For years the knock against corporate banking has been that the online customer experience did not live up to the retail experience. Specifically, cash management systems were complex, difficult to navigate and inflexible. That began to change back in 2008 when vendors introduced dashboards. Now, with the latest upgrades from vendors such as Fundtech and S1, the corporate experience online may actually be surpassing retail.

"Retail now has to catch up with corporate," says Jacob Jegher, a senior analyst within Celent's banking group. For the past 18 months, budgets at many banks have shifted away from retail to the more profitable corporate side. The focus has been on improving the customer experience; the upshot of this time, money and focus is much better usability, Jegher says.

Christine Barry, a research director at Aite Group, expects those improvements to continue. "As a result of the crisis, banks were focused on cost cutting and regulatory compliance. They weren't focused on customer experience and growth. That's changing and it will continue to change in 2011."

In the fourth quarter Fundtech announced CASHplus SmartNav, which overhauls the user interface and embeds predictive analytics to help the user navigate its Web 2.0 cash management system. The system learns each person's workflow habits and preferences based on the user's most recent actions. "The predictive nature is very important," says George Ravich, evp and chief marketing officer at Fundtech.

CASHplus automatically adds the most used data entry screens, reports and tables and the five most recently used services to the "favorites" bar. Plus, a list of context-sensitive related tasks is available in the navigation panel. The interface can also be customized. Like with iGoogle, the user can choose from a menu of gadgets to configure the interface. Data entry screens, reports, and templates can be added as well as shortcuts and services. The idea is to have one-click access to any data and any service from anywhere. "We're trying to get away from the Microsoft navigation bar where you're constantly drilling down. It's laborious and people don't remember where they are in the program," Ravich says. "The trend here is usability and to get at the data easily." He expects a full rollout of CASHplus SmartNav in the first quarter. The company has 145 CASHplus customers.

Susan Feinberg, a senior research director in TowerGroup's wholesale banking research service, saw an early demo of CASHplus SmartNav and said she was impressed by the ability to have multiple screens open to easily access data and services. But Fundtech is not alone among vendors making improvements to cash management systems. S1, ACI, Sybase Financial Fusion, Digital Insights, FIS, Bottomline and Fiserv all play in the space. Feinberg says the latest generation of cash management offerings are "much more user friendly and intuitive. There's no guessing about what the next step is; the workflow is more logical."

Kevin Patton, vp of product management at S1, says that usability is critical for bankers in an environment where they must constantly strive for productivity gains and look for ways to cut costs. After conducting usability studies with customers in 2008-a novel concept at the time-S1 rolled out the first of these next generation cash management products. It had personalization capabilities, intelligence around entitlements and messaging capabilities. More recently S1 added a new navigation bar that allows users one-click access to any function in the application, and allows the bank to tailor the user interface to appeal to different industries.

Patton says that until S1's usability studies back in 2008, "the thought was that corporate banking customers wanted information but didn't care much about usability and the user experience." That, of course, wasn't the case, and today bank customers are increasingly pressuring banks to improve their usability.

Jeanne Capachin, research vp at IDC Financial Insights, says it's necessary for banks to differentiate their cash management offering by improving the customer experience. In part that's because the underlying technology has been commoditized. There hasn't been a genuinely new cash management product since remote deposit capture, she says, so innovation will be around usability. "Now that the technology has been commoditized, we can concentrate on the GUI [graphical user interface].

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