internal control environment.
Frank D. “Buddy” Cox, Jr. is executive vice president and chief information officer at Cadence Bank. Reach him at (713) 871-4000.
Website: Cloud computing services and mobile technology are changing the way businesses operate and serve clients. Learn more at www.cadencebank.com.
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A truly great bank will go beyond standard financial services and provide value-added assistance in partnership with client businesses.
“I think the lost art in banking is the bank being a partner. It isn’t just about taking deposits, doing loans and putting people in a box. If you’re really doing your job you should provide far more than just your standard services, which, frankly, every service provider should do,” says Ed Lambert, senior vice president, marketing manager, Technology Banking Group at Bridge Bank.
Smart Business spoke with Lambert about what it means to be partners and what you should look for when choosing a bank.
What criteria should someone use in evaluating a bank?
The first question a bank should be asking is, ‘How are you doing as a company?’ Not, ‘Who are your investors?’ or, ‘Are you profitable?’ The bank you chose to work with should want to learn as much as they can about your company so they can find ways to meet your needs.
The banker should sit down with you and listen to your background and then, and only then, respond. What you don’t want is a banker who walks in and opens the conversation by talking about their bank and what it provides without having a conversation and getting to know something, anything, about you.
The second criterion for evaluating a bank is, ‘Do they have answers for me?’
The third criterion is whether the banker is limiting his or her answers to what benefits him or her and his or her bank. If there is a need they cannot fulfill directly, they should be able to tell you that and point you in the direction of someone who can help. They should be ready to provide a solution to your problem, whether directly or indirectly.
What kind of added value should business owners expect in a banking relationship?
A bank should be in a position to provide solutions to whatever situational issues could divert you from focusing on growth. It could be banking issues such as how to best manage your cash or what kind of debt works for your business, or possibly an overall solution process. It also could be something as mundane as finding a solution to the problem of you not liking your CPA or attorney. There have been horror stories about the CFO of a company making 30 phone calls to find a new CPA, taking a lot of time to find answers that a bank should be able to provide in terms of what their Rolodex holds.
If a bank is really providing a good level of service, those things should inherently be part of what they offer to its customers. The supposition is that the bank has been doing this for a long time and has built up a substantial list of contacts, so why should it not share that with its customers?
The bottom line is this: What a company should be looking for in a bank, as well as in any other service being provided to it, is what they bring to the table beyond the array of services that one would assume are standard.
If credit decisions are based on numbers, why would a good banking relationship matter?
The banker’s job is to tell the client ‘yes;’ ‘not yet, and here’s how to make it a yes;’ or ‘here’s somebody who can help you where you are today.’ Those are really the only three acceptable answers that a banker should be providing to his or her clients.
The role of a bank should be to solve issues for its clients that go well beyond just managing deposits and credits. Banks should really be a resource for a company to have at any stage of its life because each phase has a different set of needs. A truly good bank provides for those needs, even if that means telling a business owner something he or she doesn’t want to hear.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Bridge Bank