While the banking industry in Canada is dominated by large federal institutions, Alberta Treasury Branches has managed to compete pretty well in its footprint, which includes 144 branches throughout the province. With assets of about $12 billion, ATB went shopping for customer relationship management technology a couple of years ago, aiming to cultivate what executives there see as a key strength in their highly competitive market: being the "local" bank.

"As a regional bank, we're somewhat unique because most of the banks we compete against are large nationals," says Ken Casey, Alberta Treasury Branches' vice president for corporate services and operations. "We compete with five of the big banks and some credit unions ... and we compete with them toe to toe."

Based in Edmonton, ATB's core markets include consumer banking, agricultural finance and small-business lending. Casey notes that the institution will tap CRM technology in increments-the initial deployment will come in the bank's call center-and cost is not the only reason for moving in steps.

Ultimately, Casey says, ATB will implement CRM-related technology throughout the enterprise. "We knew that whatever solution we chose would need to work for the call center initially but later with our Net banking system, with the branches and indeed all touch-points," he says. "We used the terminology 'continuous dialogue' in our discussions about this because we envisioned using this technology to help us capture more information about every experience with every customer," regardless of the channel used.

The bank chose Siebel Systems Inc.'s "eFinance" solution, one of the San Mateo, CA-based company's flagship applications for the financial services industry. Siebel's strategic alliance with IBM helped seal the decision, Casey says, because ATB had worked successfully with IBM previously. The bank also chose IBM as the systems integrator for the initial deployment of Alberta Treasury Branches' CRM capabilities.

Carlos Chou, Siebel vice president for the IBM Worldwide Alliance, recalls that his company's longtime relationship with IBM "was elevated to the global and strategic level" in October 1999. The alliance provides Siebel Systems, already the world's second-largest developer of software applications, with marketing coverage in those parts of the world where Siebel had no sales operation in place, Chou says.

Tim Angst, vice president and general manager of Siebel Systems' financial services arm, believes Alberta Treasury Bank is a great example of how "even the relatively small guys are expressing interest in our (CRM) solutions, because they have customers they want to interact with through multiple channels, too."

To be sure, smaller banks may follow ATB's example and put the technology in place incrementally, but Angst says even comprehensive deployments for large institutions normally proceed one channel at a time, including integration with each line of business within the channel. Regardless of the pace at which they proceed, he promises Siebel clients they will begin to see a return on their CRM investment in 10 months or less.

"The strategic issues involved for our bank customers are challenging, but it really comes down to creating differentiation in an industry in which their products have been commoditized," says Angst. "CRM creates that differentiation by enabling a bank to provide superior customer satisfaction."

The first step in achieving this differentiation from competitors is the creation of in-depth customer profiles. The proliferation of delivery channels has made this job easier in some respects, Angst says, "because as they come to you more often and through more touch- points, it actually gives the institution more opportunities to develop useful, actionable information."

Once those profiles are functional, he says, "you can make sure that your interactions with a customer are specific, or in keeping with the individual customer's preferences."

Angst boasts that Siebel's CRM technology generates "the best analytics in the industry, which in turn allows you to do predictive modeling and develop campaigns based on that information." He cautions that regardless of whether a bank chooses Siebel's "eFinance" solution, it should keep close tabs on the "integration capabilities" of the CRM software it chooses.

"That is something we've worked extremely hard on, because robust integration capabilities are critical in this area."

Siebel's Chou believes the alliance with IBM has been successful because bankers already know how crucial it is that CRM technology work across multiple platforms. Casey says Alberta Treasury Branches' phased implementation "makes sense for us, but it is definitely part of a much bigger vision."

Ultimately, the customer wants all channels available at all times, and ATB intends to give them just that.

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