Our customer focus extends beyond providing a better, more comprehensive customer experience. It also includes continually enhancing our products to respond to rapidly changing customer needs.
Certainly, we don't hesitate to invest in and implement technologies that meet the evolving financial-services marketplace. About two-thirds of our IT budget goes directly to supporting customer needs.
We've designed our N-tier-based IT infrastructure for maximum flexibility. Our middleware lets us build common features and share them across product platforms. Meanwhile, our applications share a common set of back-office functions. We can change our functionality and offerings quickly and at the lowest possible cost. Here are a few examples from our mutual-fund servicing company:
Government regulations, economic trends and evolving customer preferences have made serving our institutional clients both challenging and exciting. In the process, we've tried to anticipate what the client may need, and implement the required capabilities on both the front and back ends.
For example, many companies that traditionally offered mutual funds are getting into related lines of business. We recently had to enhance our technology to support 529 plans -- state-sponsored, tax-deferred savings plans for children's college tuition. These plans have come into vogue with recent changes in tax law and are notoriously complex to administer. Our clients are turning to our financial-processing capabilities to help support their 529 administration.
Similarly, we've added capabilities to support the increasing popularity of hedge funds. Until a few years ago, these funds were seen as a financial instrument used only by high-end investors. Now, hedge funds represent a large and growing segment of financial services.
To respond to this development, which seemed to occur almost overnight, we quickly added new hedge-fund applications and capabilities, ensuring that our IT infrastructure could handle the volume and sophistication of these transactions. We now service about 400 hedge funds with about $30 billion in assets.
We've also expanded our services for mutual-fund brokers. Historically, we provided record-keeping and accounting services, but brokers have demanded more. They wanted "subaccounting," which gives them more information about their clients across mutual fund companies. In turn, they "own" that client and can better service and sell to the account holder. So, we've bolstered the functionality available to brokers, letting them get closer to their clients and us.
We're adding services on the consumer-banking side as well. Soon, we'll deploy an enterprise-wide check-imaging archive based on NCR technology. Currently, we hold the checks of our retail-banking customers, providing detailed information only when it's requested. Our new imaging system, due in the second half of 2004, will deliver images of checks to customers who want them sent with a monthly bank statement or through the Internet.