Financial Benefits

By Edward Cone Print this article Print

FleetBoston Financial's bottom line is getting hammered. So Fleet is using ERM technology to ensure its commercial bankers can act quickly to serve the needs of the most profitable customers.

Financial Benefits

Overall sales of financial products have increased a cumulative 15% since the original eFinance tool was introduced in late 2000, although Eardley stresses that this growth cannot be linked directly or entirely to the portal. A more measurable impact is in lower administrative costs, which Fleet projected to decline by 3-5%. With each 1% increase in productivity equivalent to an additional $15 million in sales, this is real money, potentially equaling $75 million if the 5% goal is reached.

In terms of hard-dollar costs, Eardley says savings from eliminating the different databases that supported individual sales applications, along with getting rid of paper call reports, has saved twice as much money as the cost of the system. Fleet won't disclose how much it spent on the project.

The system helps Fleet practice advisory selling, instead of simply pushing product. "We've used technology to improve relations with customers," says Athanasia, who is focused on companies with sales of $10 million and up. It helps bankers project out ways it can serve customers as far as 18 months ahead. The portal also allows bankers to do both pricing and cost analyses, so the bank can be sure it earns a profit on the transaction.

"It is supposed to augment and support specific financial goals," says Eardley. "We narrow the opportunity for the relationship manager and the sales people by saying that, say, 90 out of 100 customers in a market use a specific product, why don't the others?"

ERM runs on four Windows NT-based application servers at Fleet's data center in Waltham, Mass., backed by Oracle databases. Siebel eFinance and Fleet's internally built applications that plug into ERM also run on NT servers, as do the Web servers used to serve up the portals to users. Windows NT (with service pack 6) and Oracle are Fleet standards. "We're a standards-oriented shop," says Marvin Meyer, technical architect for the commercial division of Fleet's wholesale technology and operations. "We try not to diverge from them."

But beyond the operating system, the applications are based on a collection of different database and application server software. To pull customer-related documents into the ERM portal, Fleet brought in another vendor, Venetica, to build a custom connection to its FileNet document management system through IBM's WebSphere application server; the WebSphere servers run in Waltham as well, while the FileNet servers are in a Connecticut data center.

The MicroStrategy business intelligence application uses a Microsoft SQL Server database; the CLU application runs on a Sybase EAServer enterprise application server and a Sybase back-end database.

For Benham, the portal means he can take the initiative both with the bank's product teams and its customers. "I think it does translate to more sales because we aren't just reactive as relationship managers," he says. "Being able to apply this to every company I see lets me be a lot more efficient and proactive."

Fleet is in the midst of spending $50 million to improve a customer-service reputation that became tattered in the wake of acquisitions such as the Summit merger. If the bankers' portals wind up serving customers better and more profitably, it'll be a notable step on the way toward restoring both Fleet's image and its bottom line.

This article was originally published on 2002-04-12
Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.
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