Bank of America plans to use cell phones, pagers, and PalmPilots among other electronic devices to enhance communication with corporate customers.
The idea is to personalize interactions with users of Bank of America Direct, an Internet-based service for its large corporate customers. The bank plans to send real-time notification of account activity to clients via the communication channels of their choice.
"We will deliver in the method that is most accessible to our clients," said R.C. "Rick" Leander, senior vice president of the $618 billion-asset bank's strategic technology and integrated payments services group.
Users of Bank of America Direct can initiate transactions over the Internet and request real-time notice of specific types of information, such as the receipt of critical payments.
Initially, such information would be delivered via pagers. But corporations could eventually choose to receive it by fax, electronic mail, cell phone, voice mail, or PalmPilots.
"Until now, there was no way for a customer to know that new information was out there-information that might have been valuable to them 20 minutes ago," Mr. Leander said. "This allows us to proactively notify customers as soon as we have the information."
He added that the bank screens and filters the information, allowing corporations to focus on items that are "actionable."
He said he expects the service to be adopted by most of Bank of America Direct's 400 large corporate clients, each of which has sales of $500 million or more.
And eventually, he said, it may be extended to the bank's smaller corporate clients. "We see event notification being used in every one of our (corporate) installations," he said.
Though many banks customize information for their large corporate clients, said Lawrence Forman, assistant director of Ernst & Young's cash management consulting practice, "the new twist here is that it is multichannel."
Kathleen Khirallah, senior research analyst at Tower Group in Cambridge, Mass., said, "Bank of America is one of the first banks to automate channel management to such a degree."
The service has its origins at the old NationsBank, which installed software from Diffusion Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., before merging with BankAmerica Corp. last fall. Four-year-old Diffusion, whose 36 customers include the Internet-based brokerage Wit Capital and Bank One Corp., specializes in software for sending time-sensitive information to customers through various channels.
Wit Capital said it plans to use Diffusion's software to alert its 60,000 account holders via the Internet and wireless devices about initial public offerings and private placements.
"We looked at a range of technologies, and this was the one we liked the best," said Susan Berkowitz, senior vice president of marketing at New York-based Wit Capital.
E-mail, she said, is "only good if you're sitting in front of a desk." With Diffusion's software, "you can select to get something on a pager or cell phone. It expands what we do pretty naturally."
Michael Gazala, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said Diffusion's goal "is to replace human intervention and focus people on answering more complex questions. There's a big plus there."