Compliance officers now can get help from their peers by surfing the Internet.
Money Page Inc., a Dallas-based firm, added a regulatory compliance forum to its World Wide Web site earlier this month. The service lets bankers exchange information and ask questions without leaving their desks.
"It's a wonderful gathering point for people who need interaction with others," said Richard Insley, chief compliance officer at Signet Bank, Richmond, Va. "There are some areas of compliance where officers have to know what the competitors are doing, like the Community Reinvestment Act. Compliance officers can be somewhat of an island.
"The fact that more people aren't doing this is amazing."
To get to the compliance forum, a surfer must go through Money Page's home page. (http://www.moneypage.com/). From this point, a banker can link to the compliance forum or to home pages of other banks and regulatory agencies.
The compliance forum essentially acts as a giant community bulletin board. Bankers can read and respond to any posting or they can start a new discussion by leaving a question.
Money Page is supported by advertising, said Karon Spear, the company's founder and the compliance forum's administrator. She touted the page at the Bank Administration Institute's 1996 Compliance Conference in Orlando this month.
Ms. Spear, noting that as many as 10,000 people a day visit the Money Page, said the product was "taking off better than anticipated.
"It's a place for bankers to exchange ideas," said Ms. Spear, whose husband has been a banker for 35 years. "It gets a dialogue going and gives a high-level purpose to surfing the Internet."
Through Internet services like Money Page, Mr. Insley said, bankers can get the input of their peers without the cost or time loss of attending a conference.
"This will take a while to catch on, but it will grow in popularity rapidly once people see the benefits," Mr. Insley said. "It's the bargain of the day."
A quick tour of the Web site showed it is already active. Several bankers asked about the Community Reinvestment Act, with one seeking advice on geocoding CRA loans in rural areas. Another questioned whether banks should use a company's corporate address when reporting small-business loans, or the address where the funds will actually be used.
No one had responded to the first question, but a compliance officer answered the second, telling the other banker to report the address where the funds are being used.
The forum also includes an introduction for Internet novices, explaining how the bulletin board works.
Of course, there is no guarantee this forum will succeed. Previous efforts for interactive banker dialogues have failed. In fact, Signet's Mr. Insley just closed a forum he started a year ago because too few people logged on. Money Page's system, however, is easier to access and use, he said.
The American Bankers' Association also has a bulletin board page with information for bankers, but it is not available to Net surfers. Called Bankers Electronic Network, the service is only for subscribers.
Cynthia Baltierra, the ABA's legal and regulatory compliance director, said Internet forums serve a useful purpose.
"It's not as if bankers are giving away key marketing strategies when dealing with regulations," Ms. Baltierra said. "People are very willing to share success and failure stories. And the industry's better off if people share the information."