Hope Utterbeck – Liberty Bank
Satisfying customers is the priority at Connecticut’s Liberty Bank and when Hope Utterbeck joined the executive team, the customers were rightfully complaining about the ATMs. This being November 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, those automated teller machines, a relied-on banking channel for customers, were essential to customer service but not functioning to customer satisfaction.
As the new executive vice president and chief information officer, Utterbeck oversaw the seamless replacement of the entire fleet of 63 ATMs with new, modern machines while pivoting to a managed service platform. The project, which was a leading strategic initiative for Liberty, took around eight months with minimal, if any, inconvenience to customers and has been one of several she’s spearheaded that’s done much to modernize and enhance customer experience.
“This was a foundational project that took the hard work of my team and our teammates across the bank,” she tells Toggle nearly three years later from Middletown headquarters. “It directly touched our end user and demonstrated our commitment to listening to and taking action on their feedback.”
Those slow and obsolete machines having been replaced with state-of-the-art models that function 24/7, Utterbeck says it’s been a big win for the community bank and its customers in Connecticut. The same will hold true, she says, for other projects in progress.
Data management has been another area that Utterbeck identified as being behind the curve. Internally, she says, Liberty Bank has not had the ideal reporting tools to best enable the business lines to strategize and forecast. How it’ll help for there to be a foundation to allow all those capabilities, to have all data sources in one place that’s outfitted with analytic tools.
“We are focused on growing and evolving our data management and analytics capabilities,” Utterbeck says. “The driver behind it is to be able to provide better products to our customers so they can take advantage.”
This kicked off in April, with completion anticipated by year’s end. It complements another effort, the implementation of robotic process automation.
RPA, as it’s known, is used in many industries, the robotics automating manual processes and enhancing efficiency and productivity. This is an internal-focused project, and Utterbeck envisions it benefiting customers by freeing teammates to focus on more demanding tasks. She’s created pilot processes and, by December, expects to have the bots in place to implement and then scale across the bank.
Then there’s been Utterbeck and her 50-member infotech team collaborating with the digital banking department in launching a new division, Owners Bank. Owners Bank was created specifically to provide digital banking services tailored to the unique needs of small business owners in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, with ongoing plans for further expansion.
As Utterbeck says, Owners Bank is another example of Liberty Bank’s flexibility as a community institution that is the largest and oldest independent mutual bank in the country. It’s a unique endeavor for a bank with over $7 billion in assets, and to her, represents the best of both worlds.
“We’re small enough to move faster than the bigger banks but not too small that we can’t make a difference,” she says. “I feel like I can make a difference here. It’s probably the best job I’ve had so far.”
Utterbeck had been making a difference for other companies since graduating Central Connecticut State University with a degree in management information systems in 1992. She spent more than 15 years with General Electric in Fairfield and Norwalk, both in the Nutmeg State, ascending to vice president of enterprise data platforms before transitioning to the financial industry in June 2018 for a stretch with New Britain’s Webster Bank. This coincided with earning an MBA in management from the University of Hartford.
By late 2020, Utterbeck was ready for her first CIO role with Liberty Bank, and what an eventful time she says it’s been, what with the pandemic and transition to next generation infotech, and her input solicited on various matters. She says such is the indispensability of infotech in modern business, and she recognized its potential as a high school student during the 1980s.
“Technology was really taking off around that time, and my interest grew,” Utterbeck says. “I enjoy problem-solving, and this is a way to do it. Upon enrolling in a college co-op at UTC (United Technologies Corp.), I was sold on it as a career.”
Just because there’s a new IT fad doesn’t mean she’ll advocate for it. Much of being a CIO, Utterbeck explains, involves communicating with other departments and making a case for what tools best fit the company. For Liberty Bank, that included modern ATMs, better data management and analytics, and RPAs. Now it’s a matter of optimizing those means, assessing needs to come and supervising her team.
“I’m tough but fair,” she says. “I hold my team accountable for what we do and make sure they have what they need. My job includes pushing down the roadblocks and having fun.”
All the better if she can encourage other women to advance in what’s mostly a male-run profession. Just as she benefited from female role models, she’s one as well to any of her hired hands.
And she’ll keep progressing in her field, Utterbeck ever watching technology evolve, reading online material, and simply staying up to date in this most dynamic of professions. As her third anniversary nears at Liberty Bank, she’s glad to have her department functioning hybrid. Looking back, she says their accomplishments were even more remarkable given how much time passed before she met the majority face-to-face due to remote work during the pandemic.
Her team has had much to celebrate, but with major projects still in progress, it’s mostly roll-up-your-sleeves and proceed. It can be another challenge, she says, to mix this role with a blended family of six children, but time management allows her to do so.
And come Monday morning ….
“With my teammates in IT, I want to take Liberty Bank to the next level in terms of how we’re going to use technology to make a difference,” Utterbeck says. “Technology’s the way to do that.”
View this feature in the Fall I 2023 Edition here.
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