When managers at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas decided to automate some customer transactions nine years ago, they didn't call it B-to-B e-commerce. Nancy Parker, senior vice-president and CIO, and her team developed an application to let customers small to midsize banks automate wire transfers for cash advances. The Internet became the medium, and the program's success yielded some quick lessons. The bank further developed its program, SecureConnect, to include financial status reports and updated interest rate quotes. Customers, using encrypted passwords, get confirmation of their transactions and account updates in real-time.
The results: Since SecureConnect debuted in 1997, the bank's loan portfolio has grown from US$9 billion to $32.3 billion as of the end of 2001. Into April, 95.6 percent of the bank's transactions traveled through SecureConnect. Sixty-three percent of the bank's 841 member institutions participate. Meanwhile, the bank's five-member lending staff has remained constant.
How did they get such a high participation level? Parker and Sonia Brown, a senior vice president at the Dallas bank, offer these observations:
1. Show up at the door. Over a three-year period, Federal Home Loan Bank sent a team of IS and other staff to visit customer banks in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. The bank provided training, software and networking equipment if necessary all free of charge. Every site was different and required a different level of support.
2. Pay a lot for security. Without disclosing how much Federal Home Loan paid, Parker adds that "we certainly did not spare the cost of making sure the security was as high as it could be." What is clear is that the security measures have to be easy enough for a PC novice to use but strong enough to handle transactions worth millions of dollars every day.
3. Don't use "Internet time." While the Dallas bank was an Internet early adopter, the business pursued SecureConnect as a long-term strategy. It took about four years between the decision to create SecureConnect and its rollout.
4. Offer price breaks. SecureConnect users get a lower interest rate on loans as much as one-tenth of an interest point. For customers processing hundreds of transactions a day, that can add up.
SecureConnect is a godsend for its timely information and lower loan rates, says Jon Hitchcock, president of Pioneer Bank, a $371 million bank in Roswell, N.M. And although his bank lacks a big technology staff, the Federal Home Loan Bank staff came to Roswell and "loaded the system, and before we even had broadband Internet access they hooked up a router to our network."
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