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Wells Fargo's George Tumas: Building Top-Notch Online Banking

As CIO of Wells Fargo's Internet services group, George Tumas is pushing the envelope in the online and mobile banking space.

Most bankers understand the importance of offering customer-friendly online banking and bill payment. George Tumas, SVP and CIO for the Internet services group at Wells Fargo, goes three or four steps further: He speaks of lofty goals such as high availability, capacity on-demand, seamless channel integration and streamlined authentication.

Under Tumas' watch, Wells Fargo was one of the first banks to launch mobile banking applications written specifically for the popular iPhone/iPod, Android, BlackBerry and Palm mobile devices. Tumas, who prefers the iPhone and the BlackBerry personally, oversees 300 developers creating applications for online banking and investments; online fraud prevention and authentication; expense management; online bill pay, scheduled transfers and employee direct pay; desktop deposit; and the websites www.wellsfargo.com and www.wachovia.com.

He's heavily involved in the Wells Fargo-Wachovia merger, migrating wachovia.com customers to the wellsfargo.com platform while trying to maintain high performance for 17.2 million online customer accounts. Tumas also is leading a team that's integrating the mobile and online channels for the combined companies.

But Wells Fargo and Wachovia both have brand loyalty - why merge their websites? "It was decided early on that we would operate under the Wells Fargo brand, and that's driven a lot of the decisions," Tumas explains. "Having two websites could be confusing as time goes on."

George Tumas bio

Wachovia customers are being gradually migrated state by state over to the largely home-grown wellsfargo.com platform, a process that is halfway done, according to Tumas. "We wanted to make sure all the channels were together, and to do that we chose a state-by-state conversion methodology," he relates, adding that customers from overlapping markets, primarily in the West, already have been migrated to the Wells Fargo site.

Application performance has been a priority for Tumas throughout the merger process. "As we started off 2009 with the integration, I asked people first of all to keep the lights on - maintain availability and performance for customers day in and day out," he says.

"The second thing I asked of them was that we make sure we're doing the right thing for customers at a timeline that's right for customers, not necessarily for the bank," Tumas continues, noting that this has meant planning conversion events in a way to ensure that any customers' questions get answered before the next conversion takes place.

Tumas also has kept a close eye on scalability. "Scale means two things: one, that the system performs correctly with added capacity, and two, that it has the right features and functions," he asserts. Tumas reports that his group used predictive analytics software to estimate the company's future computing needs and worked with those in charge of middleware and mainframes to make sure enough capacity would be available.

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat

Tumas' group has created a streamlined enrollment process to welcome Wachovia customers to the Wells Fargo online banking site. "This is the first introduction to the customer of the Wells Fargo site, and we wanted to make it as seamless as possible," Tumas says.

In the new process, the Wachovia customer provides his current credentials; the Wells' online banking platform recognizes that this is a converting customer, asks him to establish new credentials for the Wells Fargo platform, then provides access to all of his Wachovia and Wells accounts. A lot of development was required to link the two apps together, Tumas notes, adding that 25 developers worked on this one piece.

Cross-channel integration is part of the bank's One Wells Fargo initiative. "Last year we launched getting your ATM receipt via your e-mail address or your secure inbox online," Tumas says. "That's a great example of two channels, the ATM and the Internet, partnering to deliver a One Wells Fargo experience that creates less paper but gives the customer the information they want."

Tumas' group is creating a common online/mobile banking architecture. "We're looking at making online banking device-agnostic so it can run on a desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or any other device and access information in the same way," Tumas says.

The challenge, Tumas acknowledges, is that Wells Fargo already has written separate applications for each mobile device. To overcome this, he says, developers are building critical online banking components as web services that can be called by various devices, as opposed to having one big, monolithic application.

To address the ever-important issue of online banking fraud, Tumas has taken a layered approach. "If one form of fraud detection doesn't work, another layer of protection should work," he comments.

For example, while many banks simply require a user name and password to access online banking, Wells Fargo has added a second factor: a unique, one-time, quickly expiring password delivered via cell phone. Tumas explains that a criminal would have to steal the customer's cell phone and know the customer's online banking password to conduct any online transactions.

Preserving History

Another value-added feature that Tumas has had his team build into the bank's online banking experience is the ability to provide customers with 18 months of account history. "We used to only give our customers 45 days' worth of history - that was clearly not enough," Tumas says. "Customers said they wanted extended history online."

For instance, at tax time customers like to look back at where they spent money during the year, he relates. In addition, the Wells Fargo website's My Spending Report, an app for categorizing transactions and looking at spending patterns, is more effective with records that go beyond six weeks, according to Tumas.

To meet these needs, Tumas' group several years ago created a cached data facility that takes transactions and customer information off the mainframe and puts it on a database that can be accessed in real time. "If you make a deposit at an ATM and go online shortly thereafter, you'll see your deposit show up," Tumas contends.

For the rest of 2010, Tumas says, he expects to focus on the website integration as well as the integration of team members from the legacy Wachovia and Wells Fargo staffs. 2011 will see the completion of the conversion schedule, followed by a return to business-as-usual projects. For instance, Tumas sees payments as an important area of future focus.

"Currently we have a little over 4 million active bill pay customers, and we want to make sure they have the best experience possible," Tumas reports. "The P2P space continues to grow, and we want to be part of it."

George TumasBruce Livesay Anthony DiSantoJerry Hermes Colin EcclesJohn Itokazu Paul JohnsonJeff Dennes

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