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iPads catch on with bankers

Tablet devices give execs portable desktops

iPads catch on with bankers
A companion to this article describes how Michigan’s Independent Bank adopted iPads for its executive corps. Click here

Some conference speakers work from index cards and bullet points on the back of an envelope. Some tough it out and go by memory. Some use the hidden “notes” section of their PowerPoint screens. And some bigshots get Teleprompters. But at this year’s ABA Regulatory Compliance Conference, Jim Bedsole went outside of the box. He made his presentation off the screen of his iPad.

Jim Bedsole consults his iPad after conference speech.

Bedsole, executive vice-president and chief risk officer at Tidelands Bank, Mount Pleasant, S.C., admits to being a techno-geek. He was an early adopter of the iPhone, for instance. But the well-known compliance expert didn’t obtain an iPad until this spring when he saw the $582 million-assets bank’s CFO tinkering with one. He really liked what he saw, and simultaneously, given his compliance and risk background, saw potential privacy and security issues that ought to be vetted before the then-brand-new devices began coming into the bank en masse.

So he made a case for the bank buying him the current iPad, equipped with both WiFi and 3G ability, and he joined the small, but growing, ranks of bankers who have begun remaking their working lives—and sometimes their personal lives—around the tablets.

The devices are beginning to appear in executive offices.

Paul Cornell, of Okla.’s SpiritBank, is also an “early adopter.” He had an Amazon Kindle when most bankers were still reading papers on paper, and much as he liked that gadget, he pronounced himself “done” with it when iPad came out, and passed it to his kids. He bought his iPad back in May, with WiFi and 3G, and hasn’t looked back at Kindle.

“This is a tool that, for anyone who takes the time to understand it, will change their life,” says Cornell, deputy CEO at the $1.4 billion-assets bank.

“It’s a simple, elegant device,” says Frank Sorrentino III, chairman and CEO at $565.7 million-assets North Jersey Community Bank, Englewood Cliffs. “It doesn’t do everything, but for what I want it for, it’s wonderful.” Sorrentino is a voracious reader, and enjoys reading books on the iPad.

http://www.ababj.com/images/stories/franksorrentinoipad_91010.jpg
Frank Sorrentino is considering outfitting his sales force with iPads.

“I’ll probably never buy another hardcover book,” Sorrentino says.

After his first two weeks with the device, the New Jersey banker began exploring getting iPads for senior officers and for members of the bank’s staff that make commercial customer calls. For the latter, he sees iPads as an ideal way to present PowerPoint-style pitches to clients, which is something the bank encourages.

The September ABA Banking Journal Community Banking department (“iPads enter as ‘thin clients’ “) tells the story of Michigan’s Independent Bancorp, which adopted iPads for its executive corps and ties them into the bank’s systems and the users’ desktops through a “thin-client” approach. (Essentially, the functionality of software and files reside on the bank’s systems, and the remote device serves to access and manipulate those programs and data.)

But bankers are beginning to catch the iPad bug on their own, prior to such wholesale, official adoption. Other manufacturers have also been developing tablet devices, but the only ones we’ve seen bankers using thus far, when we meet them at industry meetings, has been the iPad. (Share your own iPad and remote computing experiences in the comments section, at the end of this article.)

Getting on the iPad train
Georgia banker Dan Blanton is not a “keyboarder,” as he calls it. But he does like technology. So for Father’s Day this year his family bought him an iPad. He’s become a big fan in a hurry.

“I’m using my iPad all the time,” says Blanton, president and CEO of $1.4 billion-assets Southeastern Bank Financial Corp., Augusta, Ga. It’s become part of his morning routine to grab his first cup of coffee at home and work through the early emails on his bank account with the iPad. That saves him 30-40 minutes of morning office time daily, he estimates. The bank’s IT staff set up a secure interface for the device (and for Blanton’s iPhone) with the bank’s email server.

The morning routine also includes keeping up with Blanton’s favorite daily papers, in iPad “app” forms, as well as a stock-ticker service. “I’m always finding new apps to download for it,” says Blanton. Among the ones he likes are Open Table, which helps with restaurant reservations. When traveling Blanton has read books and watched movies as well.

Jim Bedsole favors an app called Penultimate. This allows him to use a special stylus on the iPad screen for notetaking. Bedsole says the app has replaced his traditional yellow legal pads for meeting notes and other jottings. The program, which retains the notes as “handwritten,” allows them to be exported as a PDF. They can be organized into multiple notebooks or attached to emails. They can also be printed.

Tulsa’s Paul Cornell does type. While the iPad will present a virtual keyboard on screen for use with its touch interface capability, for any significant keyboarding Cornell prefers the wireless, battery-operated keyboard that Apple sells to complement the iPad. He carries his iPad in a leather case that includes space for the keyboard. When he wants to use the keyboard, he sets up the case much as an easel, and places the keyboard in front of it much as one would use a laptop. For many other applications, he solely uses the touch interface.

Cornell says he carries fewer and fewer files with him when he’s out and about because many of the documents he may need to refer to can be stored on the iPad through his email account. He frequently uses the numerous reference works available for iPad for work, and uses loan calculation apps that he’s downloaded when making client calls. The built-in GPS can be tied into real-estate valuation databases so that determining the approximate values of properties surrounding a piece of potential collateral can be readily done in the field. One such service that Cornell has used is Zillow.com’s “Zestimate” of values; the app download is free. Properties of interest can be saved as “favorites” for later review.

Ditch the laptop? Maybe not yet
Bankers are of mixed minds on how well the iPad, even with its separate keyboard, replaces a laptop.

Cornell says he uses the iPad 80% of the time he would have used a laptop, but most other bankers interviewed still lean more heavily on laptops or desktop machines for heavy-duty keying. For many functions, especially heavy reading, bankers consider an iPad to be an oversize iPhone. You can read a full-length book on an iPhone,  as well as other mobile devices, bankers say, but it’s a better experience on the tablet’s larger screen.

Even tech-lover Cornell prefers Microsoft Excel for very large spreadsheets. “My comfort zone is still based on Microsoft Office,” says Cornell, “and I’ll email it to myself.” This is in spite of built-in iPad software that serves the same functions as Microsoft Word (Apple’s Pages), Excel (Numbers), and even PowerPoint (Keynote).

For those who still like a hard copy, wireless printing is easy, and cheap. Cornell uses a $3.99 app that allows him to print from the iPad to any printer with Bluetooth capability.

Bankers praise the iPad’s “instant on” capability, especially for quick tasks. By contrast, they note, it may take ten minutes to get to an application on a laptop.

Security concerns prompt measures
Risk officer Jim Bedsole’s radar went on when he first saw the CFO’s iPad, thinking of all the ways an active banker’s use of electronic services might compromise bank records and systems in the absence of security measures. It’s a multilayered challenge, he pointed out, because even if email alone were involved, the frequent use of attachments that might be important or confidential raises risks.

If other important documents stored on the iPad weren’t secured, Bedsole said, they might also fall prey to the wrong parties. For instance, he said, a banker who kept a copy of his or her bank’s strategic plan on a mobile device wouldn’t want it to fall into the competition’s hands. As a result, the bank is researching security issues carefully before contemplating any widespread adoption of iPads by employees. Among the local security measures Bedsole uses is a feature that puts the iPad to sleep if it stands idle for more than 15 minutes. The user must input a password to access the machine again.

Bankers whose institutions have provided access to systems for iPads have used various measures to safeguard the institutions’ side, to avoid data breaches and other mishaps. The September Community Banking column mentioned earlier details some of the steps taken by Independent Bank using Citrix Access Gateway. (Bedsole’s banks is experimenting with a Citrix system as well.)

Southeastern’s Dan Blanton signed up for Apple’s MobileMe service, a fee-based series of features that includes GPS tracking of the device’s location.

Blanton explains that if his iPad were to be stolen, he can instruct MobileMe to activate “Remote Wipe,” a feature which deletes all information remotely, restoring the device to factory settings. This safeguards contact names, phone numbers, etc.

Less drastically, the GPS feature can help locate the device when lost, or simply misplaced. MobileMe can also play a sound to help locate the device in your home or office, and can display a screen message instructing anyone finding the device to call or otherwise contact the user to arrange return of the gadget. MobileMe also enables the owner to remotely lock the device with a four-digit passcode.

Share your experiences with the iPad, other tablet devices, and remote computing in general below.

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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