ABN Amro North America Inc. says it expects its new wireless services to help trim the cost of serving customers through call centers.
On Monday the Chicago company announced that it will begin rolling out wireless applications this month - first in a pilot program giving some mortgage customers access to information on payment histories, due dates, escrow accounts, and tax disbursements.
ABN Amro said it plans to eventually expand that service to all of its one million mortgage customers.
This summer, the company said, it will also begin rolling out mobile applications for cash management. The first phase will cover basic notification services, the second, higher-risk authorizations and approvals, and the third, transactional capabilities.
The wireless services are expected to help reduce call-center costs by letting customers quickly conduct basic tasks themselves - freeing up costly customer calls for advice and other individualized services.
"I think the services will deliver enhanced value to the customers, but also allow us to focus more on valuable transactions," said Matthias Autrata, senior vice president of ABN Amro's information technology services unit. "The customer would rather spend time speaking to somebody about things that they are concerned about, rather than just ask questions."
The services will be accessible through personal digital assistants and Web-enabled phones and pagers, he said, and transactional capabilities will be determined by the security of the various devices.
"We want to be careful we have the right level of authorization and encryption before we move ahead," said Mr. Autrata. "We want to be as ready as the industry and technology is ready, but we don't want to expose ourselves to unnecessary risk."
The $182 billion-asset company is considering adding wireless services in other areas, such as personal banking, and is developing transaction applications using voice recognition technology. Mr. Autrata said he was unsure when these programs would be rolled out.
Curious Networks, a Chicago vendor of wireless software, developed the mobile applications for ABN Amro. Mr. Autrata said Curious was selected largely for its technology, which is compatible with ABN Amro's platform.
David Cutler, the president and co-founder of Curious Networks, said his company differs from competitors such as 724 Solutions Inc., a Toronto developer of wireless financial software that has attracted many bank customers, because it builds its system onto clients' existing applications, rather than require them to build their applications onto new platforms.
In the case of ABN Amro, he said, this meant the company was able to keep the mortgage and cash management applications it already used.
"To ask a customer of ours to rebuild inside of our environment is unreasonable," Mr. Cutler said. "With our platform, they're able to leverage what they currently have and keep that in place."
Curious Networks, founded in September 1999 by Mr. Cutler and chief technology officer Jeff Palmer, both former employees of Anderson Consulting, launched its first products in January. The company has four clients in various sectors and it is in talks with five financial services companies.
John Switzer, a vice president at the consulting firm AMS Canada Inc., said ABN Amro's multiphase strategy is a wise one in light of the many obstacles to widespread adoption of the wireless Web - including inadequate bandwidth, network incompatibility, slow transmission speeds, and high costs.
But he said that ABN Amro's expectations of reducing call center costs through wireless may be unrealistic, at least for now.
"I think the uptake is going to be so slow for the wireless Web that I just can't see it in the near term," said Mr. Switzer. "There are just so many impediments in the way of broader public acceptance."