When it comes to putting the Internet to good use, many corporate bankers are in crash-course mode.
Over the last 10 years, financial institutions have spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing a raft of technology offerings to lock in relationships with large and midsize corporations. The offerings range from treasury workstations linked directly to a bank's core accounting systems to sophisticated electronic data interchange networks in which banks act as middlemen, transferring payment and product data between trading companies.
But when it comes to using the Internet, corporate bankers are still neophytes, a recent study by Booz-Allen & Hamilton has found. Of the 519 corporate banking Web sites the consulting firm surveyed worldwide, 92% were deemed "essentially a glorified brochure with no interactive capabilities."
David E. Howe, vice president at Booz-Allen, said the lack of wholesale bank aggressiveness compared with their retail counterparts can be attributed to the perception that the Internet's growth has been more of a consumer phenomenon.
He also noted that corporations and banks already have strong electronic links in place, including financial institutions' private data networks and wholesale payment messaging services.
"There are electronic services already out there, at least for the largest customers," Mr. Howe said.
He added that data security concerns also are holding back many corporate banking units. "Security is still a big issue-mainly concerns with companies initiating large funds transfers," he said.
Despite the slow start, corporate banks are planning to upgrade their Web sites with transactional capabilities, the Booz-Allen study found. Sixty-one percent will offer some type of interactive service over the World Wide Web within 12 months.
A handful of banks have already launched interactive Web sites for their corporate clients, notably Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp. In February, the superregional rolled out Web Invision, a cash management system that lets corporate treasurers obtain balance and transaction information, issue stop payments, and make transfers between First Union accounts.
Since its launch, Web Invision has gained more than 100 corporate users, said Jeff Morse, senior product manager for information reporting systems.
Mr. Morse noted that Web Invision was designed to offer a full range of cash management services. "We basically took our existing information reporting service, and we Web-enabled it."
The only missing component is the ability for users to initiate interbank funds transfers, he said. "We weren't comfortable enough, security-wise, to offer wire transfers and (automated clearing house) initiations in the beginning, but we are actively looking at adding those capabilities."
Mr. Morse said First Union sees both large and small companies increasingly turning to the Internet for their cash management and electronic data interchange needs.