Treasurer's Trove: The Corporate Portal of the Future

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Lloyd O'Connor realizes his corporate clients have a lot on their plates and not a lot of time. That's why the J.P. Morgan Treasury Services executive likes to offer them short takes on how to use his firm's online workflow tools.

For example, clients who use the ACCESS corporate treasury portal can call up a short instructional video on making online or mobile payments, or on setting up a foreign-exchange transaction—whatever topics are most relevant to the user.

The portal's on-demand training options spare users from having to go through marathon sessions covering hundreds of other features (say, trade finance) most of them would rarely, if ever, need in a particular role.

"The meal may take 40 minutes," says O'Connor, "but we've broken down that meal into snack-size, consumable elements."

Saving time and adding simplicity for clients are key strategies behind the next generation of corporate portals that banks are starting to roll out. These portals are serving as customizable, online banking dashboards, complete with single sign-on access to a vast menu of tools and widgets, covering everything from cash management to account control.

But there's another driver that appears to be accelerating the advance of these online corporate e-banking offerings: the fear of falling behind the curve, and exacerbating widespread corporate dissatisfaction with what most banks currently offer in treasury management.

Far too often, with the exception of the largest banks, commercial clients are guided through portals only to find they must still log in again to access various functions like wire payments or forex transactions. Many forego the bank-provided commercial reporting features that don't show real-time cash positioning, choosing instead to import transaction data into their own systems. Also, there is a surprising lack of mobile access to corporate e-portals.

For a June research report on corporate portal strategies, an Aite Group survey of corporate treasurers found that 65 percent feel their banks fall short of meeting their needs. Only 40 percent of corporates in 2012 rated their bank's cash management solution as either "good" or "excellent," according to Aite. That's up only slightly from a 36 percent approval rating in 2010—which would have been prior to the start of many of the ongoing upgrades of online commercial services at international or regional banks.

"There aren't too many banks that are very far along," says Aite research director Christine Barry. "Customers have been complaining they need to log into multiple sites, so I guess banks haven't been integrating systems fast enough. There's also a lot of dissatisfaction when it comes to reporting capabilities."

Banks themselves feel their customers' pain. Only 35 percent of commercial banking executives surveyed by Aite from 22 top- and second-tier banks around the globe were satisfied with their existing corporate online banking and portal capabilities. More than half say their banks have made corporate portal investments a priority, with 77 percent citing customer retention as a business case behind the investment.

Barry says the marketplace now is demanding more integration of all corporate banking services (including automated clearinghouse, supplier credit, lockbox services, and commercial cards) into a customizable portal that allows clients to add on their own features through widgets, and manage them through a single sign-on page, with a uniform look and feel across all pages.

J.P. Morgan's O'Connor agrees, noting the basics of wire transfers, low-value payments and forex settlements are "basically table stakes" for any corporate online portal. "People interact with technology in a very seamless fashion," he says. "They move from mobile to online and there's little separation" of the two channels.

What's needed from banks, he adds, is a common user experience.

"The client will elect what they want to use, what fits their purpose, not what we're giving them."

Since launching ACCESS in 2011, J.P. Morgan at midyear had moved roughly half of its 25,000 corporate treasury clients onto the new platform, with plans to complete the migration of all customers by next year.

The most advanced corporate portals belong to the largest global banks catering to the needs of multinational conglomerates. While these banks have built out their platforms in several countries—Citigroup's TreasuryVision portal is available in 20 languages—none offers portal access across its entire geographic footprint yet. But they continue to add new features.

At Wells Fargo, business clients are offered the Commercial Electronic Office (CEO) portal, which includes mobile device integration. Wells Fargo CEO, which was introduced in 2000, includes alerts, access to features such as forex, trade finance and training, as well as a community forum to interact with other corporate clients on their use of the portal.

Citigroup aggregates corporate workflow tools into a single sign-on, and includes features like cash flow forecasting and multiple bank account management, with reporting features that can be exported directly to existing corporate back-office systems.

Last fall, J.P. Morgan added more administration features to ACCESS, giving clients a single page where they can manage the log-ins of staff permitted to access accounts and banking services.

It also added voice-based biometrics to its security features, and monitors online communities of ACCESS users, whose activities and suggestions sometimes drive changes to the portal.

Vendors also are hopping on the treasury portal bandwagon, responding to the growing heat that corporate clients are putting on bankers.

Earlier this year, London-bases Misys upgraded its corporate treasury capabilities with trade finance and cash management tools, while adding a dashboard view of transaction services and payments that include mobile access through its Misys Portal.

TD Bank, with the backing of its payments processing provider ACI, launched its TD eTreasury corporate online banking system, which introduced real-time reporting of transactions and liquidity positions, custom reporting features and alerts, as well as training options similar to what J.P. Morgan's ACCESS offers.

In the not-too-distant future, banks also will need to respond to demand for greater forecasting insight, allowing corporates to better predict risk and cash needs down the line. Banks also will have to incorporate smarter analytics. For example, they could use customer activity to track which features are popular, or where logjams are occurring, to improve the portal's performance.

Banks also may dive into transaction analytics, to see which types of activities might yield cross-sell opportunities, such as advising multinationals on forex offerings so that invoices are paid in the most favorable currency.

What is also on the horizon is what several large banks surprisingly lack now: the much-hyped mobile access features for corporate portals.

Only 37 percent of large global banks across the U.S., Europe and Asia offer mobile access into their portals, according to Aite.

But the reluctance to make further inroads with mobile isn't just on banks. Mobile banking adoption by U.S. corporate treasury functions is only expected to reach 40 percent by the end of 2015.

Barry says that in terms of corporate mobile offerings, some of the features that banks will have to count on adding eventually include cash position snapshots, approval issuance, account transfers and alerts.

Some banks already are experimenting with mobile initiation of wire payments and on-the-go "positive pay" functionality, in which an executive can use a mobile device to make a decision on exception items flagged by the bank.

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