Memo to Mr. Charles Schwab: If you're ever feeling down, hang out at a banking conference for a day or two.
Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. was often on the lips of speakers at the Bank Administration Institute's recent Retail Delivery 2000 conference in New Orleans. The brokerage firm was routinely cited as an example of what banks ought to be doing online.
"Schwab comes closest to attaining what we're describing as a single customer view," said William Randle, executive vice president of Huntington Bancshares Inc., a regional bank holding company headquartered in Columbus, OH. Randle was among the speakers at a BAI conference session titled "Intelligent Channels: Maximizing Return at All Contact Points."
He issued a warning to his industry colleagues: "The customer is no longer king. The customer is, indeed, dictator." Web banking efforts to date mostly pale next to the customization and marketing capabilities for which Schwab's site wins laurels.
"For a while, I think, bankers could take solace in thinking, 'Well, I can't do it, but neither can the guy across the street.' That's no longer true," Randle said.
He stressed, however, that banks shouldn't expect to build such technical capabilities alone. "I'm absolutely convinced that the majority of banks worldwide require partnerships," he said.
Huntington Bank did just that in collaborating with Compaq Corp., Corillian Corp. and SAIC to establish e-Bank, which, despite its name is not a virtual bank. E-bank is a vendor "empowering true multi- channel eCRM (electronic customer relationship management)," according to its promotional material.
There is another ebank, an Atlanta-based Interent bank for small businesses, which has been operating for more than a year. A spokesperson for e-Bank said that Huntington, which is also based in Columbus, OH, is suing Atlanta-based ebank, claiming that Huntington was first to register the e-Bank name.
Paul Jameson, most recently of consulting firm Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, and formerly Fiserv's CRM guru, is president and chief executive of e-Bank, already a 100-person organization. He joined Randle on the podium.
Huntington became e-Bank's first user on December 18. The $29- billion asset Huntington is determined to provide customers "a single view of the bank and its products and services, and a logically consistent security system," Randle said. He added that e-Bank will make that possible.
E-bank is mostly targeting mid-tier banks, though it will not solicit business from banks that operate in Huntington's footprint, given Huntington's (undisclosed) stake in e-Bank, a spokeswoman said.
Electronic banking revenues continue to grow steadily for Huntington (compound annual growth rate of nearly 46% between 1996 and 1999, inclusively) as they do for most of Huntington's bank and non- bank competitors. "The Internet has leveled the playing field, and almost anyone can compete against even the largest (banks)" for a share of retail customers' wallets," Randle said.
Cynthia von Hollen, a CGE&Y director who shared the platform with Randle and Jameson, warned bankers that hardware and software can't produce higher profits unless it is deployed in concert with a "customer-centric organizational strategy."
Echoing other sessions, the speakers noted that customers often ask why, when checking their balance, they obtain a different amount through a telephone inquiry than they see on their bank's Web site. "Real-time, multi-channel content delivery" will enable banks to provide two other missing ingredients, von Hollen said: "dynamic personalization" and truly targeted marketing.
Financial Fusion celebrates
On Jan. 18, Financial Fusion Inc. will mark its first anniversary, and company President Michon Schenck says you ain't seen nothing yet. The Watertown, MA-based company traces it roots to a decision by Sybase Inc. to spin off its financial server business into a separate subsidiary. The subsequent decision to acquire Internet banking vendor, Home Financial Network of Westport, CT, and to merge the two into a new company, Financial Fusion, was announced at last year's retail delivery show.
Speaking at the latest RDS, Schenck told BTN that Financial Fusion enjoyed exceptional growth in its first year. The Sybase subsidiary grew from about 110 employees and 14 customers to nearly 300 people and has more than 75 customers, with operations in Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan, as well as the United States.
"We have been very candid-very public-about our intention to achieve aggressive growth rates," Schenck said. Financial Fusion expects to reach $100 million in revenue and be profitable by the end of 2002. About two-thirds of its market today consists of retail customers, with the remainder made up of institutional traders.
By leveraging its relationship with its parent company and entering alliances with IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems, among others, Financial Fusion has been able "to take a macro view of the financial services software market" from day one, Schenck said, adding: "Financial services is a highly disaggregated market, so many companies start out focused on one of the micro niches. We think that is the wrong approach."
She stresses that the company's enterprise-class middleware, the Financial Fusion Web & Wireless System, was built to open standards and is 100% Java based. It's the only solution of its kind, she says, that provides "an e-finance infrastructure on a single platform that integrates everything"-retail banking and brokerage, e-trading, Web and wireless applications, Unix and Microsoft NT, multiple languages and currencies-"and it is scalable from one to a million users."
WebTone exceeds revenue goal
Atlanta-based WebTone Technologies Inc., whose founder and chairman, Michael McChesney, also co-founded the original virtual bank, Security First Network Bank, had expected to reach $15 million in revenue by the end of 2000. But, in an interview at the recent BAI conference, WebTone's president and CEO, James Szyperski, said the specialized CRM provider would, in fact, hit the $17 million mark.
WebTone Technologies, a 3-year-old company, provides computer- telephony software to about 15 large financial services clients, now, on both an outsourced and application service provider model.
Szyperski believes WebTone computer-telephony integration capabilities, combined with its secure email, chat and voice-over- Internet protocol technologies, "already represent a great value add" but will become even more essential as video conferencing becomes ubiquitous.
Szyperski believes financial services companies have taken huge steps-and made huge investments-to learn who their customers are. The problem, he says, is that "they really haven't done a lot with the information." WebTone solutions pull such data together and make it available to customer service representatives, in addition to enabling customers to obtain precisely the information they seek without intervention by a bank employee.
"It has never been as expensive to acquire a customer as it is today," Szyperski says. "And yet you have thousands of call centers out there that don't have anything like these capabilities now." For WebTone Technologies, that situation represents a huge opportunity. "It's not a matter of gutting your infrastructure," the CEO declares. "We are helping financial institutions-mostly the big guys so far-take full advantage of what they already have."
Sun basks in bank business
The financial services industry has been a key market for Sun Microsystems for many years, a senior executive with the Palo Alto, CA- based giant says, but the year 2000 was extraordinary by any measure. Boosted no doubt by post-Y2K demand, the company was on track in December to end the year with revenue growth of 46% to 50% in its financial services business, according to David Littlewood, Sun Microsystems' director of worldwide financial services.
"We've always had a great deal of focus on the (banking) industry," Littlewood said in an interview at the New Orleans tradeshow, "and we reinforced that in 2000."
For example, Sun became a corporate partner of the security laboratory operated by BITS, the technical standards-setting arm of the Financial Services Roundtable. Also, Sun and iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions-a Sun joint venture with Netscape-were chosen this past fall to work with the global ecommerce security network, Identrus LLC, to develop global payment-initiation products.
"If anything, we're going to be spending even more time working with financial services businesses in the future," Littlewood said.
The company also announced at the show that Credit Suisse has chosen Sun's Solaris operating environment and servers for the backend infrastructure of Credit Suisse's wireless trading solution for personal digital assistants, or PDAs, in Switzerland. Using a Java- based solution for its "youtrade" product there, Credit Suisse will enable private investors in Switzerland to trade equities, warrants and bonds in real time via a Palm Pilot or Handspring Visor.
Asked about trends in the industry, Littlewood said he expects aggregation products and services to continue gaining momentum in 2001, along with solutions that give customers greater capability to manage their own finances online.
Unisys reshapes strategy
Blue Bell, PA-based Unisys Corp., which historically has made a substantial part of its revenues from paper-based businesses, emphasized that its financial services focus going forward will be on CRM, wealth management, life insurance and pensions, and electronic payment solutions.
Among the products it announced was an application to detect money laundering (something for which the first neural network application was introduced earlier in 2000 by Nestor Inc. A spokesman wasn't sure if the Unisys product also relies on a neural network to detect money laundering.)
In an interview at the show, Unisys' vice president of marketing for global financial industries, Chris Skinner, noted that while "CRM has become a passe phrase, the customer of the bank is never passe." In the coming year, he said, the company will announce "groundbreaking (CRM) solutions that anticipate the market and enable our clients to gain competitive advantage."
Touching on themes heard often at Retail Delivery 2000, Skinner said Unisys is making substantial new investments in research and development to ensure its customers can provide consumers with "full personal financial capabilities through all channels." He said specific announcements tied to the initiatives will be made throughout 2001.
Skinner acknowledged that 2000 was a "tough year" for Unisys, but he expressed confidence that the company's existing solutions, in addition to its new products and services, will maintain Unisys' position as a worldwide leader in financial services technology.
Getronics adds aggregation
Getronics, the Amsterdam-based IT company, formerly known as Wang, introduced a new version of its Globalfs Internet banking application at RDS. The latest version adds several new functions, including account aggregation, wireless access to financial information and interactive communication with financial advisers.
Karen Roche, U.S. president, Getronics Business Solutions & Consulting, Billerica, MA, says the new version of the company's Net banking application enables financial institutions to deliver the "flexibility" their customers demand. Just as important, she adds, Getronics' solution facilitates the "reuse of business processes and components" across multiple channels, ensuring a bank's customers receive consistent service and information regardless of how they deal with their financial institution. Also, in mid-December, not long after the BAI conference, Getronics announced that its Globalfs solution had been chosen by Al Bank Al Saudi Al Fransi in Saudi Arabia-the first Saudi bank to establish a presence on the Web, a Getronics spokesman said.
HP targets ecommerce
Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard Co. came to New Orleans to crow about its new business-to-business e-payment solution. The company says its "breakthrough technology" has been pre-integrated with BroadVision's Business Commerce product but can support other ecommerce applications as well.
HP says the new e-payment solution enables payments to be processed, completed and recorded online at the time of the transaction, eliminating the inefficiency of paper-based payment while improving transaction speed and accuracy.
BAI expands RDS, educational offerings
"Really it's about bringing the teriffic experience that is BAI to the rest of the world," said Michael Lafferty, chairman of London-based publisher and conference organizer, the Lafferty Group, explaining at a press conference why BAI plans to host a European version of RDS, in conjunction with Lafferty. The first will be in London next June.
Thomas Johnson Jr., president and chief executive of BAI, noted, "More than one third of the financial services attendees at RDS come from outside of the United States."
BAI also announced the establishment of the "eLearning Network," working in conjunction with Click2learn.com, a company specializing in Web-based learning." The initial program includes about 200 courses- some offering NYU-affiliated and other professional credit-BAI says. More information is available on www.bai.org/elearning.
Johnson went on to say, "This is not just a program; it's going to transform BAI." Asked if BAI is likely to collaborate with other industry bodies that offer Web-based tuition, such as the American Bankers Association, he said "I don't see it at the moment."
Alliance to put CRM in ATMs
NCR Corp. and BroadVision Inc. announced at the conference a $17 million joint investment in technology that will link Teradata, NCR's data warehouse, and its CRM applications and ATMs, to BroadVision's e- business applications. The technology ultimately will enable financial services companies to "leverage a single, comprehensive view of their customers to coordinate marketing and services to them" by telephone, mail, the Web, wireless devices and ATMs, an NCR spokeswoman says.
Small-bank customers pay online
Internet banking and bill-payment provider, Online Resources Corp. of McLean, VA, released research it conducted that somewhat contradicts prevailing wisdom on e-billing. It isn't the absolute biggest banks that are most successful in e-billing, ORCC, said, suggesting that the highest customer adoption is at institions with assets of $10 billion or less (and "tightly integrated banking and bill-payment functions," an ORCC spokesman said).
Banks in that asset bracket averaged an e-billing adoption rate of 36%-significantly higher than the 22% adoption rate reported midyear by CS First Boston Corp. for "large"-bank customers.
However, Greg Constantine, senior vice president of community bank consulting firm Fisi Madison Financial, suggested that there has been a loss of interest in electronic billing. "This year, it's all about wireless and account aggregation; last year it (RDS) was all about bill presentment," he said.
Tantau to be acquired
Rita Selvaggi, vice president of global business development with Tantau Software Inc., spoke to BTN just hours before it was announced that the Austin, TX, vendor of server-side wireless software is to be acquired by 724 Solutions Inc., a Toronto-based provider of wireless applications.
Noting that Tantau "serves up legacy applications to wireless devices," Selvaggi said, "The majority of financial institutions have huge investments in their existing applications. They don't want separate applications for wireless banking; they want to modify existing applications."
Eontec gains foothold in U.S.
Eontec, an Irish provider of Java-based software for the Web, call center and branch, says it is on the brink of announcing a top-10 U.S. bank and one of Canada's big five as new customers.
The Dublin-based firm, which opened a U.S. office 16 months ago, has as its first North American client League Data. Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, League Data is a processor for 120 credit unions.
Sources add that Eontec is about to go live with Allied Irish Banks LLP, one of Ireland's two dominant banks.
Orla O'Sullivan also contributed to this article.