November 24, 2003

The CEO of Southtrust Corp. (Birmingham, Ala., $51.6 billion in assets) received a commemorative gold-plated Internet Protocol (IP) phone to mark Cisco's two-millionth IP telephone. "It took us four years to sell the first million IP phones, and six months for the second million," says Jim Bright, industry marketing manager for financial services at Cisco (San Jose, Calif.).

Indeed, the pace of IP telephony has been picking up, thanks in no small part to the increasing interest of financial services firms. Southtrust, for example, uses IP telephony at over 800 branches for employee teleconferencing, and to reroute calls through their internal networks so as to avoid long-distance charges.

Engineering people who work for technology companies tend to take for granted these kinds of innovations, such as a converged network carrying voice, data and video through an IP connection. "Internally, we think the convergence story is old news. Bankers don't," says Jim Bright, That's part what Bright, a former bank president and mortgage company CEO, tries to convey as the "bandleader" of Cisco's efforts in financial services, and specifically, the company's "Branch of the Future" initiative.

One early adopter is the Municipal Credit Union of New York (New York City, $800 million in assets), which uses Cisco technology to mollify customers that have to wait in line to speak with a service representative. Now, the credit union's branches display daily feeds from NY1 News, a local cable channel, interspersed with promotional video tailored to the customer demographics of each branch.

That's just one example of how upgrading to IP networks can help a bank branch make the leap into the 21st century. "Most branches in the U.S. don't even have voicemail in their old systems," says Bright.