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Bank adopts iPads for executive corps

Project began as way to cut printing costs. 

Bank adopts iPads for executive corps

Independent Bank’s CIO, Pete Graves, shows off the range of devices that can complete an executive’s arsenal: laptop, iPhone, and now iPad

You might say that Independent Bank had a quarter of a million reasons why it began exploring adopting Apple iPads for its executives. To be precise, $250,000 in dollar bills.

Initially, iPads, introduced by Apple in April, weren’t part of the bank’s equation at all. Looking for places to cut costs, management at the $2.9 billion-assets company, based in Ionia, Mich., found a number of targets. An attractive one was computer printers. Independent Bank, with 111 branches, had bankers in many locations printing out documents.

“We were printing off millions of pages every week,” says Pete Graves, Independent Bank’s chief information officer. He says the bank found that paper, toner, maintenance, and other associated costs meant that every sheet printed cost ten cents. To cut that cost, management set out last year to encourage staff not to print so much. Besides jawboning and doing all the things banks do to get folks on board, Graves says management took the expedient step of simply removing printers—more than 10% of them. The notion was that if people had to walk further to retrieve their printout, they just might think twice before clicking “print.”

I tend to print less, because of that,” admits Graves.

The first year’s effort cut roughly $200,000 in printing costs, but the bank continued to look for ways to further reduce its printing.

Does it really ever need printing?
Then Graves began to think about how bankers frequently use their documents: not as something to work over and revise, but as something to review, critique, and respond to: information.

“So much of what we actually do, especially in the executive ranks, is reading documents and approving documents,” says Graves.

That had gotten Graves looking at “e-ink” technologies, such as the business-oriented approach of Plastic Logic, with its QUE reader, as well as the technology used with the Amazon Kindle. Many prefer this technology because it looks more like printing on paper. Graves followed the QUE’s development for more than a year, in anticipation. 

And then in April, Apple brought out the iPad. It was faster than devices like the QUE, and it handled images better. And it had capabilities more like a laptop, in some ways. (Small keyboards are available for users who need to do more typing than the iPad’s on-screen, touch-sensitive keyboard is convenient for.)

Had Graves found the “read-only” tool he was looking for that would replace more paper? In time, the paper-chase would be eclipsed by larger possibilities.

“The iPad,” says Graves, “just blew the QUE away,” in terms of user friendliness and utility. (In August, Plastic Logic announced that it would cancel the QUE in favor of a next-generation reader.) ABA Banking Journal editors have been meeting more and more community bankers who are adopting the iPad personally. What sets Independent Bank apart from others is that it is already embracing the iPad as part of its corporate approach.

Apples in banking?
“Macs”—one or another of the once-geeky Apple Macintoshes—haven’t typically been something one would find in the same sentence as “banker,” at least not in the office. With the exception of the Marketing Department, most community banks don’t go near Macs, officially. But Independent Bank’s Graves says his developers, among other tech employees, have long been Mac users. They build and test applications for the rest of the bank in a “virtual machine” environment in Macs, which simulates bank systems.

Likewise, although the bank has traditionally armed the 300-odd bankers who have company-provided mobile devices with Blackberrys, more recently it has begun outfitting bankers who want iPhones with those devices instead. Initially, Graves said, the iPhone wasn’t “enterprise friendly,” but later versions, including 3G service, came up to the company standard. At present Graves characterizes the bank’s iPhone use as a pilot.

One of the pilot iPhone users is Mike Magee, president and CEO. “He just loves it,” says Graves. This helped pave the way for iPads.

Once Magee made it clear he really liked the iPhone for business, “I asked him if he wanted to try an iPad instead of a laptop,” says Graves. Magee said yes.

Where iPads fit
“Fit” is an appropriate way of looking at the iPad in banking from two perspectives: how it fits into a banker’s work style, and how it fits into the bank’s devices hierarchy.

“The iPad fits between the smart phone and the laptop,” says Graves. It provides more capabilities and greater visibility than a smart phone, he elaborates, and more mobility than a laptop. On the other hand, without the separate keyboard, Graves notes that the iPad isn’t good for extensive typing.

“If you’re going to carry that keyboard and an iPad, you might as well carry a laptop,” he says.

Most typically, Graves has found, users in executive management and IT who currently have iPads have leaned towards the new devices when they are on the go, and full desktop machines when they have office work to do. Magee and the bank’s COO, says Graves, “are almost to the point where they don’t take their laptops anymore.”

For reading email, and, with reference to cutting paper costs, reviewing and approving documents, Graves finds the devices excellent. The added versatility of the touchscreen interface for reading documents, publications, and using the internet, versus a smartphone, appeal to the bank. The next group the bank is considering giving iPads to is senior managers.

Tech needs and the business case
While the iPad no doubt has a “wow factor,” Graves indicates the business case had to work. A significant element is setting up the devices as “thin clients.”

The iPad comes equipped to read email and to view (but not originate or manipulate) Word, Excel, and Adobe Acrobat documents. This fits the bank effort to trim its paper footprint, and it found ways to increase the device’s utility without having to pay further licensing fees for software. The iPads—the bank purchased the version that has both WiFi and 3G—access the bank’s systems through a Citrix Access Gateway, or “CAG.” This provides an encrypted “tunnel” into the bank’s network. From there, the iPad user can access all the software they have on their own office computer, as well as all their office files. Essentially the user has a virtual desktop. Graves says this enables the bank to allow multiple types of devices to have access to its networks, while remaining secure. (Graves worked with Ben Kohn, the bank’s senior architect, and Tom McKowin, enterprise architect, on iPad connectivity.)

Connections can be established in three ways. WiFi is preferred, for speed. Users can also obtain access through the built-in 3G. Finally, the bank purchased Intel My WiFi devices that enable a device to become its own “hot spot,” for areas where AT&T service is spotty.

Graves says the iPads are cheaper than laptops for several reasons. One is their price—roughly $800. Another is the software issue; a laptop requires licensing costs as well as maintenance of that software, local to the machine. And portability and the lightweight nature of the iPad make security somewhat less of a concern for the bank than a laptop. Graves says that people, knowing how much they can do with the iPad, tend to carry it with them wherever they go, to appointments, business meals, and more. By contrast, a laptop more typically gets left in the car. 

This article is adapted from the September 2010 ABA Banking Journal Community Banking department. You can read a companion online only article about other bankers adopting iPads for work and personal use at www.ababj.com

 

Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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