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Bridging the Communications Gap

To provide seamless service across channels and borders, a consistent and uniform message must become the mantra of today's widely dispersed banks.

The Nuts and Bolts

So what are financial institutions doing to enable better communication throughout the organization? "The idea is to create a network that spans across countries to create the kinds of discussions between people as if they were in the same office," says Kraack. "Companies are looking at ideas like 'virtual buddy networks,' where they pair off sites and locations and create teams. This is hard to scale and requires use of knowledge bases, virtual communities, portals and instant messaging." Kraack says the cost to do this today is far less than it was just a few years back.

"On the consumer side, you're seeing a tremendous movement toward globalization," says Phil Hecht, vice president of strategic development with AT&T, Bedminster, N.J. "Banks are trying to support their networks at a global level so there's a common experience on the consumer platform." The need to provide a consistent, rich customer experience also carries over into the commercial arena.

But, "How do you communicate one vision?" asks Tom McAllister, SAP's vice president, banking solutions and field services hub. "Data management lets us get information from different places and gives us facilities to work together on this and put it in one place."

Such data collaboration, however, requires banks to shift their thinking. "There's a changing norm from knowledge hoarding as power to knowledge sharing as power," according to Accenture's Kraack.

In addition to the "one bank" experience, customers demand round-the-clock access to their account information and bank services, too. "From a data point of view, the philosophy is 24/7 availability on any channel. You can't do without the philosophy of 24/7 service," says Frik van der Merwe, chief technology officer with South Africa-based Absa Group ($9 billion in total assets). Staying connected in an underdeveloped locale such as Africa is a challenge, according to van der Merwe, who notes that the bank maintains communications in its remote branches - whether in Africa, New York, London, Hong Kong or elsewhere - via satellite.

To meet the evolving communications needs, banks must adopt new technology. One of the most popular solutions is Voice over Internet Protocol technology. The idea that voice data can be transmitted using IP technology provides a relatively inexpensive and more efficient alternative to traditional voice communications. And it is fast becoming the norm. (Editor's Note: For more on VoIP, see May 2005 BS&T.)

"There are a number of things happening in financial services, like voice and data integration, VoIP and video telephony," says HP's Evans. "Banks are looking for ways to integrate voice and data networking to cut down on costs and as a customer service tool."

One institution that has made the leap to VoIP is Jacksonville, Fla.-based VyStar Credit Union ($2.9 billion in assets). The institution - which serves 330,000 members, many of whom serve overseas with the military and on warships - gives the concept of remote banking and the communications issues that accompany the service new meaning. "We're using VoIP across the board," explains Heather Conway, VyStar's telephone systems administrator. "All communications go through our VoIP equipment and run through the network in all our branches. So we're pretty consistent about using the technology."

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