By Brandon Reynolds As America's largest black-owned bank, OneUnited Bank has branches in Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles. But OneUnited Bank is focusing its growth on its online presence, connecting the offerings at its brick-and-mortar locations with what can be found at OneUnited.com. The bank is also trying to do something that all companies struggle with: getting to know its customers better. OneUnited Bank's CIO, James Slocum, is handling this growth with a team of five in his IT department. In the latest installment of our IT Visionaries series, he talks about how the 50-year-old bank works to find a place for itself online while helping customers affected by the 2008 recession to re-enter the economy. 1) How has OneUnited Bank used technology to innovate? We're a community bank, not a regional or national bank with thousands of employees that need to be supported. We don't have a huge physical footprint, and we focus our footprint online. Like most community banks, we don't have large systems that we're running in-house. We run a very lean shop when it comes to hardware, and have pivoted over the last year and a half to building out on the Salesforce platform due to its flexibility. We're focusing on engaging our users to make this new functionality successful. I think that's what's driven our success - that the platform is a stable and reliable tool that enables us to do so much more. Now, our IT team can innovate fast and build trusted apps for any device. 2) How did you make the shift to an online-driven business? After the financial crisis, we recognized that our customer base in particular was pretty hard-hit by the recession, that their credit was damaged, and that they lacked the financial tools to dig themselves out of that pit that had been created by the financial downturn. In 2013, we started building our UNITY Visa secured credit card product, leveraging Salesforce App Cloud to collect the applications and manage the application pipeline. That particular project was a strategic one for the institution, as we saw it as our re-entry to offering online products and services to our customers nationally. We then began to engage with our community online again, and focused on changing the lives of our customers by helping them rebuild their credit and put them back on sound footing. From that moment on, we looked at Salesforce as a platform that we needed to get as much data and business process into, because it gave us the ability to understand what was truly going on around this organization. We've been taking that lesson, and the lessons learned through the implementation of the UNITY Visa program, to implement Salesforce broadly across the organization. We also began an initiative around the bank called our Changing Lives Initiative, where we were trying to shift the experience our customers were having as they came into our physical branches. There was a training program going on to enhance the sales efforts in the branches, as well as the manner in which people were greeted, in the way that we approached customers. We began developing a 360-degree view of our customer through the App Cloud platform. We consolidated all those individual silos of data into one customer profile that the branches were then able to use as they interacted with customers on the branch floor. 3) What does Salesforce let you do that you couldn't do before? This platform gives me the capability to engage with customers in a new way that I didn't have with the legacy systems I had in-house. It gives me the medium to record the interactions with my customer, as well as reach inside of my secure firewall to some of the most important data that defines who my customer is. We immediately began to be able to measure our success, as well as tweak our process to be even more successful. That was kind of the "aha" thing - that Salesforce really is a fantastic engine, and when you fill it with data that's meaningful for you, it can truly give insight to making corrections in your business to make you very successful. 4) Have you been able to use the platform to implement changes more quickly? We've had a couple of scenarios where we've had that happen. For example, the legal team came to us with a need to manage their workload, as well as the incoming requests from across the organization. We were able to easily fold them into some of the project-management tools that we had developed in the support ticketing system that we built. These are simple workflows that were easily adopted by the team, but had a tremendous impact on their day-to-day executions. We were able to integrate multiple departments. When accounts close, there's money that needs to be moved or refunded. We built out a credit card refunding workflow right in the platform that allows our customer support department to communicate with finance, then accomplish the actual transfer. We were able to integrate that into a very sophisticated approval process that allowed collaboration across the departments. 5) What technology solutions were you using prior to the launch of Unity and your expansion into the app world? We've had a corporate strategy where we built out processes that had grown over the years into a SharePoint implementation, with some custom ASP apps behind it. Essentially we decided to go wall to wall with Salesforce after the UNITY Visa launch, and now everyone has access to that. We've begun migrating those older applications that we developed for internal process into Salesforce as a replacement. 6) How has this helped your business? As a financial institution, we have the obligation to ensure that there's no way for people to get in and get access to any of the privileged information that our customers trust us with. For years, banks have been building up many security precautions, and unfortunately that left us with an environment that was very secure but that limited our customer interaction. Salesforce became the medium by which we've been able to both have a connection with our customers and be secure. It is the platform that's enabled us to communicate, collaborate, and track interactions with our customers. For us, that's what's Salesforce represents: building new tools, things that we just didn't have the capability to do before, and a platform that we knew could be secure and trusted. We built what we call our Offer Bar; it's our visual representation of the next best product for our customer, and a way for our branch staff to understand what to try to sell the customer as they're having that interaction with them on the branch floor or on the phone in the call center. While there was a small amount of code to build the interface, the actual workflow behind it - that sets off opportunities and journey campaigns and emails - was all done using the Lightning Process Builder. We were engaging with the customer as well as routing internal business opportunities across the organization with just a few clicks. 7) How will you build upon these innovations? Building an online community and engaging with a broader audience base is going to drive more interest in us as a bank and in the services that we have to offer. The bank is going through a strategic shift; we're calling it the "Bank For The Future" expansion strategy, and this social aspect is a major part of that. We're realigning our physical footprint and our focus in the online and digital spaces. We've found that there's a large number of people who need that re-entry into the banking system, so we're bringing one of our programs - our Second-Chance Checking Program - out of the branch and onto our website that just re-launched. While we didn't build the deposit origination side on Salesforce, we're integrating that data from the existing online deposit origination system into Salesforce. We're going to be putting the workflow engine that we've been leveraging on the UNITY Visa side of the house to facilitate an excellent experience for our customers as they go through that deposit-opening program. What we're expecting, as we start to put some true marketing dollars behind the social campaign and drive more traffic to the website, is that Salesforce is going to be the engine that allows us to grow and process that additional volume of customers, and gives them that same excellent experience online that they get when walking into one of our branches. _____________ To learn more about how OneUnited Bank is expanding its business online, connecting with its customers, and making the banking experience more personal and also more secure, listen to our talk with Jim Slocum. Originally published at www.salesforce.com.image url: https://d262ilb51hltx0.cloudfront.net/max/800/0*Ogkc7JU_7DE0mbq-.