December 10, 2012

COCC outgrows Avon campus, buys Southington building

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo
Avon financial services technology company COCC is moving its headquarters to Southington where it recently purchased the office building at 100 Executive Blvd.
Richard Leone, chief executive officer, COCC

For Avon financial services technology firm COCC, the growth of online banking and other technology-based systems for banks and credit unions has meant big business.

The 45-year-old firm, which provides software for financial institutions including core processing systems and customer relationship management tools, has seen its revenues more than double since 2001 to $75 million.

The company, known as Connecticut Online Computer Center, has added more than 140 employees over the past decade, swelling its total employment rolls to about 400 people. With increasing customer demand, the plans, according to COCC chief executive officer Richard Leone, are to add another 25 to 30 workers next year.

With the aggressive growth and hiring streak, COCC has outgrown its corporate headquarters in Avon, where it owns two office buildings encompassing about 80,000 square feet of space on Darling Drive.

Now, COCC is making a major real estate play with its recent $2 million deal to acquire the Class A office building at 100 Executive Blvd. in Southington, where the company will move its call center, research and development department and corporate offices sometime next fall. The 71,000 square foot building was formerly occupied by The Hartford Financial Services Group, but has stood vacant for the last few years, after The Stag consolidated out of Southington.

Leone said COCC plans a multimillion-dollar investment in the property to completely refurbish the building's interior. The company also plans to maintain a presence in Avon, where it will hold onto its operation center at 105 Darling Dr. and sell or lease its office at 135 Darling Dr.

COCC's expansion not only represents a boost to the Greater Hartford commercial real estate scene, but also a shot in the arm to Connecticut's ability to retain growing employers.

"We have outgrown our facilities in Avon," Leone said. "We expect steady employment growth over the next five-to-seven years so we need space to accommodate that."

Leone said COCC looked at office building locations in several Greater Hartford towns including Farmington and West Hartford, but settled on the Southington location because of its access to Interstates 84 and 91, as well as Route 8. It's also still relatively close to their current Avon location and will allow the company to better tap into the New Haven County talent base as it looks to grow over the next few years.

COCC's new Southington location was formerly used a as a call center by The Hartford, so the logistics made sense. Leone said COCC's call center operations, which employs about 100 people, will occupy about 50 percent of the building, while the remaining space will be used for corporate offices, marketing, and the firm's research and development staff.

COCC will also create a training center that will serve as a centralized location for customers to get assistance on the firm's products and services.

Leone said COCC is in talks with the state and town Southington on potential assistance programs as part of the move and expansion, but no deals have been inked so far.

"We have begun that dialogue," Leone said.

COCC is a Connecticut company born and raised. It was originally founded in Hartford in 1967, when it had 15 financial services clients convert to its deposit services. The company has a unique mutual ownership structure, where about 80 percent of COCC's shares are client-owned, which means the firm's customers are also stakeholders.

Leone, who got his start at COCC in 1991, was named CEO in 2001 and has led the company through an aggressive growth period.

One of the key moves for the company was partnering with Glastonbury-based Open Solutions in 1997. COCC resells a core banking system originally developed by Open Solutions and the firms jointly develop new versions of that software.

COCC runs that system in its operations center for its clients, a service that now accounts for most of the company's sales.

The financial services technology space has become increasingly competitive in recent years, as banks and credit union's both small and large rush to adopt the latest technology, whether it is online or mobile banking or new core processing systems and data analytics software.

COCC primarily started out as a local player, serving companies in Connecticut, but has evolved into a regional company with 170 clients across the Northeast.

Leone said the company's competitors are national players like Fidelity and Fiserv.

Competing with the big boys requires COCC to take the same approach community banks take when vying for business against behemoth financial institutions, Leone said. The key is trying to compete on customer service, which Leone said COCC has been able to do effectively.

COCC, for example, offers its clients free training, while many of their larger competitors charge fees for training, turning that part of the business into a major profit center. That, however, can make technology services less affordable for mid-size and smaller banks.

"Local support and training is key," Leone said. "It also gets our people into the banks and credit unions we service to form personal relationships."

In terms of new developments, COCC recently adopted an in-house internet banking platform it can now offer clients.

That allows COCC to control more of its business, which is the way Leone said he likes to operate his company. That was one of the driving factors that led COCC to purchase rather than lease its new Southington headquarters. "We don't necessarily like to be captive to anyone else's wishes," Leone said. "Having control and being able to do whatever you want allows us to be more responsive to our customers."

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