The Preview show doesn't promise more than it delivers. The annual showcase for emerging technologies, hosted by Upside Media Inc., in late October in New York, featured forthcoming financial applications and vendors that hadn't even incorporated yet.
nFatshoe.com, the four-month old provider of a consumer loyalty site was there explaining that Baltimore's All First Bank should be live by time of reading with a Visa card on which bank customers who shop at www.fatshoe.com will obtain instant credit rewards for purchases made. The theory is that the $18-billion asset bank (formerly called First Maryland Bank) will get happier customers, as well as fees from card issuance and processing. Fatshoe's site was not yet live in early November.
nConsilient, a company launched the week of the show whose first product is to be released next month, was peddling peer-to-peer software-an increasingly popular approach to computer networking. Letting clients (end users' computers) communicate directly (instead of through servers) is the same model as worked so well for Napster.com, the controversial music site, noted Erik Freed, chief technical officer of Berkley, CA-based Consilient. The difference in what Consilient offers is that it allows users to aggregate processes, not just content, Freed says. "You can create your own portal and it moves around so you can share it with other people."
Avienda Technologies of Atlanta was, similarly, displaying "point- to-point" technology, released just a month before the conference. It facilitates two-way, real-time delivery of information, whereas, Avienda claims, the norm is one-to-many, one-way delivery of static content.
"We've created a totally new market," says Jacqui Chew, director of marketing. "And I think financial institutions would be perfect for this because we deliver and store data securely and quickly."
Avienda places information at a network node close to the end user. It has 200 servers, working towards 600 in 35 countries.
Electric Knowledge Inc., San Francisco, is to officially incorporate next month although its first two clients-a bank and a brokerage, both in the top five-may be live with its online customer service software by this month, says Chief Executive Officer John Schelling.
Drawing on artificial intelligence, computational linguistics and more allows Electronic Knowledge to provide automated responses to questions that users pose by typing questions in "plain English." (The increased popularity of natural language processing software for online customers was also evident at Internet World, another conference coinciding with Preview.)
"Bank customers can go online and ask 'How much is it to open a checking account?' and the engine will understand and send the appropriate reply," Schelling says. "We also see this product on corporate intranets and in call centers," he adds.
nAkamba Corp. of Sunnyvale, CA, had just released a new type of Web server, Veloban, which Akamba Co-Founder and President Richard Burright says will allow companies to serve the same online traffic at a quarter of their current cost. Burright, who previously ran Hotmail's data operations, said, "Hotmail's fully-loaded cost was $300 per server per month," adding, "The top 100 Web sites have hundreds of thousands of servers." Akamba plans to target the Top 100, and thinks it can help banks, too. "I use BofA (Bank of America Corp.) myself," Burright says, "so I know how slow they can be."
Lotus Corp. was also there with plans to extend wireless access to the 60 million users worldwide of Lotus Notes (about one third of whom are in financial services). That's likely to happen in the first half of next year, it says.
Fornova, an application service provider in Southboro, MA, announced its procurement ASP for small businesses at the show-something which would be free for banks to extend to their business clients. (Fornova will make $1 from every business every time it places a sales order online.)
nNYCE Corp. was there with its online debit card, SafeDebit. The alternative to credit card payment on the Internet has yet to go commercial.
Boston-based hoc Inc. has been enjoying success with its product since January. It offers customers of any Web-based company a way to keep a window to that site open at all times. Any compulsive bank customer, for instance, could keep an eye on their current balance continuously while they are online, using a little bank-branded toolbar that hoc provides.
So far no banks are among the 40 companies using the hoc Customer Retention Solution. However, several clients are in the brokerage/financial information area, including CBS MarketWatch.com, Raging Bull.com and Multex Investor. So a user can be buying a sweater, at L.L. Bean.com, but they'll be able to keep track of stock information with MarketWatch's branded hoc toolbar simultaneously.
A company need never go out of its customers' sight, explains Ly Tran, hoc chief financial officer and founder. "Most people usually visit a Web site once during an online session. Then they won't return until the next time they're online." With hoc, people can have continuous access to individual sites personalized to their needs. The toolbar displays companies' logos and highlights from their Web sites, like news or stock quotes. "That is why banks will like this," Tran said.
Asynchrony.com also addresses a need as broadly felt as customer retention: employee recruitment/retention. The St. Louis company formed by three brothers last March offers a forum for tech types to find each other and collaborate on projects. In six months, 23,000 developers got connected through www.asynchrony.com, says President Bob Elfanbaum, collaborating on, amongst other things, an online stock trading system.
The site also serves as a way to source less expensive labor overseas (35% of the pool to date) and, potentially, as a way for technically inclined bankers to float a business idea without quitting their day jobs.