Recent business history is replete with instances of overoptimistic projections of technology adoption and revenue. Such uncertainty helps explain why ABN AMRO takes the pulse of its customer base before concocting new solutions.
For example, before launching CashPro Freedom, a multichannel notification service for its CashPro Web treasury management service, ABN AMRO surveyed over 18,000 customers of its U.S. subsidiaries, Standard Federal Bank and LaSalle Bank, to find out what they actually wanted.
"We asked our customers last year, 'Would you care to do alerts?'" said Milton Santiago, Jr., first vice president and head of the electronic banking unit at ABN AMRO Services, Chicago. "They told us 'no'; we didn't do it."
But having anticipated its customers' needs, the bank was ready last year, when 86 percent of users in a survey indicated they would take advantage of the notification capability, a clear indication to go ahead. "Three months after we gave our survey, we started the project," said Santiago.
Positive pay notification regarding unauthorized checks or improper payment amounts was the most requested feature, so that's where the bank focused its efforts. "We clearly drive our strategies based on customer demand," said Santiago. "We don't go out there and start building stuff and deploying solutions for our customers that don't make sense to them."
The notification service, powered by software from Centerpost, Chicago, allows corporate customers to receive treasury management information via voice, wireless text, e-mail and fax messages. Messages are customized to take advantage of unique display capabilities and the limitations of each delivery method. For users who prefer to use their ears rather than their eyes, the system delivers messages using an automated voice, e.g., "You have three accounts with exceptions," followed by the details.
Furthermore, CashPro Freedom can determine when a voice message has been delivered to a voicemail inbox rather than to a live customer. From that information, the system can execute an escalation pattern that attempts to deliver an urgent message to a list of names, repeatedly, until a real person answers the phone. Other customizable settings, which can be modified via the Web, include preferred channels for notifications, "quiet times" during which notifications should go elsewhere, and similar routing tools.
Depending upon how customers manage their banking relationships, CashPro Freedom can provide notifications for activities involving banks outside of the ABN AMRO family. "In multibank reporting, for example, we actually get the data from the different banks sent to us to report on. In that event, we are then able to alert the customer," said Santiago. "The question is 'Where is the originating system?,' not so much, 'Who is the bank?'"
Notification on multibank activity is just one of many capabilities included in CashPro. "We have a complete matrix based upon every single product we have, but it doesn't make sense to just throw it all out there, because you're not going to get a return on it," said Santiago.
Internal use of the Centerpost software helps to bolster the business case for the alerting technology. Along with IT-related alerts used by ABN AMRO Services, notifications are provided on wire transfers (for wealth managers) and on payment notifications related to complex mortgage transactions. There's also an "unhappy customer" alert, by which relationship managers instantly find out when anything's amiss with their charges. "Sending an alert is not something that's done by a specific thought process," said Santiago. "It's done as it's documented."
Looking forward, the bank stands ready for new applications as they emerge.
"Customers are not yet ready to go into initiation or to authorization," said Santiago. "I would say that probably next year, as the technology matures, we'll see some adoption."
But before mobile transaction initiation becomes commonplace, the technology community will have to provide industrial-strength standards for wireless network security. While not quite the situation today, it shouldn't be long until banks and corporations can feel safe approving a wire transfer from a mobile phone.
"I'm really excited about some of the stuff that's going on with homeland security, and some of the mandates that are occurring that will actually allow us to get standards," said Santiago. "These are things that are industry issues, not bank issues per se, but with the general awareness of security, and the unfortunate things that are going on in the world, I think we will get there faster than we would have if these things weren't happening."