When the recession hit, Sun National Bank had the foresight to anticipate the inevitable recovery. Sun saw technology as a way to increase its competitive advantage ahead of better times. It wanted a centralized, enterprise wide customer relationship management (CRM) solution to strengthen existing relationships and capture new business. After considering options that included another popular software-as-a-service (SaaS) package, Sun chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Sun gained a flexible framework for CRM that it could customize and integrate easily with core systems. The results: Sun estimates that it reduced the time to deploy by 67 percent and the cost to deploy by 75 percent compared to the SaaS option. Cross-selling at Sun is up by close to 20 percent; the time to approve loans has been shortened by 80 percent; and Sun even gained a tool with which to speed the integration of acquisitions.

Situation

Aesop, father of fables, once noted that it is the flexible reed—which can bend with the wind—and not the unyielding oak, that survives the storm. Twenty-five hundred years later, Angelo J. Valletta needed a reed.

The year was 2009, and Sun National Bank, Valletta’s employer, was—like too many banks and businesses throughout the United States and around the world—in the grip of what soon came to be called the Great Recession. The poor economy and the twin crises of credit and liquidity put enormous pressure on banks, including Sun, eroding revenues and profits.

Valletta, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Sun, was the point-person for the bank’s efforts to use technology not just to weather the crisis, but also to emerge stronger, a better competitor, and ready to capitalize on the opportunities of the eventual recovery. As a midmarket bank operating throughout New Jersey, Sun was crowded on one side by small community banks that could act nimbly to capture local business and on the other by national banks that had massive systems to focus on marketing and new product development.

One potential technology tool to boost the bank’s competitiveness and to position it for the recovery was a centralized, enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) system. Until then, relationship managers at Sun, like their counterparts elsewhere, kept their customer information in personal contact lists, calendars, and folders. An enterprise CRM system would give relationship managers one-stop access to customer information, helping to make those managers more effective at building customer accounts. An enterprise CRM system would also broaden access to customer information and preserve it for the bank when there was turnover among relationship managers.

But Valletta and his colleagues wanted more than that from a CRM system. “We wanted a CRM solution that would be flexible enough to be integrated into a variety of departments—wholesale, retail, cash management, and more,” says Valletta. “We wanted CRM flexible enough to be integrated into our business processes to make them faster and more effective. We wanted CRM flexible enough to implement and bring to market quickly.”

An oak tree would ill serve Valletta; he needed a reed.

Solution

Sun had been down the CRM path five years earlier, with an off-the-shelf solution. It had been little more than a contacts database. Relationship managers tended not to use it because it provided no real advantage over the individual contact lists they already maintained. The project had been deemed a failure. This time, Valletta knew, the solution had to be different.

He and his team evaluated and quickly eliminated several packages because they were deemed insufficiently scalable and would leave the bank needing yet another solution before too long. They looked more closely at two leading CRM packages: one from a popular software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, and the other another popular choice: Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The two offered comparable returns on investment—provided that Sun adopted each basically out of the box. But Sun didn’t want to adopt them out of the box.

“We didn’t know all the ways we’d end up using CRM, but we knew that to make all of those possibilities real, we needed more than a tool for contacts,” says Jeff Wills, Director of Information Systems at Sun National Bank. “We needed a framework that we could use to integrate CRM with our existing operations and infrastructure.”

When Wills says “we,” he means just that. Sun wanted its in-house developers, with their existing skill sets, to be able to design the CRM solution themselves. The unattractive alternative would be to rely on a vendor, with high costs and the fear of being locked into a vendor-controlled solution.

“Our developers were already proficient with the Microsoft .NET Framework; we were confident that we could accomplish what we wanted, at a reasonable price, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM,” says Wills.

Integration and customization were key elements of that plan. One of the main integrations was between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Sun’s core banking system, its business-critical system of record, which contained account information and activity critical to full customer relationship rendering. Sun connected the core system, which runs on an IBM System i midrange server, to Microsoft Dynamics CRM by using a custom built connector. Relationship managers and others enter updated customer information through Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and the information updates the core banking system daily.

The core banking system, in turn, delivers real-time account information to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM database—which is built on Microsoft SQL Server data management software. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM database uses the extract-transform-load capabilities of SQL Server Integration Services to integrate both the core banking data and other data sources. From there, the data is available to relationship managers and others. The solution also relies on SQL Server for analysis and reporting services.

Sun also integrated the Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution into its custom consumer loan origination (CLO) system. Every validated consumer loan opportunity is entered into the CLO system. To close loans, several teams and departments within the bank work together, including appraisers, lenders, and credit officers. These participants in the CLO process now enter, manipulate, upload, and receive data through Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which gives the bank an end-to-end, highly automated CLO workflow for the first time.

The Sun team customized the Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution in various ways, as well. For example, the bank’s wholesale, retail, and cash management departments each need to capture and track their own sets of data, maintain distinct processes, and respond to different external events. In response, Sun implemented CRM screens, automated workflows, and notifications customized for each department.

On a daily basis, the bank’s more than 50 relationship managers and others who need to work with the CRM system to enter, edit, or retrieve data do so through the Microsoft Outlook 2010 messaging and collaboration client they already know, with CRM-specific interface elements appearing as add-in menu options on the toolbar. Managers and executives who want to review a pipeline of open loans, or reports on the performance of specific relationship managers, bank branches, or regions, do so through the Microsoft Dynamics CRM interface itself. The familiar Windows-based interface replaces the cumbersome and obscure green screens that employees formerly encountered when trying to find data in the core banking system.

Benefits

Sun National Bank has achieved its key aim in adopting Microsoft Dynamics CRM: customizing the flexible solution and integrating it into the bank’s departments and processes, where it is of far more value than a “customer contacts” system could have been. “Microsoft Dynamics CRM has great features—but that was secondary to us,” says Valletta. “Microsoft gave us a flexible framework that we used to customize and integrate CRM to maximum effect throughout the bank. I don’t see how we could have done that otherwise.”

“360-Degree” Customer Views Help Boost Cross-Selling by 20 Percent Relationship managers now have “360-degree” views of their customers with which they can identify those customers’ broader needs. This makes it easier to cross-sell banking products to them. Wills estimates that the volume of cross-selling—for example, providing merchant banking services to a cash management customer—has increased by 20 percent with the advent of its CRM system. Meanwhile, customers benefit by gaining a single-source banking vendor.

“It’s our people who are selling more, not Microsoft Dynamics CRM,” says Wills. “But Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the tool they needed in order to do so.”

Pipeline Tracking and Reporting Help Increase Loan Profitability The bank also uses pipeline-tracking and reports that it has built with Microsoft Dynamics CRM to boost profitability and competitiveness. Relationship managers use the CRM system to get a daily view of their most and least profitable loans, which is information they can use to help refine loan activity for greater profitability. Similarly, managers and executives use the pipeline tracker to identify and address potential problems with impending loans before they can become actual problems.

“We had all of this information before, but it was hidden in the core system or scattered across several systems—which was as good, or as bad, as not having it,” says Valletta. “With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we have it highly accessible and intelligible in one place. We can act on it faster, which means we’re more productive and effective, and that contributes to a positive financial impact.”

Workflows Reduce Time to Approve Loans by 80 Percent Increased productivity and effectiveness are also evident in the loan approval and credit renewal processes, which are now enhanced with workflows based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and one-stop data access. Loan approvals, one of the final steps of the CLO process, used to take hours, totaling as much as “the better part of a day or two for the papers to get the required signatures,” according to Wills. Now, Sun can complete loan approvals in about 30 minutes when needed. Wills estimates that the average process time savings is more than 80 percent. The credit renewal process—for example, the renewal of business or home-equity lines of credit—is now 50 percent faster than before.

“Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps us to use our resources—human and otherwise—more effectively,” says Wills. “If someone had a stack of loan documents on his or her desk to process, that stack is now gone. We have the flexibility to move our resources where they’re needed. We can support growth without having to grow ourselves.”

Flexible Integration Supports Acquisition Strategy Sun has also used Microsoft Dynamics CRM to help implement its strategy to expand its services and reach through acquisition. For example, the bank recently broadened its portfolio of services by acquiring an asset-based lending group (which, as the name implies, provides loans and lines of credit based on a business’s assets). Sun was able to make the cost-effective choice of acquiring the new group, rather than spending the time and money to build the capability, because it could easily integrate the acquisition into its own technology system via the CRM solution.

“In the past, an acquisition would have kept its own contact systems, despite the inefficiencies of maintaining decentralized, incompatible systems, because it would have been too hard to do the integration,” says Valletta. “But we used Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and the integration into our business processes was painless. We now have the scalability to handle many more acquisitions like this.”

Easy Customization Reduces Time-to-Market by 67 Percent, Cost by 75 Percent Another aspect of competitiveness is coming to market quickly. How important was that to Sun? “When you’re starting behind your competitors—who already had CRM systems, for the most part—every second counts,” says Wills.

Wills has never had the time to count the seconds that Sun saved by basing its CRM solution on Microsoft Dynamics CRM instead of on the SaaS solution—but he has counted the months: they come to six. The bank had its solution up and running in 90 days, compared to the nine months it estimated it would have taken with the SaaS alternative. That means that Sun shaved 67 percent off its likely project schedule by choosing Microsoft. The real-time differential is even greater, since Valletta is comparing the customized and integrated Microsoft solution to a largely generic version of its competitor.

“With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we were really surprised at how fast we went from choosing the technology to training business users on the deployed systems,” says Valletta. “I credit the flexibility for customization built into the software, as well as the expertise of Database Solutions.”

Nor does Valetta know exactly how much it would have cost to similarly customize the SaaS solution that he considered, but he has an idea. “Based on the due diligence work we did in considering the SaaS alternative, we estimate that we saved 75 to 80 percent of the likely development budget by choosing Microsoft,” Valletta says. “We’re a business. Saving money is good.”