GonzoBankerGonzoBankers, the moment of truth has arrived. You’ve nursed through your company holiday party hangover, apologized to those you offended, and submitted your rebuttals to H.R. Time to kick back and just let the entertainment of the 2013 GonzoBanker Awards wash over you. It’s time for us to toast the mighty, recognize the innovators, skewer those who have rambled off the path of righteousness, and poke a little fun at all of the above. This year’s edition has a strict two-drink minimum, so plan your reading accordingly.


131219aBanker of the Year: Vernon Hill, Metro Bank. The former high-flying and sometimes controversial CEO of Commerce Bank of New Jersey has taken his entrepreneurial energy to the staid British banking market and has demonstrated the ingredient that is still sorely lacking in the banking industry. In just over three years since opening its doors, Metro Bank has opened 22 branches and amassed an amazing 250,000+ customers. Hey, bankers embroiled in compliance who say growth can’t be done – take inspiration from Gonzo Vernon and his dog-friendly new franchise.

The ‘Gene Pool Mix and Splice’ Award: Texas Dow Employees Credit Union (TDECU) for its purchase and successful integration of seven branches from Whitney Bank. An early example of what will become pretty commonplace both ways in the months to come. One thing you have to give Stephanie Sherrodd and her team in Lake Jackson – they’re not afraid of anything.

The ‘If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Belgium’ Conversion Tip of the Hat Award: Andrews Federal Credit Union, which converted core systems and branches across seven different time zones. 

131219bBank Merger of the Year: MB Financial Takes Cole Taylor. This was a nice premium for Cole Taylor shareholders and a nice in-market deal to create a $15+ billion Chicago powerhouse. MB CEO Mitch Feiger knows how to drive shareholder value and deserves kudos for wisely structuring purchase terms around Cole Taylor’s mortgage business.

Bank Sale of the Year: First Victoria Sells to Prosperity. A great win for Russell Marshall and the shareholders of First Victoria. The multiple on this deal (250% of tangible book value) is one of the highest in recent memory. A special shout out to our friend and CFO Greg Sprawka of First Victoria – a true soldier in the fight for bank financial performance.

The Pac Man Award goes to recognize the host of new acquisitive “roll up” players that are creating new mid-size banks faster than you can say accretion. They include:

  • Cadence Bank – $6.5 billion
  • Banks of the Ozarks – $4.71 billion
  • Opus Bank – $3.5 billion
  • Vantage South – $2+ billion

These players are certainly bringing game to the industry.

131219cThe Shape-Changer Award goes to Jim Blake and his team at Harbor One Credit Union that become Harbor One Bank in 2013. Facing a low-growth market, Harbor One has positioned itself for potential acquisitions and market expansions in the future.

The Shape Changer Award – Part 2 goes to Thrivent Financial, which transformed its $500 million bank into a credit union at the end of 2012 and opened Thrivent Credit Union in 2013.

The Triple Diamond Change Management Award goes to Angela Veksler, CIO of Washington Federal Bank. This former WAMU technologist has had her hands busy in 2013 with the integration of South Valley Bank, the acquisition of 51 Bank of America branches, and the wholesale review of the bank’s technology environment.

131219dThe Machiavelli Award: This award goes to the hilarious and much-deserved debacle in which a JPMorgan exec (the falsely folksy-named Jimmy Lee) agreed to answer career advice questions on Twitter. Not surprisingly, the Q&A session devolved into a torrential Twitter tirade on the company’s questionable business tactics. This was the ultimate showcase of JPMorgan’s utter lack of self-awareness. Check out the hilarious New Yorker story here.

The Endangered Species Award: the Head of Retail. This brick and mortar-focused creature has seen its natural habitat decimated by a plague of locust-like digital channel offerings. While some in this species have made the evolutionary leap to Head of Channels, it is feared that many will not survive.

131219eBest Salute of True Gonzo Bankers: George Gilder’s new economic tome, Knowledge and Power, has an amazing chapter that profiles two of our industry’s greatest leaders: Bob Wilmers from M&T Bank and now-retired John Allison of BB&T. Check out a great description of how gutsy bankers create real value versus the shell games of Wall Street machines.


131219fThe Second Annual Matt Taibbi Too Big to Jail Award: Hell, the list of Wall Street megabankers who deserve a jail sentence for ripping off the 99% is too long to examine and select a most dastardly nominee. No, let’s just look to the U.S. Department of Justice for lamely sitting on its sweaty, idle hands and prosecuting a total of no one involved in The Crisis with the ridiculous excuse of “it could shake up the U.S. banking system.” Note to USDoJ: You’re a little late on that front, Chachi.

The Two Words Bankers Feared Most in 2013: Disparate Impact. Two potential Supreme Court cases were settled this year related to bankers’ fear of an unfair Fair Housing crackdown. Here’s hoping for congressional or regulatory clarity on this issue in the future for the 99.9% of bankers who are not bad guys.

Most Miserable Acronym of the Year: QM. The CFPB is weeding out some bad practices but taking product innovation along with it and creating yet more process and reporting complexity. Will non QM loans be a new portfolio lender niche? We shall see.


Bank Core Deal of the Year Award: Jack Henry Silverlake scores a major win at $6B First Commonwealth Bank, unseating FIS Systematics. Nice win for the boys in Monett!

Credit Union Core Deal of the Year Award: Fiserv’s DNA group did an impressive job of preserving the $6B Randolph-Brooks FCU relationship.

Web/Mobile Deal of the Year Award: Q2 signs Umpqua. The second place deal wasn’t even close.

131219gAcquisition of the Year Award: Fiserv buys Open Solutions. This plugs a hole in Fiserv’s arsenal, especially on the credit union side, and has the potential to fill many gaps in OSI as a going concern and in DNA, specifically, as a product that will be stabilized and poised for better releases and service.

131219hVendor to Watch if You’re a Vendor: Rising out of Brooklyn’s beleaguered FinPilot think tank, payments disrupter PayTheMan is catching the attention of the banking world. With its real time mobile telepathy and payments subrogation tools, PayTheMan is making some sweet payments music. Are you listening?

The Second Annual Please Don’t Screw it Up Award: ACI wins this award for the second year in a row, this time for its acquisition of ORCC.

The Make Sure it Has a 1-Year ROI Award: FIs spending money to retrofit ATMs to accept un-enveloped check deposits.

131219iThe ‘Richard Daley Smoke Filled Back Room Deal Makin’ Award goes to Visa and MasterCard, for the agreements they are cutting with the large merchants. Something tells us they don’t exactly match up to the published rate sheets.

The Omnichannel Invoice Award: This goes to the vendors touting omnichannel delivery but still charging separate “per user” fees for Internet banking, tablet banking, mobile banking, electronic bill payment, etc.

The Don’t Go Near it if the Lights are Still Blinking Technology Award: VRU.

The New VRU Award: Internet Banking.

131219jThe Ease of Use Award without a doubt goes to the Square card reader. A GonzoBanker writer recently witnessed his wife, who is quite unencumbered by any interest in technology, happily and efficiently using the Square device at an elementary school PTO event.

Longevity in Business Lending Automation Award: Microsoft Excel. Sadly, spreadsheets STILL continue to be the tool of choice in most (broken) commercial lending processes. Hey, it’s not Microsoft’s fault; Excel was never designed to be an LOS or workflow engine.


131219kThe Golden Cufflink Award: This award for best technology presenters always gets our vendor friends salivating. Here goes:

  • Core – It’s been quite a while since we had a unanimous winner in this category, but FIS MISER’s Tommie Schilling swept it this year. Forget any qualifier for Tommie being a rookie as a presenter. Tommie’s sessions have a graceful mix of sales, facts (not that sales and facts are mutually exclusive!), gritty pragmatism from his days in the conversion trenches, humor and energy. Well done, Tommie!
  • Core II – This year, we wanted to acknowledge FIS IBS’s Sue Gabe, Solutions Architect. While Sue isn’t a presenter per se, her ever-present good sense, encyclopedic knowledge of IBS and FIS ancillaries, and no-BS approach always make her a powerful, unmatched presence at IBS demos. Sue garners instant respect from the crowd and serves as a harbinger of good sense at FIS.

The Secondary Becomes Primary Award goes to LOS strongman D&H for its purchase of Harland. We love the idea of an ancillary vendor buying a core provider, and we think it’s a sign of things to come as core functionality continues to be ho-hummed off of everyone’s radar screens. Here’s to D&H doing with core/ancillary integration what Harland was never able to get done.

131219lThe Seeking Asylum Behind Enemy Lines Award: This goes to Fiserv Founder and former CEO Les Muma, for announcing his jump onto the FIS Board of Directors. Given Muma’s ties to Florida and FIS CEO Frank Martire, this move doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Except of course that detail about Muma founding FIS’s biggest competitor and all.

131219mThe 2013 ‘Moral Fiber’ Award: Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert. It’s enough that Quicken Loans is the most-cited example of a killer lending business model and a massively successful enterprise. What really rocks us is the investment Gilbert made in downtown Detroit while creating it. Quicken now occupies five high-rises downtown and is the second largest non-public property owner in the city. Now throw in the thousands of jobs created. And he did it because that’s where he grew up and “this city’s soul will not die.” Now, that’s community reinvestment! What was really Gonzo was his response when the Pulte Group announced it would move headquarters from Detroit to Atlanta – he tweeted that they had a “punk CEO and invertebrate board.”

Buzzword BINGO! Award: There is no way to beat NCR’s announcement of its plans to purchase Digital Insight. In a one-pager announcement, the press release included such beauties as “omni-channel,” “unparalleled value proposition,” “transformation,” “compelling consumer experience,” “profoundly reinvent,” “compelling value proposition,” “enterprise software stack,” “differentiated consumer experience,” “banking touchpoint,” “intelligent fraud prevention and prevention framework,” and “independently accretive to 2014 non-GAAP EPS.” And who doesn’t love a healthy boost to non-GAAP EPS? If your card had these buzzwords, you’re a winner!


Oh, I get it! They are all pieces of a bigger puzzle.

131219oThe Rob Ford Award for Bad PR: We give this award to Fiserv for the debacle it reportedly caused involving the merger of BNC Bancorp and Randolph Bank & Trust. According to the CEO of Carolina Bank Holdings – which is not even a little bit involved in the BNC/Randolph transaction – a “Fiserv snafu” resulted in a message on CLBH’s website redirecting CLBH customers to their new bank’s (BNC) website. That made CLBH customers and employees a little off-put, thinking CLBH had been acquired when it was really just going along its merry, independent way. Fiserv had not commented on this as of our Gonzo Print Date, so more on this could follow. Yikes.

The Rip Van Winkle Award: This goes to the sales manager at a major core vendor who was witnessed (TWICE – at separate FIs!) by Cornerstone consultants to be sleeping – hard – during his/her company’s product demonstration. We’re talking full-blown, drooling, REM sleep here, folks. The upsides: He/she wasn’t using a mobile phone during the demo and there was no detectable snoring.

131219pThe We Guess That’ll Work Award: This goes to VRU upstart SensaTalk for its pretty cool but largely untested Voice Chat Support feature for VRU transactions. We shall see.

131219qThe Busier Than a One-Legged Man at an Ass-Kicking Contest Award: This goes to the compliance officers of $298 million Clare Bank and $135 million Farmers Exchange Bank. Both of these community banks signed with international darling Temenos T24 for core processing.

The least clicked button ever.

The least clicked button ever.

The Trending on eBay Award:
This goes to the orange and apparently valuable Fiserv Acumen pens, mouse pads, squeezee foam balls and other various Acumen tchotchkes now fetching a pretty premium on eBay. We didn’t know he meant it this way, but it lends credence to that Acumen sales rep who told our clients: “With Fiserv spending so much money on Acumen, the future success of Acumen isn’t a guess; it’s a fact. It’s not even arguable.” The Big Mo’ Award: It’s getting boring, but we have our first three-time (in a row!) winner – MeridianLink. Thanks in large part to the truly embarrassing LOS offerings from Jack Henry, Fiserv and FIS, MeridianLink is moving faster than a 10-second buzz.

The Trend That Never Was Award (sponsored by Clear Pepsi): This goes to the heavily reported but utterly nonexistent trend of massive commercial bank demand for real time core systems.

The Change Your Sinning Ways Award goes to the big core vendors, and several others, for their not-so-subtle passive/aggressive attitude toward integrating third party solutions. We have always felt that good integration was 20% technology, 30% skills, and 50% both sides just being willing to do it. This year, we heard more stories about the big guys using price, schedule delays, and flat-out “no way” responses to hinder or stop third party integration because they don’t like the competition. In a time when technology can finally empower integration and customers need this the most, it is not only frustrating to banks to see this happen, it’s disgraceful. Nobody ever won in this industry by making it harder for the other guy. Enough already.

The Big Buzz Award: While it’s still more buzz than installs, Salesforce.com is making a lot of noise about its intentions for the banking industry. We better be listening.

The PT Barnum Award: FIS trying to put a positive spin around its involvement in MCX, which is pretty much explicitly trying to bypass banks in the mobile payments process.

Blood in the Water Award: Legacy mortgage loan origination systems (aka E3 and EasyLender) and standalone web applications (aka Mortgagebot prior to Avista integration) are the propeller-gashed manatees in a school of next generation MLOS sharks such as LendingQB, Orchestrator, LoanQuest, Encompass 360 and OpenClose. These next-gen vendors are providing integrated document management, robust secondary marketing, two-way consumer web portals, sophisticated processing workflow, Dodd-Frank ready compliance engines, and third-party connectors to eliminate the waste faster than seagulls behind a shrimp boat.

The Killing the Category Killers Award: We give this award to the FIS IBS CeB and BeB products for consumer and commercial Internet banking, respectively. While these products are not particularly handsome, FIS has steadily assembled a suite of Internet banking products that competes well with the category killers’ functionality and can boast about superior core integration.

True Innovators Award: This goes to a few companies witnessed at Finovate by Cornerstone. They’re start-ups, for the most part, so relax on the lack of proven install bases and financial strength!

  • TipRanks – This is a co-browser product that researches and rates the quality of historic stock advice by sell-side advice givers – analysts, bloggers, media, etc. If you are impressed by a quote from a stock analyst, you can look up that analyst’s track record and determine if it’s advice you really want to follow. It has a super nice UX. Well done and intuitive!
  • Narrative Science – The Quill product takes huge amounts of data (“machine scale”) and uses some wildly cool technology to actually write a narrative that describes the data, comments on trends and what is causing them, shows graphs, etc.
  • Spreedly – Spreedly provides payments gateway analytics so users can better assess the performance of these gateways and thereby reduce lost transactions due to time outs, false declines, etc.
  • Fiserv PopMoney/Mobiliti – PopMoney has been around for some time now, but now PopMoney will be available through Fiserv’s Mobiliti mobile banking platform in order to make real time P2P payments using email addresses or a mobile phone number.

Great Moments in System Demonstrations

Put a group of vendors/presenters together with FI prospects for several days and there are bound to be some great nuggets to quote. A sampling from 2013:

  • Or at all? When asked about a future enhancement, the presenter replied, “Well, I’ve been told that I’m not supposed to talk too much about stuff we haven’t written yet.”
  • It’s just a wee bit harder when you use it all the time. When unable to find the right screen to do a transaction (for two to three painful minutes), the presenter said, “Don’t misinterpret my problem finding this to mean that our system isn’t intuitive, because it absolutely is!”
  • Boy, we like to see the best foot put forward! After explaining that the system she was showing was a release behind and being (logically) asked why that was, the vendor replied, “They would have to upgrade my laptop to do that.”
  • Well, we always look forward to Phase 2 of a project. When showing how to correct an error, the presenter added: “It’s completely automated. Then all you have to do is clear it from the exception report the next day.”
  • Well, you’re making progress. You forced us to puke. An exec at a very large vendor started a presentation by saying, “If there’s anything we want to leave you with, it’s that we’re not a vendor, we’re a force of good.”
  • Another glass half-full moment. When a presenter pointed out (correctly) that the system being demoed could significantly reduce department staff, the bank exec in the room said: “We don’t look at it as being overstaffed. We look at it as being armed and poised for growth.”

The Rest

Most Thrilling Moment of 2013: The Redheaded Stranger plays a short but perfect set at the Cornerstone holiday party. Thanks, Willie! We’ll never forget it.

The Best Riff of 2013: This goes to “Gonzo Riff,” a helluva riff that was custom-written and performed for GonzoBanker by Brent Croal, son of GonzoBanker’s own Michael “Croal Dude” Croal.  Consider this our new At-Bat music. We encourage all clients to play this song as we enter any meeting.

The Best Song of 2013 as Selected by Various Cornerstone Staffers:

  • Chris Buba – “Applause” by Lady Gaga
  • Michael Croal – “Hail To The King” by Avenged Sevenfold
  • Maria Dimas-Garcia – “Royals” by Lorde
  • Christine Drews – “Counting Stars” by One Republic
  • Scott Hodgins – Elephant” by Tame Impala
  • Sam Kilmer – The Messenger” by Johnny Marr (Smiths fans, can I get a “Woe is me!)
  • Nick Lane – “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
  • Marie Mack – Ordinary Love” by U2
  • Maggie Momeyer – “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
  • Kathleen Niswander – On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons
  • Robin Putnam – Royals” by Lorde
  • Terence Roche – “Now” by Paramore
  • Kaleb Seymour – “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
  • Scott Sommer – “White Walls” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Schoolboy Q and Hollis)
  • Jennifer Wagner – “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Wanz)
  • Steve Williams – Timeless” by the Airborne Toxic Event

Thanks to all of our clients and colleagues for a superb 2013! GonzoBankers, we hope your 2014 is transformative, disruptive, compelling, channel agnostic and executable well within your software stack’s bandwidth. BINGO!

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One thought on “The 2013 GonzoBanker Awards

  1. Fantastic rundown!

    Obviously, “The Messenger” tops all.

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