Banking customers working with jazzy personal finance tools don't have Web 2.0 all to themselves. Commercial banking customers are in search of, and in some cases already enjoying, some of the "wow" as well.
Institutions such as Bank of America and Umpqua Bank have borrowed from the MySpace/Facebook template to bring online social networking to the corporate world. Wells Fargo and KeyBank are fronting podcasts and specialized content (such as women's business issues) from their online commercial banking channel.
And several cash management vendors, according to a recent report from Celent, are developing new systems that promise to bring the rich Internet application experience into corporate banking portals with the advanced Web design and interactive features found on consumer sites.
For now, most of these features remain on wish lists. Few banks have adapted their corporate points of entry into a customizable dashboard view of aggregated accounts and reports, even though many of the core functionalities of cash management have moved light years ahead of old systems-think about straight-through processing and multi-currency options, supply chain finance, and compliance automation.
But the rich features and flash-animation that are becoming staples of popular consumer Web sites such as Mint.com naturally build expectations for what commercial customers will see in corporate applications. But they're not really getting that, yet. "On the feature function side, it's a wash," says Celent senior analyst Jacob Jegher.
What do current cash management portals lack? There are no ‘true' dashboards out there-not if you consider important business intelligence, customizable key elements and information, and task initiation from the launch page. Technologies do exist to improve these portals; for instance, banks can tap AJAX programming-which retrieves server data for a Web application in real-time-for consolidated portals and customization.
Tomorrow's cash management portal might be as available as an iGoogle page, where end-users have complete control over which gadgets and widgets appear on a front page, and how they rank in appearance.
The closest iteration to this type of customization cited by Celent is Wells Fargo's Commercial Electronic Office (CEO) dashboard, which includes tabs and front-page elements for communications, accounts, and other resources (and was recently ported over to mobile devices). "However, unlike iGoogle, the CEO dashboard provides limited end-user customization capabilities," Jegher writes.
Underlying these updated cash management portal gadgets would be smarter datasets empowering user administration and, ultimately, simpler payment mechanisms. Intelligent forms with auto-complete functions, all within accordion-style pop-up templates, would be more visually pleasing and increase productivity.
Banks do have their reasons to avoid such customization-imagine the technical support headaches of having common elements uniquely distributed and displayed on thousands of various client home pages. A recent report from Datamonitor noted many retail banks fear implementing more RIA and Web 2.0 interfaces will result in loss of control, plus potential security issues and concerns about hosting third-party content in RSS feeds or mash-ups created by users.
That's why some of the early leads on Web 2.0 initiatives are not yet around dashboards, but on social networking. In particular, Bank of America and Portland, OR-based Umpqua Bank are providing hosted (and branded) small-business sites that draw in traffic unrelated to corporate banking activity. With nearly 500,000 site visits a month, Umpqua's LocalSpace page is a collaborative watering hole for entrepreneurs to share ideas and information or promote their wares. "We saw it as opportunity," says David Hawkins, director of experience and innovation of Umpqua.
Bank of America's site represents a forum of start-up ideas, success stories, and service/product reviews (including BofA's own corporate offerings); the forum has attracted more than 16,000 registered users and at least 500,000 monthly unique visits. "The strategy is that it's a very user-driven site," says Chris Adams, svp of small business e-commerce product planning and development at BofA. "They wanted places beyond a forum discussion to not only tell their own story, but hear stories of other business owners."