Wells Testing E-Mail Alerts For Commercial Base

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Wells Fargo & Co., which says its Internet business banking service has been highly successful, will test an e-mail system that notifies customers about things like when wire transfers or other payments clear.

The company says that its corporate banking platform-known as commercial electronic office, or CEO-was introduced three years ago to serve as a central site for large corporate clients' banking needs. Half of the bank's 20,000 commercial customers now use it, and revenue from the site has increased 65% since June of last year, Wells said.

"Corporate online banking started out as a pull vehicle," Steve Ellis, the executive vice president of Wells' wholesale services group, said "People needed to go out and get the information ow, it is starting to be more about push-customers need to get specific pieces of information that affect their business."

Wells calls the alert system, which will go into pilot mode next month and will fully roll out by year end, "event messaging."

Like many other large banks, it already offers such alerts to retail customers, but Wells said the feature is rarer among commercial banking services.

Business customers will be able to specify which transactions they want to receive alerts on and where and when each alert should be sent.

Plans To Go Wireless

Right now the bank can deliver these alerts only by e-mail, but it wants to introduce a wire-less service next year. The e-mails will include things like the customer's name and the date and amount of the transaction. But for security reasons, they will hide sensitive information like account numbers. This led one analyst to question their value.

"The key is that it must be time-sensitive, valuable information, or it will be an annoyance," said Penny Gillespie, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. A client that is waiting on hundreds of wire transfers, for instance, will not get much help from an alert that does not contain specific data about each transaction.

Wells executives expressed confidence that clients' need for real-time information would trump their concerns about web security llis said that a business owner who learns from an alert that a pending payment or loan has cleared can then act on that knowledge. The corporate banking site can be accessed only through cable Internet connections; the bank discontinued its older PC-based services and dial-up connections in June.

Danny Peltz, the executive vice president of the wholesale Internet solutions group, said that about two-thirds of its business customers' wire transfers and almost half of foreign exchange trades are conducted online through CEO.

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