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Prepping for Prime Time

Experts say several unlikely technologies are destined to make a splash in banking this year.

E-learning—training delivered by electronic means—has long been espoused as a way for companies to save money. Broadcasting a course over the Web is far cheaper than organizing a live class for dozens of employees; however, the methodology can yield benefits beyond cost savings. "E-learning is going to transform the way in which banks work with their employees, the way they think about product launches and the way they launch new technologies," says Tom Kraack, managing partner for learning and workforce practice in Accenture's financial services group.

Banks' uptake in e-learning has been spotty, according to Kraack. But adoption will pick up for several reasons, he says, including banks' highly dispersed workforces; better compliance, since e-learning enables the development of more-standardized training processes; and globalization. Furthermore, the results of e-learning now can be measured to a greater extent.

"Now, there's a melding of different technologies called agent performance optimization where you monitor agent performance to preset goals," explains George Tubin, a senior analyst with Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup. "With these new tools you can measure the results afterward by following each person's progress to more easily gauge the effectiveness of your e-training."

But both Kraack and Tubin agree that e-learning should not supplant classroom training. Rather, they see it as a supplement to the classroom.

Many banks got burned during the initial CRM craze. But today, the technology is there to enable banks to achieve that long-sought 360-degree view of customers—and the cultural focus has caught up with the tools.

Alex Berson, director of McClean, Va.-based BearingPoint and leader of the firm's customer identity management practice, says customer data integration (CDI) enables banks to understand patrons more than ever. "CDI is the next level of integrating all the information on your customers—all their relationships," Berson says. This not only includes customer data from within the bank, but publicly available demographic data on individuals obtained from third parties. Banks are aware of the privacy implications of engaging in this practice, he explains, but, "This is the way financial institutions have to go."

Once these building blocks of customer data are in place, banks are ready to cross-sell. But is cross-selling enough? According to Mike Blum, president of the financial services division of Amdocs (Chesterfield, Mo.), the next logical step in the customer relationship-building process is in offering them bundles of products at a discounted price. This is the retail model for which banks should strive, and it will drastically change the face of banking, he contends. "Banks have finally figured out they are retail organizations and have to sell more products to customers," Blum relates. "They need to be able to do dynamic pricing and sell a bundle of products to customers, not individual products. You establish a long-term relationship with customers when you do this—t's a stickiness strategy."

According to Blum, "Most CRM systems are focused more on customer interactions, not cross-selling. The banks with customized integrated products at the point of sale will increase customer retention and satisfaction."

According to Tony Kleckner, director and practice leader for financial services with New York-based communications technology provider Avaya, banking lags behind even the insurance industry when it comes to mobile technology. "Banking is relatively behind in this area," he relates. "Insurance is under pressure to cut costs and is more willing to try radical approaches to do this."

But banks definitely are interested in the technology, asserts Cisco's Jim Bright, U.S. financial services industry marketing manager. Unfortunately, "They're holding back because there are still some security concerns that aren't well-founded when it comes to the technology," he says.

Experts agree that the possibilities for enabling a flexible, mobile workforce will explode over the next year as connection speeds and signal penetration improve. Increased productivity and customer satisfaction are the payoffs of a good wireless strategy for the savvy bank.

"Mobility converts to increased productivity and customer service," explains Bright. "Branch employees can use mobile tablet PCs to assist customers while they're standing in line. There will be connectivity to self-service information kiosks. You can connect customers with a product specialist who is not even located at the same physical location."

According to Avaya's Kleckner, this customer advocacy is the ultimate in service. "Having a technology infrastructure where you can quickly pull in a representative in the organization who can fix a customer's problem even if he's not in the same room is where this is going," he explains.

As far-fetched as it might sound, the benefits of nanotechnology—the manipulation of atoms and molecules to make entirely new systems—should not be overlooked by bankers, according to Jack Uldrich, president of Nanoveritas Group, a Minneapolis consultancy. One application in finance that is being examined is incorporating nanomaterial into currency to prevent counterfeiting and assist with authentication. "You can develop material that's really small that can identify physical currency and a host of other documents," Uldrich relates.

But the real promise for nanotech in banking is in the smaller, more powerful computing and storage devices it will enable. Nanoscale is the next logical step in computing, and computers will become so fast because of nanomaterials that banks will be able to mitigate risk and perform other functions at much greater speeds, Uldrich asserts.

Data storage is improving as well. When the technology is nano-enabled, it will allow banks to further squeeze efficiencies out of operations, Uldrich adds. "Much of what's on paper will be digitally stored at a fraction of the cost," he says.

Though nanotechnology is in its infancy, Diebold's Block agrees it holds much promise for banking, such as lighter, stronger materials for housing ATMs. "Carbon nanotubes have good electronic and insulating properties too, so they can be looked at as a power source within ATMs," he says.

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