proposition. But officials at ABN Amro North America Inc. in Chicago think they've found a less expensive and more flexible way to bring trainees in the bank's treasury department up to speed. The U.S. subsidiary of Amsterdam-based ABN Amro Holding is gearing up to teach treasury trainees about financial accounting, derivatives, foreign exchange, money markets, and other bank products with new multimedia CD-ROM technology. The $50 billion-asset bank also plans to use the interactive tools to better acquaint branch employees who deal with corporate customers about different products offered by ABN Amro. Officials say the savings next year, when six proposed CD-ROM products are completed and in use, could reach $100,000. Much of the expected savings will be from reducing the number of university professors brought in to teach seminars. Bank officials say the interactive technology will make it easier for trainees and relationship managers to bone up on specific skills without the bank needing to organize a seminar or class. Further, experienced bank traders, who had been brought in to instruct their younger colleagues, won't have to spend so much time away from the trading floor. "Given both the time constraints and the resource constraints of the floor, we decided to basically gear a lot of the training for the treasury associate program off of multimedia," said Dan Stevens, chief financial officer. "The technology allows us to deal with a lot of core material in an innovative way. And then, I get to use my real-live experts ... to augment what they've learned in utilizing the CDs." "It's a tremendous tool for product training," said Linda Richardson, president of Richardson Co., a leadership and training consulting firm based in Philadelphia. "It really allows for just-in-time training, (where) you don't have to take people away from their desks. It allows people to train at their own pace." Ms. Richardson noted that CD-ROM technology is emerging as an important training tool. "There have been great strides in the past six months," she said. ABN Amro plans to use two types of CD-ROM programs created by Burton Design Consultants, a New York firm. The first are designed to teach users about different products offered by the bank. The CD-ROM includes videotaped interviews with bank officers. "We are going to do courses in financial accounting, in derivatives, in foreign exchange, in money market and securities, which will provide for the new treasury associate class coming in next year the baseline knowledge of all the products they will experience on the floor," said Mr. Stevens. He added that while the bank's own experienced traders are the best teachers, that experience is often more valuable on the trading floor itself. "If the markets are moving or it's a real hectic day, we invariably have to cancel that training - because the people on the floor are paid in a sense to make money and to get out there in the market." But once an interview with a trader has been recorded, it can be available at any time via the CD-ROM. Judy Davenport, head of global trading, noted that the bank has also brought in professors to teach the recruits - at a cost of $5,000 a day. Those lectures can also be included on the CD-ROM. "The multimedia training ... will walk them through all the basics of each of the disciplines on the floor, and then we'll utilize either external professors or internal people to do debriefing," said Mr. Stevens. "So we can, in a sense, ensure that before people come in to talk to them they all have the same knowledge base." The second type of CD-ROM program, designed as case studies, assumes the user has a core level of knowledge. ABN Amro is currently testing the first case study, which is based on an actual bank customer that required foreign exchange services. The case study - of a fictionalized international health care company called Pan Health - shows just how far CD-ROM technology has come in the last two years. The colorful graphics on the PC show an office from behind a desk, complete with telephone, Rolodex, file folders, PC, and a newspaper. Users are expected to navigate through the information available - including video of actors posing as bank and company officials - with several specific goals in mind. Pan Health, for example, wants to find an efficient way to repatriate currency earned abroad into the United States. The case study also requires users to consider programmed events, like an earthquake, that could affect the economics of a course of action. The Pan Health case study takes at least 90 minutes to complete. The grades users receive on their performance working through the program are based in part on their efforts to work as a team by gathering information from the on-screen actors posing as bank and company officials. "Part of the case study is to get people to ask, 'Who else do I talk to before I can come up with the best solution for the customer?'" said Ms. Davenport. ABN Amro has worked closely with Burton Design on the content of the programs. While the case studies are based on actual bank customers, they are generic enough that Burton hopes to sell them to other financial institutions. ABN Amro will share in any profits from such sales. Mr. Stevens cited another advantage of working with Burton Design. "When I talked to Philip Burton-Cooper, he knows the business," said Mr. Stevens. "That made it a lot easier for us. It also gives them a lot more ability to be the content editor. So I think it's a great combination between the three principal partners over there." Both Mr. Burton-Cooper and his wife, Gerrin, have worked for major banks in New York and London. The third principal is Ms. Burton-Cooper's brother, Eric Burton. A former dentist, he is the firm's head of technology and production. Because ABN Amro is providing much of the content for the case studies, it is getting a break on the price. Each CD-ROM program costs the bank between $70,000 and $90,000. That's about a 50% discount on the full price, said Mr. Burton-Cooper. But ABN Amro expects the economics will become even more attractive. "It started off for the treasury associates. But then we realized where we could go with this," said Mr. Stevens. The training is expected to be available to as many as 1,000 employees, including the relationship managers who prospect for corporate business and the back-office support staff. "The operations groups that understand the products that we are trading in, and understand how they work, are much more apt to really know what they are doing when they enter deals into the computer or process trades," he said. The bank is also planning to use the CD-ROM programs for training in its Latin American operations. The disks can be modified and updated for language and other differences.
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