Recently-appointed FIS Global President and CEO Gary Norcross told a packed audience in downtown Little Rock on Thursday that the dramatic rise of the Arkansas-bred financial services and technology giant he now leads resulted from key principles that have guided the company for nearly five decades.
Founded as Systematics Inc. in 1968, and later acquired by Alltel Information Services in 1990, and eventually bought by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fidelity National Financial in 2003, FIS is now the world’s largest provider of banking payment technologies with more than 20,000 financial clients in over 130 countries. Two weeks ago, the company completed the acquisition of former rival SunGard, in a cash and stock deal worth $5.1 billion.
“We have such a proud heritage of being a part of Little Rock and part of Arkansas, and that is something we don’t take lightly,” said Norcross, keynote speaker at the 150th annual meeting of The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce at the city’s downtown convention center.
Norcross, who took the reins as FIS’s top executive on the first day of 2015, told the crowd that from its start as a tiny Arkansas technology startup, Florida-based FIS now has 55,000 employees and over $9 billion in annual revenue and is now facing the most transformative period in the company’s history.
“The company’s changed a tremendous amount since it was founded in 1968,” he said. “We touch more than 750 million end-consumers with our software today. You can take any stat in retail banking, payments and institutional and wholesale (financial) processing …, you find that FIS has the number one position.”
Norcross said FIS’s incredible growth and breadth is necessary to handle the dynamic change that the banking and financial services industry is undergoing. “We are large,” he said. “We believe that scale matters to our clients, so it is all about not being ‘big for big’s sake,’ but how do we drive the scale necessary to compete in what we believe is one of the most aggressive markets that has ever existed.”
The University of Arkansas graduate, who got his start at FIS as a management trainee for Alltel Information Services in 2003, said the foundation of the company’s consistent and strong growth are the “guiding principles” of building trust, inspiring passion to act, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, empowering employee growth and giving back to the communities the company services.
“If you’ve been to any of our offices, or you’ve been out to our West Little Rock campus, you will find these guiding principles are spread throughout our campuses around the world,” he said. “We think these are very good, cohesive ways to drive a consistent culture, which will then drive consistent results for our clients in the marketplace.”
Norcross further explained that building trust with customers, clients and FIS’s employee base, is something that should never be played down. “I often say trust sometimes takes years to build and moments to lose. So we never trivialized how important building that trust is in our day-to-day operations.”
Later in his 30-minute presentation, Norcross said the financial industry is undergoing historic and transformative changes, brought on by increasing government and technology advances that alter the way consumers and clients interact with banks and other financial institutions.
“Frankly, in my more than 27 years, it is the most disruption I have ever seen,” the FIS chief executive said with emphasis.
On the regulatory side, FIS is now facing the challenge of non-regulated competitors now offering financial services to clients, Norcross said, and the company must also deal with burdensome government regulations brought on by the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.
The FIS executive said the “pendulum” of government regulations are at the greatest level in U.S. history. “And I don’t think there is any indication that it will swing back,” Norcross offered. “This is the most regulated industry I’ve seen. What we are seeing is that the (pendulum) has now moved from the largest financial institutions in the world (like) the J.P. Morgan Chases, to the largest technology service provides in the world in FIS, and now it is moving to the regional and the community banks – and it is a big, big issue for financial services.”
Norcross added that in the past 20 years, customer interactions have been dramatically impacted by technology. He said it took 19 years for the industry to put ATMs on every block, 13 years to implement phone banking, and another eight years to make Internet banking widely available. But, he said, it has only taken four years to provide mobile banking options to most consumers.
“There was a point in time when financial institutions could ‘wing this thing,’” Norcross said jokingly. “But this pace of change (today) is significant.”
Norcross completed his presentation by saying that FIS will continue to grow by embracing innovation, investing venture capital in early stage financial and tech startup firms that show promise, making more product acquisitions and supporting “ideation,” which includes opening innovation centers across the company’s global operations.
He announced that FIS will sponsor a financial technology accelerator through the Venture Center in downtown Little Rock in an effort to boost startup creativity for the industry.
In other highlights of the Little Rock chamber’s annual meeting, outgoing Little Rock Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Van Tilbury ended his yearlong tenure by challenging chamber members to improve public education in the Little Rock School District. He called the district’s lack of progress “the missing piece” in the region’s economic growth and future.
“The future of the Little Rock region hinges on education and workforce development,” said Tilbury, a top executive at East Harding Construction of Little Rock.
The chamber also named Jeff Hathaway, president of Coldwell Banker Commercial Hathaway Group, as new chair of the Little Rock economic development group’s board of directors.