Offering a new teaser rate might increase customer applications for credit cards. But what impact might this offer have on other areas of the bank - savings for instance? Would the lower rate give customers added cash that a bank might capture with an attractive CD offer? Or how about a refi offer, if the local housing market could bear it? What would be the most cost-effective marketing tool - targeted direct mailer, banner ad, or call-center agent pitch?

Chordiant Software, a provider of decisioning and customer interaction support to major banks, is trying to take the guesswork out of such hypotheticals. This fall, the Cupertino, CA-based firm added a new business virtualization layer to its decision-management platform that can simulate the impact of proposed business-line changes, such as credit-card offers and incentives. The what-ifs are played out, taking real-time data and applying them to current and historical snapshots to accumulate actual and targeted numbers for how any proposed change would impact almost any other product or customer segment.

Chordiant says the system would measure the after-effects of "millions" of decisions. The new visual business director (VBD) layer, in essence, is not just a dashboard, but a time-machine cockpit. "This is not a simulation of what if interest rates go up, or what if Congress approves the bailout," says Rob Walker, vp of decisioning and marketing solutions for Chordiant. "This is about replaying every single decision you actually took in all of these channels and seeing what the effect is not only on the bottom line but also on other propositions, across channels, and in different customer segments."

James Taylor, a principal with enterprise decision management consultancy Smart (enough) Systems of Mountain View, CA, says the system appears to "dramatically increase the transparency of the decisions that determine the bank's performance...[and] makes it possible to see the impact of all the decisions rolled up to an appropriate level but still be able to drill down into ever more detail to see what is causing a particular trend."

Chordiant is launching the platform at a time when enterprise CRM systems are a growing priority for banks looking at every opportunity to cross-sell customers by fine-tuning interactions. Chordiant does not have the field to itself. It is in a pitched battle with business-process niche CRM providers such as Pegasystems and Amdocs.

In a 2008 survey, Forrester Research found that half of polled CRM decision-makers across multiple industries lacked a clear strategy to improve customer experience, and 60 percent of those said one of the biggest hurdles was implementing the technology behind customer-experience initiatives.

Chordiant hasn't announced who has gone live with VBD among its telco, insurance/healthcare and financial services clients. But it's likely that any financial client will be a large enterprise. Chordiant's field is $1 billion-plus revenue organizations, and the company's current FI clients for large-scale customer experience, lending and decisioning platforms include Citibank, Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), Deutsche Bank and Barclays Bank.

At first glance, the three-dimensional GUI interface of the VBD looks as intimidating as a Pentagon organizational chart, with hundreds of multi-colored bars synched up throughout a graphical matrix. But each bar on the grid serves as a data container reflecting a product or service line's consumer segment (such as new or existing, or breakdowns by age). A user can click on each bar to see the effects of a simulation to measure against actual and targeted numbers. One can study the view panel to see the interplay of acceptance rates, product churn and revenue across different customer slices or products.

"I can change [current] parameters, or make changes to see what the result is if I had done this last year, or last quarter or two years ago, depending on how much history I have collected in this environment," says Walker.

Chordiant is not worried that its clients will find it overwhelming, since it developed this new business virtualization layer with end-user input to include the necessary data sets to make the product user-friendly.

There is, however, another concern. Given the siloed management practices in place, banks may be unable to make good use of this information, says TowerGroup research director Nicole Sturgill. "Banks absolutely want to have a product like VBD, but it remains to be seen whether they will be able to create a structure that will allow them to take advantage of it."

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