The industry mantra of transforming marketing from product- and campaign-centric efforts to customer-centric, relationship-building offerings is so oft-repeated that it's easy to forget that most banks are far from having the technology to support this ideal. First Union, however, will be considerably closer than many of its peers with the forecast mid- year completion of its data warehouse and data mart solutions that team IBM, Informix, SAS, ab initio and Tessera Enterprise Systems.

For the past several years, First Union has sought to migrate to a relationship marketing paradigm, a Herculean challenge given limitations of its external database marketing setup with Harte-Hanks, a direct marketing company, says Naras Eechambadi, svp in corporate marketing at First Union.

The foundation of First Union's new proprietary knowledge-based marketing solution is an IBM SP/2 architecture supporting an Informix- Online Extended Parallel Server database. The system incorporates 24 disparate legacy systems and currently holds two terabytes of data. A major component of the data warehouse is Tessera's Rapid Modeling Environment (RME), which gives modelers a point-and-click interface, eliminating the need to spend hours generating custom code. The biggest advantage RME brings to the bank is increased productivity. "Modelers are expensive people, and if you don't have the right kind of environment for them, they can spend an enormous amount of time just manipulating data rather than analyzing data," Eechambadi says.

Phase one of the First Union project was completed in less than 12 months, Nichols says. And with First Union's acquisition of Signet Bank, the bank was ready for the second phase of the project, the creation of a marketing data mart to sit on top of the data warehouse. "We are bringing in their data mart and adapting it to our data model and environment," Eechambadi says, using the same employees who built the technology at Signet, where it was used for "very aggressive direct marketing programs." Phase two should be completed by mid-year when the remaining database marketing efforts will be brought in-house.

The data mart is "where all the action will be," Eechambadi adds, with campaign and customer management originating there. The eventual goal of the system is to leave the high-end analysis and direct marketing coordination to the marketing department and allow decision makers across the bank to have access to customer information at the segment level, he says, adding that the data mart also enables the bankers to do some basic analytics on their own.

First Union officials declined to specify the cost of the project, but Eechambadi says, "ROI on this does not keep me awake at night. This stuff is going to pay for itself in spades."

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