If it's not broken, don't fix it

Some firms don't put their brand on the Web, but the Woolwich believes reputation is paramount Andy Luscombe, e-commerce...

Some firms don't put their brand on the Web, but the Woolwich believes reputation is paramount Andy Luscombe, e-commerce development manager at the Woolwich, is looking to see where the bank can make alliances with other organisations using Internet technology, writes Ross Bentley.

"We are talking to everyone," Luscombe says, "from dotcoms to the traditional companies who have embraced the new technology, assessing each one and seeing if we can work with them.

"The trick is trying to work out who are going to be the winners because it is a completely new area; there are no benchmarks to work to. We have to alter our ways of looking at business models but still ask ourselves what's in it for our business or our customer."

It is the customer that Luscombe sees as the ultimate winner of the "e" revolution. "It sounds a bit 'New Labour-ish' but before launching our 'e' projects we organised customer focus groups to get opinions from the people on the street where financial services were seen to be lacking," continues Luscombe.

"One criticism we received is the time it takes for customers to get approval for their mortgage applications. New Internet and integration technologies have enabled us to speed up the delivery of products, and to ease the whole mortgage process. We are looking at Wap and digital TV as other channels to reach our customer; it's a case of not getting overawed by the technology but seeing these innovative sectors as 'providing a new level of convenience' for those who choose to use it.

"Obviously, there will still be those who want traditional face-to-face service and we must not forget them."

Luscombe sees e-business as changing the way customers relate to their banks and financial service providers. "There is a lot of inertia when it comes to people choosing who to bank with. Most people stick with the bank they chose when they first got an account number; there is very little jumping around in this space. However, now that people have the luxury of shopping around from their PCs, I expect to see a trend towards less loyalty from bank customers.

"By the same token, because people will spend more time browsing and making reasoned selections, there are opportunities for us to cross sell; by the mere fact that someone is visiting our Web site we can flag up complementary offerings."

While some companies, like the Prudential with its Egg offering, have chosen not to take their brand onto the Web, instead launching a business with a separate identity, Luscombe says this is not the way forward for the Woolwich. "Why dump a good brand and start from scratch? In our case, we thought that the trust and reputation we'd built up as a company of repute far outweighed the advantages of relabelling ourselves as a fresh financial services provider of the new era."

Luscombe says that, although many laws in the US governing the selling of financial services are different from those in the UK, he still looks West for examples of how the Internet is being used in innovative ways. "One area where we are behind is in process tracking systems. For example, if a customer has applied for a mortgage and he wants to know how far down the line his application has gone, he can just simply use tracking functionality to see where his application is. This is an important element of customer service; keeping them informed of the situation rather than in the dark."

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