Essien’s Ecobank charm offensive

Essien’s Ecobank charm offensive

Albert Essien has brought much-needed calm to the bank

Project Neptune rising…

Project Neptune rising…

… amid renewed liquidity concerns

Friday, April 19, 2013

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Transaction services 2.0

by John Beck

Corporate treasurers – inspired by the Web 2.0 applications, tools and widgets employed in their day-to-day lives – are demanding a higher standard of user experience from their transaction banking platforms. Banks must upgrade their systems and interfaces to keep pace.


It is probably fair to say that the average corporate treasurer is unlikely to be a voracious Twitter user or Facebook addict. However, the emergence of the more advanced, interactive online interfaces usually covered under the blanket Web 2.0 term, will not have passed them by.

The banking world, however, has not been as quick to respond to advances in technology, particularly when it comes to their transaction services operations.

As a result, many treasury portals were, and still are, constructed with the aim of cramming as many tools as possible onto desktop real estate in a one-size-fits-all manner, with little regard for usability.

The responsive, user-friendly experiences offered by companies such as Amazon or Google, however, are beginning to shape user expectations and lead some transaction banking platform users to question why the tools they use in their business lives feel so out of date by comparison.

“The whole consumer experience is driving what our customers expect to happen in their corporate lives,” says Milton Santiago, portal and treasury e-commerce executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML).

As a result, many banks, including BAML, have embarked on platform overhauls, in part inspired by consumer technology.

JPMorgan, for example, is in the middle of a complete rebuild and rethink of its JPMorgan Access cash management platform, and, says Nick Donohue, managing director of JPMorgan corporate and investment bank, non-financial firms had a substantial influence on its user interface.

“A lot of this goes back to the cues we’ve taken from the consumer experience,” he says. “When a consumer buys a product from Apple or through Amazon, there are certain capabilities offered during the client experience.”

Meanwhile, at Citi, David Rose, product manager, EMEA for the bank’s CitiDirect platform, says: “Over the coming years, we will be making the application a lot easier to navigate by focusing on usability rather than just functionality.”

So far, this includes a new interface for the desktop version, which bases behaviour around user habits, including making frequently used widgets and functions available on sign in, hiding those which are not employed on a daily basis and allowing the customer to perform their most commonly completed tasks with as few clicks as possible.

Transaction banking technology provider Fundtech is deploying similar technology, says Arun Ramamoorthy, vice-president, product management, cash management.

“Retailers like Best Buy use your buying patterns to provide you with new suggestions,” he says. “We’ve taken this concept but we are looking at the user’s behaviour over a period of time to prompt them on to the next steps.”

Christine Barry, research director for wholesale banking with Aite Group, who has recently spoken with a number of banks about the development of their transaction platforms, sees things progressing even further.

“When I ask banks where they see these portals going, the ultimate goal is to transform them from a place where customers just perform transactions and make them into more of a relationship between the bank and the customer,” she says.

This, says JPMorgan’s Donohue, is something the bank is concentrating on. “Many of our customers are used to interacting through Facebook, Twitter and so on,” he says.

“We see these kinds of features as probably being a bit ahead of the curve in terms of clients’ expectations in the wholesale banking space, but still very much part of the experience that our clients have online as consumers.”

The result was the development of what Donohue describes as the “access community”. So far, the focus has been largely on providing education and support for customers seeking to access the platform, such as user guides, videos and FAQs.

However, later this year, JPMorgan plans to introduce the ability to ‘like’ content in a similar manner to Facebook, flagging the most useful to the community and helping the bank map usage patterns.

He adds that some of the bank’s bigger clients have even expressed an interest in contributing some of their own content to the platform to develop a more tailored community experience.

None of this will be easy, of course. Regulatory considerations, especially around interactive content and the like, will always be of far greater concern to business users than consumers.

Meanwhile, platform upgrades of any sort are inherently risky and banks are still some way from replicating cutting-edge retail sites, says Aite’s Barry.

However, she adds, moving in the right direction will soon be a necessity for survival. “A lot of the banks are saying it’s about customer retention – it’s really something which is required to remain competitive,” she states.