Most bankers know the conference routine, perhaps too well: fly to a large city, stay in a big hotel, sit in a dark, cold room listening to presentations, wander a carnival-like exhibit hall, meet and greet during meals and vendor-sponsored parties.
A British company called RMR PLC is trying to replicate that experience minus the tedious parts on the Internet. On Sept. 18 it kicked off VirtualBanking2000, the worlds first virtual banking conference and exhibition.
More than 100 speakers most of them executives of European companies gave live presentations by video, audio, and text over two weeks. But the event is ongoing: The presentations will be available free to all visitors to the Web site until next September.
Presenters included John Stewart, deputy chief executive of Barclays PLC; Jon Prideaux, a Visa International executive vice president who gave a paper on opportunities and issues faced by the payments industry; and Aneace Haddad, president of the French software firm Welcome Real-time, who talked about smart cards.
About 10,000 visitors from more than 60 countries have gone to the site, which features a map of a simulated conference center. The main building with a water fountain gushing in front looks like a hybrid of a bank and a hotel complex, and is labeled conference. Nearby is a rotunda-like exhibition hall where 46 companies have taken out exhibition stands. Delegates can visit either of these places, or several others (including a media center) with a mouse click. In a viewpoint area, for example, they can trade observations about conference content.
The delegates are still flooding in, said John Duffy, marketing director at RMR, which has its headquarters in Eynsham, near Oxford. RMR, which opened its first U.S. office last month in Austin, Tex., is collaborating on the banking e-conference with the Institute of Financial Services, a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Chartered Institute of Bankers. Members of the institute can get continuing-education credit for attending the conference and reading the papers submitted to it. Topics include call centers, security and encryption, risk management, customer relationship management, wireless application protocol, and legislation.
RMR held its first virtual conference, about environmental issues, in November 1997 and has done about 10 others since then. This is its first on banking conference.
Were the only company doing this that builds a community around a conference, Mr. Duffy said.
Concert, a joint global telecommunications venture of AT&T and British Telecom, is the main sponsor of VirtualBanking2000. Mr. Duffy said exhibitors typically pay $7,000 to $21,000 to set up an exhibition stand on the site; sponsors fork over about $215,000.
Diebold Inc. has been exhibiting since September. Mark Rechner, manager of global marketing and communications at the North Canton, Ohio, company, said he likes the idea for cost-efficiency and other reasons.
If you look at the cost of putting an advertisement in a publication or the logistics of organizing a large trade show, figures can run into hundreds of thousands. This format, he noted, guarantees that Diebold reaches customers and prospects for a year. He boasted that our booth at the virtual trade show is the busiest RMR has.