In their latest collaboration to build what they call the retail bank platform of the future, Sun Microsystems and Broadway & Seymour say a shared vision of electronic delivery links them.
"Our vision is not just branch automation," said Edward Thompson, senior vice president at Broadway & Seymour Inc., which is based in Charlotte, N.C. "It's an enterprise-wide, retail delivery infrastructure and distribution channel for interfacing with the customer."
As this sophisticated information channel evolves, that interface will take on a whole new quality. Branch employees will have powerful tools for fine-tuning sales pitches as well as resolving customer problems.
Among its range of capabilities will be so-called "geodemographic" and "psychographic" modeling, client profiling, and customer retention analysis.
This isn't the first time that Sun and Broadway & Seymour have partnered to serve the banking industry. Past clients have been Nabanco, Chase Manhattan Bank, and AT&T Universal Card Services.
The two companies maintain that their collaboration will keep banks in step with rapidly evolving data base management trends that will greatly expand customer-knowledge-based marketing.
"Retail branches as they are known today will change, and there will be new products and services delivered through that physical branch channel," Mr. Thompson said. "The infrastructure and architecture has to be able to accommodate that, as well as add new functions."
The latest venture between the two companies, which was announced last spring, brings together Sun's high-powered, Unix-based workstations and data base servers with the retail banking software of Broadway & Seymour. Applications developed by the software vendor will be based on Sun's Sparc/Solaris network computing systems.
Sun, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., is recognized as the leading Unix vendor in the financial services sector. It has established a track record in the trading, securities, and banking markets. A feature of its customer management solutions program is the ability to tie open network computing with call centers through SunXTL architecture. This function is called computer-telephony integration, or CTI.
Through CTI technology, a history of customer contact, whether through a call center, automated teller machine, or branch visit, is available at each contact point. This not only averts the need to rekey customer data at various points in the retail network but also relieves customers of having to repeat information to different customer service representatives each time they need help.
Tying in the call center has other advantages. During a call from a customer getting a checking account balance, for example, the customer service representative may notice that the account has a large balance. By passing along this information to a contact in the customer's branch, the bank creates a selling opportunity for products that offer a higher return.
Requiring branch employees to become better sales people creates an equally high demand for computing power, a need Sun says its workstations are ideally suited to meet.
"Unix brings a lot more power to the desktop, where you can incorporate functions such as multimedia and video," says Laurie Yoler, Sun's global manager for the financial services industry.
When platform officers take on the mantle of investment advisers, Ms. Yoler added, access to market and news data becomes crucial. As the pace of product introductions quickens, the system can also deliver training videos and other bulletins branchwide.
Through Broadway & Seymour's modeling and client profiling applications, banks will get other ways to determine whether a customer is right for a particular sales pitch. Psychographics modeling can help a bank better understand where a customer is in the life cycle.
A person in his or her 20s, for instance, is often building debt on a credit card and maintaining high balances, while a customer in middle age is looking for safe investments.
Mr. Thompson of Broadway & Seymour has a personal anecdote highlighting the importance of customer profiling.
"A friend of mine recently told me he got a $30,000 a year raise. When I asked him how he did it, he said his son had graduated from law school," Mr. Thompson recalled. "This is a key life event that produces more individual disposable income to apply toward purchasing products and services."
Customers are likely to appreciate the more personalized technique. "Customers really hate it when their bank or anyone else calls them to market something that is not applicable to their situation, like a retired couple getting information on college loans, for example," Ms. Yoler said. "Customers want their banks to be smarter about who they are."
While the Sun-Broadway & Seymour approach intends to give banks a better portrait of their customers, the image of the bank itself is also likely to get a boost as it learns to deliver better service.
Functions such as imaging, for example, speed the handling of customer inquiries. If a customer calls to ask for another copy of a lost account statement, the bank can avoid spending time on printing and mailing by faxing instead. And reducing the expense of handling such inquiries lets the bank keep a greater share of the service fee.
Imaging can be employed in other ways to enhance service.
"When a customer calls with a question about the fourth line of their statement," Mr. Thompson said, "the customer service representative (must) take time to ferret out what the customer is talking about because the data (are)n't in the same format. If that representative could see a facsimile, it will decrease service time."
Integrating customer information already held by the bank is an initial part of the Sun-Broadway & Seymour solution. Their venture will also bring in customer data from external sources that show financial relationships with competing institutions.
"If you look at customers today, very few have a relationship with just one bank," Ms. Yoler said. "To get information on all those different relationships allows banks to get a better picture of who their customer is and what kind of services they need."
Title and deed information from local and state government records, for example, can be obtained through an external data base such as Lexis to produce numerous marketing opportunities. Mr. Thompson noted that determining the interest rate on a loan based on the date it was issued can open the door for a pitch by a competing bank with lower rates.
Gathering information from external and internal sources is just one piece of the Sun-Broadway & Seymour pie. Regulating the distribution of data to the branch network is another.
"Many systems try to pull in as much data as possible," Ms. Yoler said, "and leave it to the person in the branch or on the phone to find the information they need. It's better to only have a screen or two of data and make information available only if it's directly related to what they are trying to do."
The value of well integrated customer information such as that proposed by Sun and Broadway & Seymour is seen most clearly in the credit card sector, said Rockwell Clancy, managing director of retail banking at the Bank Administration Institute.
"Credit card companies were the first sophisticated players in this area," Mr. Clancy said. "They have been successful because they have mastered the technique of data base marketing to identify customers who are most likely to respond to their offers."
Sun and Broadway & Seymour say they are seeing the kind of response they want from banks for their retail banking system, several of which are expected to be sold this year.
Meanwhile, both companies said they are seeking partners to expand their concept even further. Sun plans to work with other banking software developers able to write applications for the SunXTL architecture, and Broadway & Seymour intends to develop customer information products for the OS/2 and Windows NT operating systems.