The CIO of WSFS Bank Talks Dollars and Sense

WSFS Bank is a $5 billion bank headquartered in Wilmington, Del. It is the seventh oldest bank in the United States still in operation today. Founded in 1832, WSFS Bank was chartered seven days before the city of Wilmington. WSFS operates out of 56 locations in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Nevada. In addition to retail banking, the company also has a trust & wealth management division that manages about $1.5 billion in client assets and an additional $10 billion in assets under administration. The Cash Connect division provides cash management services to ATM owners across all 50 states and the company currently manages cash replenishment services for more than 15,000 ATMs. Through Array Financial, WSFS offers mortgage financing services to customers across all 50 states. James Mazarakis is the executive vice president and CIO of WSFS, a role he has had for more than five years. Mazarakis discusses with CIO Insight contributor Peter High cyber-security fraud, digital technology in banking and more.

CIO Insight: You lead technology and operations. What is under your purview in these two areas, and how did your role evolve to take both on?

James Mazarakis: These two areas of the bank had been managed together prior to my arrival. What we have further supplemented since my arrival is our operational risk and application delivery areas. Operational Risk was supplemented because, as everyone is aware, in the last few years we have seen significantly increased cyber-security fraud activities across all types of industries and governmental institutions. Our bank has been proactive in supplementing our capabilities in this area to protect our customers and their confidential information.

We have also further supplemented our application delivery area to allow the bank to build applications that support our customers’ needs. Customer needs have grown very significantly in the last few years and banks have responded by providing more online capabilities and new mobile facilities. We have responded to these needs by issuing mobile and tablet software that address these needs. Our most recent enhancement is WSFS Mobile Cash. WSFS Mobile Cash allows customers to withdraw cash from our branch ATMs by using their mobile phones. In essence WSFS Mobile Cash is a cardless ATM transaction. This product represents the latest in security, convenience and speed in regards to digital technology in banking.

CIO Insight What are some core areas of your current strategy? What are your team and you focused on at the moment?

Mazarakis: Our bank has been very fortunate to see significant growth in the last few years. Right now we’re working hard on completing the integration of our bank with the recently announced merger with Alliance Bank in Pennsylvania. We expect this conversion to be completed on Oct. 13, when all Alliance branches will be opened as WSFS locations.

Our technology strategy is built around the needs of a growing business where we need to plan far enough in advance to allow the bank to operate without a hitch as we grow geographically and in complexity. Our team is constantly looking at evolving customer needs.

Recently we announced a joint venture with ZenBanx to offer the ZenBanx Account in the United States. The ZenBanx account, which will debut later this year, is a mobile, multicurrency account that will allow consumers to hold balances denominated in up to five currencies in a single account while providing account holders with the ability to conveniently and securely transfer funds domestically or internationally and among currencies.

Created to meet the financial needs of mobile-savvy consumers who live, work or travel across borders, the primary target markets for the ZenBanx account are foreign professionals living in the United States, frequent travelers, international students studying in the United States, and immigrants who want to maintain their family and financial ties to their countries of origin. The ZenBanx account will offer the option of accruing interest on the currencies held and provide customers the ability to send funds internationally at a competitive market rate.

CIO Insight: WSFS is known for high customer service. What role does technology play in that customer experience, and how does your team get involved?

Mazarakis: As more customer transactions migrate to electronic channels, our technology team needs to continue to work on improving the electronic customer experience. In a world where personalized service in a branch happens less frequently, we need to ensure that the electronic experience is as great as it can be while ensuring that the less frequent branch experiences continue to be excellent.

It is a very tall order for our associates to execute but that is what we need to do. We at WSFS are very fortunate to have very engaged associates and customers who appreciate the personalized services they receive from our bank. WSFS has utilized Gallup over 10 years and we have reached one of the highest engagement levels measured by Gallup for both associates and customers. By having engaged associates we believe we can best service customer needs both electronically and physically.

CIO Insight: You were previously CIO of T. Rowe Price, and have served as an IT executive at many other leading financial institutions dating back to the early 1980s. Can you talk about how technology-based innovation has evolved across the period that you have been an IT executive?

Mazarakis: We have seen technology evolve in a huge way over the last 30 years. In my earlier years at Goldman Sachs the role of technology was to automate manual tasks to allow for higher transaction volumes for our customers. As a point of reference in 1980 the NY Stock Exchange was transacting 50 million shares a day and 65 million shares was a very heavy day. Now, although there are a great deal more exchanges, the NYSE routinely completes 1 billion shares a day and on heavy days that transaction volume can reach 3 billion shares.

If we think back to those earlier days and even the early ‘90s when a customer needed to know how their portfolio, or a specific stock in their portfolio, was performing they needed to call their broker. Now we all have that information available instantaneously on any device of our choosing. Just think that the first mobile phone that did not have an exterior antenna wasn’t introduced until 2001.

We continue to see an information revolution where news and corporate performance information is available to all consumers practically instantaneously. This is a very large shift from what used to be the case even a few years ago where there were numerous barriers to information dissemination. This instant access to information has created many new needs for us to deliver critical information to consumers in a variety of channels and help them guard and protect this information from those that are not authorized to access it.

CIO Insight: What technology trends particularly excite you going forward?

Mazarakis: We, as a society, now create more data and consume more data than ever before. All this information, along with the information becoming available from IoT (Internet of things) can begin to be put into use to reduce the time needed to complete transactions and better understand customer needs. This is not something that will happen overnight but we have seen the beginnings of our ability to better understand patterns and create more user-friendly outcomes.

Some of this information can be used to reduce potential fraud while other information can be used to create more consumer-friendly suggestions that can assist customers when they are trying to make financial decisions.

Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT.

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