Financial service professionals have increasingly turned to the Internet in recent years for help with banking regulations, but the information available has been fragmented, with various Web sites offering compliance information and tools alongside other services.
Now Bankers Systems Inc., a St. Cloud, Minn., vendor of compliance solutions for financial institutions, has started a site it says is the most comprehensive source of information on regulations in the banking industry. ComplianceHeadquarters.com, which went live last month, focuses solely on regulatory compliance, offering research, articles, discussion boards, question-and-answer sections, and a glossary of terms.
The sites database has information about compliance legislation, regulations, and case law at the state and federal levels, and users can sign up for customized e-mail alerts about legislative changes. The site is available free, but the company said it plans eventually to charge fees for some services.
Bankers Systems opened a similar Web site geared to privacy issues, PrivacyHeadquarters.com, in July 2000. Whitney Johnson, the director of Internet strategies at Bankers Systems, said surveys of PrivacyHeadquarters.com users found strong interest in compliance issues. He also cited an American Bankers Association survey on banks access to information technology. The survey, released in April, said that bank employees listed compliance information as the most useful, ahead of training and e-learning, consumer education, employee retention, community outreach, and other topics.
Studies show compliance is a major issue for financial institutions, Mr. Johnson said. The market is very interested in receiving compliance information via the Internet.
Mr. Johnson said ComplianceHeadquarters.com is the first site he knows of to offer such a national scope and extensive database, which is monitored by a 70-person legal team. But Jerome Walker, a Manhattan lawyer who specializes in financial services law, said a great deal of compliance material is already available online from other companies, as well as from government agencies and professional associations.
For example, Bankersonline.com offers e-mail newsletters, discussion groups, and information on various compliance topics, as do the American Bankers Association Web site and TheBankingChannel.com, a service of Thomson Financial, which publishes American Banker. Government-operated Web sites, including those of the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., also offer compliance information.
Theres a whole lot of competition out there, Mr. Walker said.
Nonetheless, ComplianceHeadquarters.com is already drawing enthusiastic response and attracting regular users. I think its great, said Margarita A. Flor, the managing director of FCI Financial Consultants Inc. of Miami.
One of the first things I do in the morning, she said, even before I go to visit a client, is bring the site up and see whats new.
Ms. Flor said she particularly likes the sites updates on changes in banking regulations and has seen no other service that offers the breadth of information available at ComplianceHeadquarters.com. It presents the information more clearly, concisely, and its always on the mark, she said. When you go there, you find exactly whats new today.
Andy Zavoina, a senior vice president and compliance officer at First National Bank Texas, said he likes the sites legislative updates and the articles written by the Bankers Systems legal team. Those are things that you dont get elsewhere, said Mr. Zavoina. The articles are brief and to the point. They have a diverse array of articles, anything from deposit and privacy to floods.
Mr. Zavoina said that with the cutbacks in many companies training budgets this is a great way for compliance officers to keep up on current trends. I think its excellent.
Gary Renick, a lawyer and director in the legal services and development division of Bankers Systems, said compliance has become more important as financial institutions expand their geographic reach and local governments become increasingly involved in banking legislation. He mentioned the cities of San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., which adopted nearly identical ordinances to restrict surcharging at automated teller machines. Though a U.S. District Court struck down both laws with a permanent injunction in June 2000, Mr. Renick said, the case illustrates a trend of cities trying to regulate banking.
Cities are starting to get more engaged in what have traditionally been state and federal issues, he said. So its getting more complex for banks, especially banks that operate in more than one jurisdiction, to manage all of the law changes when theyre coming from different areas of government.
Mr. Walker, the New York lawyer, said that even traditional regulators have changed dramatically the way they handle their job. About a decade ago, he said, examiners shifted their focus from scrutinizing transactions to examining the highest-risk areas of financial services. This change put much more of a burden on the banks to come up with a program that worked, he said, because the regulatory agencies werent giving them the rulebook on how they should do it.
Financial institutions, he said, now need highly skilled compliance officers and a more integrated strategy.
I think compliance officers have a much more difficult job now, said Mr. Walker, a former compliance officer himself.
Bankers Systems was established in 1952 and run as a family business until it was sold in August 1999 to Wolters Kluwer of Amsterdam, one of the largest publishers in the world. BSI is now part of Kluwers U.S. operation, which includes CCH Inc., a provider of tax and business law information and software in Riverwoods, Ill.