Fast, cheap Internet access to data will make providers of compliance data and mapping software give customers more for their money, experts say.
No longer can these firms be content to provide census data, mapping of software, and regulatory updates. Those services are available for free over the Internet.
Rather, observers said, these companies must create new products that help compliance officers make sense of the reams of data they collect.
"The Internet is clearly a fire behind these service providers, and they have to be feeling the heat," said Richard Insley, compliance officer with Signet Bank in Richmond, Va. "If they're giving things out that are now being offered up for free, the Net's going to take a bite out of their business."
Some bankers are already leaning on the Internet for cheaper services. Andy Zavoina, senior vice president and compliance officer at First National Bank of Killeen in Killeen, Tex., said he uses a mapping product from the census bureau's World Wide Web site to assess his institution's Community Reinvestment Act-lending efforts.
The mapping product, called Tiger Maps, lets bankers customize maps to show states, metropolitan areas, counties, census tracts, and congressional districts. Then the banker can color-code the map's data by category, including: family and household size, population density, income, age, and race.
However, the software doesn't let bankers plug their own loan data into the system to be mapped. Nearly all private companies' products will take that information and, by using dots or other symbols, place it on the already color-coded map to show where an institution's loans are located. Bankers using the Internet software have to create those loan markers manually, Mr. Zavoina said.
"It's not the answer to everything, but it can certainly cut costs," Mr. Zavoina said.
He estimated that by using Internet products instead of private companies, his bank saves up to $10,000 annually. It takes about two weeks to do an entire lending analysis the first time, according to Mr. Zavoina. But once bankers are familiar with the system, they could do all of their mapping in about 90 minutes, he said.
In the face of this, data mapping companies are trying to change. For example, Claritas Inc. - considered the granddaddy of mapping firms - purchased Strategic Mapping Inc. last month to expand its data-analysis services.
Claritas also is adjusting its products to appeal to more bankers.
Targeting small banks, MarketQuest lets users combine loan data with basic demographic information on color-coded maps. This allows money- strapped banks to get more than what's available on the Internet without plunking down a fortune.
MarketQuest joins Compass, a more expensive mapping product that provides a larger data base and greater analysis capabilities.
J. Edward Pickle, president of Claritas' financial services division, said the Internet could bankrupt firms that don't provide newer, flashier, and faster products to keep customers happy.
Several observers said that no data and mapping provider should dismiss the effect of the Internet on the business. Jo Ann S. Barefoot, director at KPMG Barefoot Marrinan in Columbus, Ohio, said presentation is key to keeping a step ahead.
She pointed to CRA compliance products like PCI Services' CRA Wiz and Tactician Corp.'s CRA Analyzer as examples. Both help banks track their CRA lending by sorting, mapping, and charting data quickly and colorfully, she said.
"Ease of use is such a big issue," said Ms. Barefoot. "People will usually be willing to pay for that convenience."