Seattle-based Washington Mutual ($242.51 billion in assets) has made a splash of late through its nationwide acquisition of banks, ranging from Dime Bancorp, New York, to Bank United, Houston, Texas. Along the way, the institution has had time to develop new technologies, such as its Occasio platform for retail bank branches. (See Executive Q&A, BS&T January 2002.)
Lost in the shuffle, however, was a coherent technology and marketing strategy for Washington Mutual's e-business division, which lagged behind the bank's other channels in terms of cohesiveness and customer service.
To help sort out these problems, Washington Mutual has brought in John R. Richardson to serve as senior vice president of e-business. Richardson was the senior vice president of systems development for Countrywide Funding Corp., before leaving to become president of Venture Software. He has also served as a consultant for a number of financial institutions including San Francisco Federal and First Nationwide Bank. Richardson spoke with editor Paul Doocey about Washington Mutual's new e-business strategy, which emphasizes customer needs and branding. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
BS&T: Why did Washington Mutual feel the need to bring you on board?
RICHARDSON: As recently as two years ago, Washington Mutual did not even have a presence on the Web. Pressure from brand managers, the investment community and customers eventually convinced the bank it needed to be on the Internet.
Unfortunately, the bank's existing corporate technology structure was not ready for this transition, so each line of business was more or less responsible for bringing its business to the Web. They did a fairly good job, but Washington Mutual essentially ended up with a multitude of Web presences each with its own code, design, look and feel.
Six months ago, Washington Mutual hired Jerry Gross as executive vice president. He realized the bank had to bring all its Web initiatives together, in order to lower cost and provide the customer with abetter quality of product. With that, the E-Business group was created.
Over the past three years, I have helped companies create Web presences. Jerry thought I was the right person for the job.
BS&T: So you will be the centralized person overlooking the bank's whole e-business strategy?
RICHARDSON: Yes, I will be working collaboratively with product, operational and brand managers to provide leadership and advise on the technology needed to grow e-business.
BS&T: What is Washington Mutual's e-business strategy?
RICHARDSON: Over the next year, we're looking to consolidate our Web presence so we'll have a uniform and easier to manage product.
We also want to improve the customer facing side of the technology, and decided the best way to do that was to ask customer focus groups, business partners, employees and outside consultants how we can better meet customer needs. What we found was that our Web experience needed to be more convenient and consistent. We also needed the ability to both personalize and customize the experience. We also want to improve online self-help and workflow.
BS&T: What kinds of technology are you tapping into to help in these areas?
RICHARDSON: We are going to use a portal strategy. That gives us the ability to personalize and the customer the ability to customize. We are also using content management products and single sign-on technology to create consistency and convenience.
BS&T: Will these solutions be developed in-house?
RICHARDSON: No. We are in the process of selecting a suite of technology solutions that can be integrated to deliver these needs.
BS&T: Which vendor products are you turning to?
RICHARDSON: For the portal, we're using PlumTree. For content management it's InterWoven, which we already had in-house. On the single sign-on, we are still in the review process.
BS&T: What is the ultimate goal of your e-business strategy?
RICHARDSON: To deliver the same quality brand experience our customers receive at our other channels on the Web. We already have a strong brand presence; we're in the middle-market, which is under-served, and have a great reputation for meeting our customers' needs. We want e-business to become an extension of this brand philosophy.
BS&T: Do you see e-business as a way to build a stronger national footprint?
RICHARDSON: We already have a national footprint. We have a financial presence in all 50 states.
What we're trying to do is improve the e-business channel. Our other channels are already strong. This channel is growing. We just need to make it consistent and carry our brand through this channel. The same type of personalized service a customer gets at a branch, they should also get over the Web.