Internet cash management services, a novelty only two years ago, are becoming commonplace.
Sixty percent of major banks in a survey by PSI Global said they offer corporate cash management services over the Internet, up from 27% a year ago. In 1997 only a handful of the largest banks, including subsidiaries of Bank of America Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., and Citigroup Inc., used the Web for cash management.
The trend has caught on faster than the development of Windows software products for personal computers in the early 1990s. It is a triumph for what some technologists call network or Internet computing, in which systems are distributed and maintained more efficiently than those reliant on PC software and desktop upgrades.
The Tampa-based research firm, which surveyed 50 of the largest 100 U.S. banks, found that 98% have developed or are planning to develop an Internet service for initiating wire transfers. It said 89% are doing the same for information reporting and 87% for internal funds transfers.
"I think you have got a lot of banks that were late to the game on this, and that is why they are pushing the product so hard now," said Michael D. Marselli, an analyst at PSI Global.
One that is bucking the trend is PNC Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh. Though handling customer service over the Web, it has chosen to continue delivering cash management services through direct-dial modems to traditional Windows-based treasury workstations.
Francine Miltenberger, a division executive in PNC's treasury management group, said the Internet is a good communications tool, but she questioned the value of delivering mature products and services over the network.
After holding focus-group interviews with clients, PNC determined that "how well the bank knows the client's business and how reliable it is in delivering service" best distinguishes one cash management bank from another, Ms. Miltenberger said.
Using an Internet customer service center based on Lotus Notes software, PNC representatives respond as quickly as possible to e-mail inquiries, Ms. Miltenberger said.
"Eighty percent of the issues that lead to a client's call are pretty routine," she said. "If I can create an environment where people do more self-help, that would let the customer service staff deal with more complicated problems that take more time to fix."
Interest in Internet cash management services was evident at last month's conference of the Association for Financial Professionals, formerly the Treasury Management Association (the group announced its new name at the conference).
BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., announced that it has licensed Internet cash management software from Brokat Infosystems. The $41 billion-asset bank will outsource electronic banking operations to the German technology vendor until the second quarter of 2001, at which time it will bring its system in-house.
"Brokat's service bureau will enable us to get to market quickly with a Web-based solution," said Anne O' Toole, a senior vice president at BB&T.
Deutsche Bank said its db-direct Internet global cash management platform will be commercially released in the United States in the first quarter of next year.
Julie Monaco, managing director of the bank's domestic cash management division, said Deutsche customers will get real-time access to the bank's services from anywhere in the world.
KeyCorp of Cleveland said it has developed Key Total Treasury, which lets corporate customers initiate wire transfers, obtain account information, and apply for letters of credit over the Internet.
Wachovia Corp. said it has developed two Internet browser services for importers and exporters: GlobalTrade LC, which lets importers initiate letters of credit; and GlobalTrade DC, which helps exporters speed up collections.
Douglas Hartsema, head of Wachovia's treasury services group, said users would need no special software and will have access to new versions "at any time and from any location."