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Channel Surfing

With an aim toward taking the pulse of the industry, BS&T spoke with innovators at all manner of financial institutions, from the corner credit union to the multi-state regional giant.

With an aim toward taking the pulse of the industry, BS&T spoke with innovators at all manner of financial institutions, from the corner credit union to the multi-state regional giant. The results highlighted a diversity in strategies united by a common theme: cross-channel integration.

Not long ago, banks with the ability to provide consistent information across channels were rare birds. Now, they're becoming as common as pigeons. That's good for the customer-and for the banks that can cost-effectively provide cross-channel banking services.

Below, eight bankers discuss their strategies for retail banking and the technologies that support them.

- FINANCIAL ADVISORS, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE -

Banking relationships in Italy tend to revolve around the financial advisors who can provide a rather broad range of products and services to their customers. So far, the gateway to the advisor has been the bank branch. But with strict regulations surrounding branch closures and layoffs, many banks have been slow to reshape themselves to accommodate the market. As a result, customer service quality may have suffered.

"Some people say that 30 percent of the customers in Italy change banks because they are not satisfied about the service level," says Maurizio Proi, IT director at Banca Primavera, a subsidiary of the Generali Group (Milan, assets: Eur234.7 billion).

Considering the state of the industry, Banca Primavera has a different strategy. "We strongly believe that in the future, the call center and the Web will be as important as, if not more important than, the branches," says Proi. "We want to put all channels at the same level as today, so that we're ready for tomorrow."

To bring together comprehensive customer information for its 1,700 financial advisors and 100 call center employees, Banca Primavera turned to Siebel Systems (San Mateo, Calif.).

The bank has a complete view of its customers across all channels. "Information must be collected between the different channels, and the different channels must share this information," says Proi. "This is the basis of CRM."

The system also supports the financial advisor at the heart of the relationship, says Proi, who can now ask his customers:"What are you doing with me, and what can we do in the future?"

- IF IT AIN'T BROKE -

Comerica (Detroit; $55.8 billion in assets) has taken a lowest-cost-of-ownership strategy to branch systems. That's why it hadn't upgraded its OS/2 teller systems for up to eight years in some locations.

But older systems didn't hold the organization back. Indeed, Comerica has a robust, mainframe-based customer information system that incorporates profile information from almost all areas throughout the bank. But there was still a little something missing from Comerica's technology footprint.

The need for better sales management tools led the bank to TouchPoint Solutions, a subsidiary of Fidelity National Information Solutions (Jacksonville, Fla.).

"The implementation of the technology will simply give us more accurate information around sales activities and sales results," says Mike Lawson, senior vice president for retail operations. "The result will be an improved incentive system and an improved connection between front-line banker sales activities and what they see in their paychecks."

At the same time, adoption of TouchPoint's multichannel hub will justify refreshing the branch - and some of those OS/2 teller systems. "It'll replace our current fulfillment capabilities," says Lawson.

- SUN RA PLAYS IN JAMAICA -

As a "national champion," National Commercial Bank of Jamaica (assets: J$135 billion) is a dominant brand on the island that even operates its own proprietary credit-card network, usable at 76 percent of Jamaica's merchant terminals.

Now, the bank plans to reshape the banking experience through a $50 million investment in "customer experience management," encompassing customer, staff and vendor management across all channels.

"We wanted a very open architecture that would free our customers to do business with us anywhere," says Herb I. Phillipps, Jr., director in charge of transformation at NCBJ. "We wanted native integration so we would not have to have a battery of people taking care of our architecture."

NCBJ's platform, designed using Sun's Reference Architecture (RA), includes networking, operating systems, application servers and Web servers from Sun Microsystems (Palo Alto, Calif.); the "Finacle" core banking, treasury, CRM and multichannel access solution from Infosys Technologies Ltd (Fremont, Calif. and Bangalore); and enterprise databases and applications from Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.).

It's a massive project-core systems replacement, brand-new hardware and software at the branches, a new call center, a voice-response system and mobile phone alerts using text messages. Also, NCBJ centralized its back office and decentralized check capture using imaging equipment at the branches. With the Sun Reference Architecture, the entire relaunch of a multi-channel 52-branch bank took about 15 months.

Looking ahead, NCBJ's ambitions go beyond Jamaica. "The intention is to replicate in at least four or five other islands in the Caribbean, and then go from there," says Phillipps.

- COMMODITY MARKET PLAYERS -

Even before outsourcing its technology infrastructure to IBM, Scotiabank (Toronto; CN$296 billion in assets) enjoyed "outstanding productivity ratios and superb availability," says Peggy Mulligan, Scotiabank's executive vice president, systems and operations. So why on earth did it outsource its business technology?

A new branch architecture, using a server farm from Citrix Systems (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), terminal server software from Microsoft Corp. and integration from IBM Global Services, form the new architecture. "In essence, we've changed all of our branch machines to a thin-client model," says Mulligan. "We can now get functionality shoved out to our 1,100 branches virtually instantaneously."

Now, Scotiabank can use ultra-thin clients, such as the Sun Ray, for its desktop machines, without worrying about hard-drive space or an entire category of security threats.

Plus, using an Internet-era terminal cuts training costs and raises sales efficiencies. "Because it's so intuitive and natural, you can use it with a customer," says Mulligan.

Those are some of the reasons why Scotiabank will extend the Citrix branch teller architecture to its international holdings."We're always working to export the great technology initiatives that we've developed in Canada to many of our other jurisdictions," Mulligan says, "with a particular focus on our subsidiary in Mexico."

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