When Yermo M. Lamers began writing a computer program to help match on- line shoppers with the catalogues that best suit their needs, he had no idea that bankers would take note.
Mr. Lamers, the technology officer at Vienna, Va.-based Webthreads LLC, said financial institutions now rank among those most interested in his work.
His software, also called Webthreads, tracks visits to World Wide Web sites and can help banks tailor their on-line offerings to individuals and their preferences.
As banks keep angling to offer services over the Internet, they can turn to Webthreads and products like it to help their investments pay off.
"It allows financial service organizations to move to another level in dealing with customers," said Scott D. Nelson, research director at the Gartner Group, a consulting and research firm based in Stamford, Conn.
Major U.S. and Canadian banks are considering using the software, Webthreads officials said. They declined to name them.
The software addresses a challenge for the banks and others that see opportunities on the Internet: getting detailed information on the on-line tendencies of Web site visitors.
Owners of Web sites usually know the number of "hits," or visits, at the site, but that tells very little about what visitors are doing. If 10 hits are registered, it could mean one person has visited 10 times or that 10 people have each hit once.
Webthreads software tracks visitors' on-line paths from the time they enter a site until they depart. This gives a company a detailed view of the number of visitors, the average number of pages called up, and the time spent at each stop.
The information can be used to make real-time adjustments in a bank's marketing pitch, even to first-time visitors.
"Banks are looking at creating a much more personalized interactive experience," said Jeffrey L. Spillers, vice president of business development at Webthreads, which is a subsidiary of Vienna, Va.-based Image Communication Inc.
"For advertising, you can see the viewer's behavior and adjust your sales pitch," said Chris W.M. Stevens, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group in Boston.
A bank that wants to promote mortgages, for instance, might offer a link to a loan application with terms and availability. If a prospect clicks on the banner but does not fill out an application, the bank knows the person is probably not interested in a home loan and can offer different links for the remainder of the session.
Webthreads is particularly powerful when the on-line visitor is already a customer. His or her movements within the Web site can be factored into the bank's existing data base to make an offer. For example, if the customer has good credit and is college-age, the bank may offer a student loan.
But if the customer balks at various offers, the system can be programmed to reduce interest rates gradually until the customer accepts, or until profitability becomes too low.
"Webthreads can tell the relationship between cause and effect by tracking how long customers have to be exposed to a product before they take action, or if they will take action at all," said Mr. Spillers.