Corporate IM firms eye financial services sector

Reuters Group has claimed that than 225,000 financial services workers worldwide - including 80,000 in the US - have signed up...

Reuters Group has claimed that than 225,000 financial services workers worldwide - including 80,000 in the US - have signed up for its Messaging technology launched last October.

Reuters collaborated with Microsoft to develop what is, essentially, the first version of Microsoft's upcoming corporate IM application, codenamed Greenwich, which is due out in June.

IBM would not disclose end-user totals in the financial services industry for its Sametime software, but Jeremy Dies, a manager of collaboration offerings at IBM's Lotus Software Group, said eight of the top 10 commercial banks worldwide use Sametime.

IM is attractive to banks and brokerages because it can streamline communications. But analysts and IT managers said uncontrolled use of the technology could open up firms to computer viruses and to regulatory actions by government agencies, which require that electronic communications be logged and stored.

Products such as Sametime and Reuters Messaging include functionality that is designed to meet the security and regulatory compliance needs of financial services firms. In addition, the three top suppliers of consumer IM products - America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo! - all announced versions of their software aimed at corporate users last autumn.

Reuters Messaging is among the first IM products, of either commercial or consumer grade, based on the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF) Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) messaging standard. Products written using SIP will allow end users to speak with one another across different platforms.

Lotus' Sametime does not use native SIP code, but instead uses a SIP gateway device that does not allow streaming video or conferencing. Dies said the SIP standard, which was being devised by the SIP Working Group of the IETF, will soon be robust enough to allow streaming video or conferencing natively.

Wells Fargo last year rolled out a set of Web chat and collaboration tools for its customers. Jim Smith, senior vice president of consumer Internet products, said Wells Fargo is considering the purchase of an enterprise-class IM product to support one-to-one communications internally and with its customers.

Jim Lenz, senior vice-president and co-manager of trading at Reuters-owned brokerage Bridge Trading, said it began beta-testing Reuters Messaging last summer as part of an effort to cut down on the use of unauthorised IM tools internally and at the banks and clearing houses with which it does business.

"We heard from a lot of [users] that they needed something secure because more and more people were using AOL or Yahoo! or something that wasn't secure."

But the use of consumer-grade IM software remains widespread in business environments, analysts said. A survey of financial services firms last autumn by Osterman Research said that about half of their end users were downloading more than one consumer IM product for business purposes.

In October, seven top financial services firms formed the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association (FIMA) to push vendors to develop IM standards. But FIMA co-chairman Ursula Mills said she did not expect the use of consumer-oriented services to stop anytime soon.

"Many of the customers want to use the product of their choice," Mills said. "If that's AOL, Yahoo! or MSN Messenger, then that's the product we want to use."

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