Since the launch of online mortgage and insurance services early last month the mutual building society has found that half those using the service are based in south-east England. These potential customers would have been beyond the reach of the Macclesfield-based company's branch network.
"This service has been a major investment for a company of our size," said Ken Pilkington, Cheshire e-commerce manager. "But considering the extended reach, it is cheaper than opening more branches in the South East."
The online services allow potential customers to receive mortgage quotes, get a mortgage decision in principle while online, and complete a mortgage application over the Web.
Unlike most financial e-commerce packages, the Cheshire service lets customers save the data they have already keyed in, exit the application and return later to complete it, said Pilkington.
The e-business application was built to specification for the mutual by IMR Global to run on Microsoft Windows 2000 Enterprise Edition operating system. It uses a cluster of 20 Compaq Proliant servers, including six Web servers and two database servers running Microsoft's SQL 7 database software using a Compaq RA 8000 storage area network.
To ensure availability the building society employed Windows 2000 load-balancing software, and two ISP connections.
Pilkington believes the success of the project lies in its being driven from the top. "The essential driver in this project was full support from the board, and the chief executive who is fortunately fully au fait with the benefits of modern Internet technologies," he said.
The project team was led by the marketing department and included members from the sales and IT departments to ensure the application met customers' needs.
The Cheshire now plans to move its core banking application, currently running on an ICL mainframe, to Windows 2000 which will give all of its customers a real time view of their investments and borrowing using iwealthview software from Fincentric.