A month into his job as general manager of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s worldwide financial services business unit, Mario Fontana said he is starting to tackle some difficult challenges.
The computer company has to be flexible, because it seeks to serve a wide range of cultures and business environments.
In the United States, for example, the banking industry revolves largely around credit and checks, and many institutions are thus focused on processing transactions efficiently.
"In Europe," he said, "there are many national systems not driven by efficiency but toward service."
Mr. Fontana took the reins of Hewlett-Packard's financial services unit from Ruanne Ernst, who is on a leave of absence and is said to be close to accepting another management post within the company. Mr. Fontana, 51, is responsible for satisfying the sometimes wildly divergent technical needs of a dynamic industry.
He has extensive experience in this area. In 20 years in the computer industry, Mr. Fontana, who speaks five languages, has held a number of sales and marketing positions. He also was general manager of Hewlett- Packard's European computer systems business.
A native of Switzerland and graduate of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Mr. Fontana earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
He said most of the world's banks have at least one goal in common: personalizing the services they deliver. He aims to provide the systems that can help them achieve this.
"The framework for the future is personalized financial services," he said.
Another trend in financial services is the "electronification" of the business. To address this, Hewlett-Packard, its Verifone subsidiary, and Electronic Data Systems Corp. have banded together to form First Global Commerce, a consortium to promote electronic commerce and establish technical standards.
Hewlett-Packard also has formed alliances with technology companies and system integrators such as Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., SAP, and Andersen Consulting to serve various areas within banking.
"Banks are requesting a technology infrastructure and are looking at leaders to provide them with new technology for their customers," Mr. Fontana said.
Hewlett-Packard's four-year-old financial services unit is its fastest- growing "vertical market" segment, Mr. Fontana said. In recent years, its annual revenues have risen an average of about 20%.
He said the company will push for innovations in personalized financial technology for Internet banking, call centers, customer relationship management, and payment services. Many of these offerings will be delivered through the Verifone unit, which Hewlett-Packard acquired in the summer.
"Verifone brought strong things to us," Mr. Fontana said."There is no overlap, and it has strong synergy and positioning in the market."
Mr. Fontana's office is in Geneva, but HP's core financial services team of 15 people will continue to be based in Cupertino, Calif.
Regional units are in place for the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Japan, Asia, and Australia.