GE Capital says it plans by yearend to give customers the ability to apply for commercial loans online and manage them through the Internet.
The plan, which was detailed in an interview Friday, is part of a bigger one laid out by Jack Welsh, chairman and chief executive officer of Stamford, Conn.-based General Electric Co., who decreed last year that all of GE's businesses had to be online by the end of 1999.
This year, in an attempt to realize that goal, General Electric has each of its businesses implementing new technology to expand their offerings.
"There is a strong enthusiasm for e-business at GE," said Terry Suppers, senior vice president of marketing of GE Commercial Finance's e-business division. "I think it is changing the way we do business. It is an amazing time."
The commercial lending division, which manages $14 billion of assets, wants to offer its business clients financing as quickly as possible and at the same time give them flexibility in their use of the World Wide Web, Mr. Suppers said.
"Our approach is to allow you to do as much as you want online," he said. "But to the extent that you want, we can bring in elements of the traditional environment and create a clicks-and-mortar experience."
GE Capital, which is also based in Stamford, plans to add instant messaging to its Web site. Customers already can communicate with GE loan officer by e-mail, but this feature would offer real-time interaction and help customers get their financing as quickly as possible.
Mr. Suppers said instant messaging is meant to help rather than eliminate loan officers.
"There will always be a need in our marketplace for the relationship," he said. "As a provider of working capital, our customers often want to look someone in the eye."
Late last year GE conducted nationwide focus groups. Using findings from those sessions it revamped the Web site to make it more interactive.
"The main things we heard from the focus groups was that they were interested in doing more of the process on the Web and having access to it 24 hours, seven days a week," Mr. Suppers said.
GE designed its Web site so that customers and prospects could use it to do all their primary research. Content includes 20 case studies along with video testimonials. The case studies range from businesses that needed financing for an acquisition to those with cash flow needs that fluctuate seasonally.
GE also has added a credit line calculator to its commercial financing Web site. Visitors can use it to find out how much financing they are eligible for and the likelihood of their getting that amount.
Once customers have completed their research online, they can e-mail a GE representative to say they are ready to apply for financing. Then, a GE officer will contact them within 24 hours to set up a phone conversation or live meeting in one of 30 loan origination offices.
This month GE added a feature that allows commercial financing customers to track the status of their application online. They can also access an account management tool that enables them to check their loan availability on a day-to-day basis.
Paul Jamieson, senior analyst for banking and payment services at Gomez Advisors of Lincoln, Mass., said that by putting the entire commercial financing process online, GE is keeping it edge in this market.
"The world is moving online quickly, and GE has traditionally been on the forefront of that move," he said. "GE has a major foothold in this market, and they don't want to lose that to others that are online."