Innovating to Serve
Elizabeth Smiley Glasbrenner, Smiley Technologies, Inc.
May 28, 2019
I've always felt drawn to helping people. I observed my own parents’ proclivity toward service and the compassion and empathy that guided their actions, and my early career in the non-profit sector was informed by their model and my own desire to serve.
It never really occurred to me that I could also be of service in a corporate environment. It turns out, I can.
Our Evergreen company, Smiley Technologies, serves small and mid-sized community banks that often struggle to get good service and core banking software that suits their size and unique needs. We partner with these institutions to develop systems and products that allow them to serve their customers and thereby support their communities. From the beginning, our work has been driven by the commitment to help people through Pragmatic Innovation.
Smiley Technologies Inc. (STI) was launched from an opportunity to innovate a new service for an underserved segment of the banking industry. In 2001, my father, who had founded a bank data processing center in the early seventies, was approached by Southern Bancorp., a community bank in Arkansas that was struggling with their core banking system. They needed a new vendor, and my brother and I worked with my dad to conduct a search that ultimately revealed the lack of good options for a bank that size.
We had stumbled upon a niche.
We saw the opportunity to provide a solution for Southern Bancorp and other, similar banks—to build banking software for the 21st century that would incorporate all the pieces that these banks needed to serve their customers: a core system that drives all the accounting, and all the pieces that have come along in recent years (teller system, debit card functionality, document imaging, online/mobile banking, etc.). At the time, most banks were buying those pieces separately and attempting to integrate them into their core system, which, in many cases hadn’t really evolved since they were developed in the sixties and seventies. It was a piecemeal approach that can lead to security issues, efficiency issues, and poor customer experiences. In contrast, we built a single software platform that incorporates most of the functions, allowing banks to serve their customers efficiently and securely.
Since that initial partnership with Southern Bancorp, we have continued to partner with community banks to innovate software solutions that help people. We work together with the bankers to understand the needs of their customers. It’s a true partnership with each client: I go to many of the senior management meetings and on-boarding meetings at our banks, and I listen to their challenges and needs. We strive to understand their day-to-day picture so we can build solutions together that will improve their customers’ experience. The software and systems that result from these collaborations are the product, but our driver is the people who benefit from our efforts. I believe that through these discussions and interactions with our partners, STI can be the catalyst for helping organizations (both banks and vendors) change accepted practices, innovate, and make progress in the industry.
Often, the mission-oriented banks we serve exist in impoverished areas—many in the Arkansas and Mississippi delta regions—where the products and services they provide offer vital support to farmers and construction workers and teachers and others who sustain these communities. They are essential to the economic development of the regions they serve, and we strive to think creatively to help them fulfill their mission. Our entire team, from senior management to our developers is motivated by the prospect of innovating to provide valuable solutions for our clients and their communities.
This drive to help people propels us to continually innovate for our customers. We ask our staff, "what do wish you had in your banking app?” and “how could your bank serve you better?” and we spend a lot of time in teller lines, talking to customers and asking similar questions. We are conducting our own research all the time—formally through the work of our development team and informally through interactions every day in our communities and in the banks we serve—to understand how we can provide better solutions for our clients that will help them serve their customers.
Looking forward, we’re excited to continue to work together with partners who are similarly dedicated to helping people. As an Evergreen company, we’re not driven by shareholders or stock prices, so we have the luxury to pace our growth and select our partners based on a shared commitment to client service and innovation. After all, these have been the twin drivers for us from the beginning, and I’m bound and determined that they remain so.
Elizabeth Smiley Glasbrenner is the CEO of Smiley Technologies, Inc.