For many bankers, the Internet just isn't pushy enough.
Out on the sprawling network of networks is an incredible mass of information, but getting at it usually takes effort-an involved search and, when that's completed, the "pulling" of content down to a personal computer.
Numerous software vendors want to reverse this tedious necessity by developing "push" technologies that would relieve PC users of the search burden and perhaps create opportunities for bankers who have similarly struggled with the "pull" scenario.
"The volume of financial news and data on the Web is staggering," said Rob Rosen, president and chief executive officer of Vertigo Development Group. To help make sense of it, the maker of One-on-One Banking software is using "push" technology to deliver highly personalized financial data to the desktop.
Among others embracing the idea is Meca Software Inc., the bank-owned venture responsible for Managing Your Money personal financial software.
Together with Marimba Inc., a Silicon Valley company founded by four members of the team that created the Java computer language at Sun Microsystems, Meca hopes to build an "electronic branch" that contacts customers with personalized offers for mortgage refinancings and other services tailored to unique situations.
"We are utilizing push technology to deliver a total marketing environment for financial institutions," said Paul E. Harrison, chief executive officer of Trumbull, Conn.-based Meca. "The next step is to build a whole set of financial services that can be utilized to sell products."
Meca and its bank customers hope, of course, that the push services- which should be available this year-will help deepen relationships with customers and even encourage impulse buying, said Mr. Harrison.
"Financial institutions have a trusted relationship with their customers," said Jon R. Lowell, chief technology officer for Meca. "As the core business has become commoditized, personal attention needs to be restored if the institution is to leverage the services they provide in the first place."
Push technology can be used in many ways. Graphical Web pages, video welcome messages, advertisements, and plain text all could be individually targeted and delivered to customers who have expressed interest in a particular product.
Marimba's Castanet is a still experimental software product that makes this possible. It "provides the ability for a financial services firm to deliver an application to its partners or customers that can update and maintain itself over time," said Sam D. Hobson, director of product marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based Marimba.
"It would be important to provide up-to-date information about current bank balances, checks cleared," Mr. Hobson added. "This gives banks an opportunity to promote new services."
With Castanet, companies use a "transmitter" program that can broadcast news, software updates, and other content over the Internet.
To get data, customers are given a free program called a "tuner." They can select "channels" on it that control the types of "Webcasts" they receive. Financial institutions, news stations, magazines, and entertainment outlets are among those broadcasting via the push method.
The frequency of updates on a push channel depends largely on the organization operating it. A news service might send updates several times an hour; a financial institution might change content daily.
Working with Wayfarer Communications of Mountain View, Calif., NationsBank Corp. has developed a customized push system to reach its 23,000 employees who have desktop Internet access.
Using the NationsCast system, "I can say I am interested in information about supporting banking customers with application 'A,' and I want this information sent to me," said Mitch Hadley, vice president of NationsBank's strategic technology group.
NationsCast features a channel through which regular video messages can come down from the bank's top executives.
Going beyond such internal applications, pushed content can help a company establish relationships with customers, perhaps even making available information the customers might not yet know they want.
Vertigo Development Group's One-on-One Banking uses a form of Webcasting-what it calls a combination of broadcasting and personalization- to deliver information tailored to individual customers of Salem Five Cents Bank, Security First Network Bank, and others.
The system designed by the Cambridge, Mass., software vendor collects information on what types of financial products a user is interested in and automatically searches for relevant information. This can be updated and sent to customers based on their evolving needs.
"You know what you want when you want to find out the weather, but you may not know what is the best financial information for you," said Mr. Rosen of Vertigo.
Instead of the customer's specifying the information that he or she wants to receive, One-on-One Banking analyzes data in Vertigo's personal financial manager and unleashes "intelligent agents" that seek information on the customer's behalf.
"When you've provided enough value to the customer, they will feel comfortable identifying themselves" and taking what is offered, said Mr. Rosen.
"We have to make (customers) aware that they are working with a bank that specializes in alternative delivery," said Michael R. Fitzgerald, senior vice president of Salem Five in Massachusetts. "If we are not the on-ramp to the Internet, they may not come to us."