Harris Bank is drawing upon groundwork laid by its parent, Bank of Montreal, as it prepares to roll out services on personal digital assistants and enhance its on-line bank offering.
Bank of Montreal has been testing Veev, a system that supports banking through wireless devices, since May. Harris aims to become the first bank to offer this service in the United States, said Charles Piermarini, executive vice president for electronic channels and e-commerce at Harris Bank in Chicago. That puts it in a race against Bank of America Corp., which said Wednesday that it plans to begin pilot testing such applications next year.
Banking via personal digital assistants is "the next big wave in this business," Mr. Piermarini said, because they offer two things the Internet cannot: speed and portability.
Five hundred Bank of Montreal volunteers are using Veev to gain access to banking, investment, and related account information through wireless devices such as pagers, telephones, and palm pilots. Users can also track their portfolios, and get stock quotes and alerts, news, and some "fun stuff" such as horoscopes and lottery information, Mr. Piermarini said.
One obstacle to launching a test of the service in the United States, he said, is that this country is still building digital capabilities into its personal communications services network.
Mr. Piermarini said Harris Bank has no plan to launch a separate direct bank similar to the one known as mbanx run by Bank of Montreal. Harris Bank's current on-line offering, available since July 1997, is called mbanx but is not structured as a separate direct bank.
Customers of the Canadian mbanx do all their business electronically and can earn loyalty points to reduce their fees by buying more mbanx products. Launched in October 1996, mbanx has 162,000 customers. It is on target to meet its goal of one million customers by 2003, a spokeswoman said.
Currently mbanx in Canada is being revamped to give customers the flexibility to enter a Bank of Montreal branch and gain access to their accounts without penalty, the spokeswoman said. Similarly Bank of Montreal customers would be able to bank on-line via mbanx.
"The direct bank found that customers want to be able to use all channels, so it is headed toward channel integration with Bank of Montreal," she said.
In a similar move toward more channel integration, Harris last year announced that it signed a contract with Alltel Information Services to use that firm's Internet banking software.
The move to Alltel was a switch from software provided by Edify Corp., which Harris had used to support its initial launch of on-line banking. Mr. Piermarini said the bank switched to achieve better integration of on-line banking with other channels like the telephone and branch. The Edify system still is employed for bill payment, he said.