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Microsoft Aims At Retail Banking

The retail-banking segment is a core component of Microsoft's vertical-market strategy. It's coupling its .NET Web services technology with industry-specific products such as an add-on to its BizTalk messaging server that lets banks connect to Swift. The Redmond, Wash.-based company is also partnering with independent software vendors to address particular needs in retail banking, such as Web and branch-systems banking. And it's collaborating with Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, Calif.) to provide a single source of connectivity for customer activities across major distribution channels.

Banks are looking for ways to reduce inefficiencies and improve integration to keep up with changing market demands. Wachovia Corp. (Charlotte, N.C.), with $389 billion in assets, has a retail network of 2,600 branches up and down the East Coast. Four hundred of these use a customer-information system based on software from Microsoft and Argo Data Re-source Corp. (Dallas), which specializes in branch-systems banking.

The system, code-named Pegasis, uses Windows-based servers at Wa-chovia's data center to extract data from multiple mainframes, aggregate and augment the information, and provide branch personnel with a consolidated view of customer-transaction history. Rollout of Pegasis began in September 2002 and is scheduled to be completed in March 2004. To pave the way for Pegasis, between 2001 and 2002, Wachovia replaced text-based terminals with PCs running Windows 2000 at 13,000 non-teller desktops in its branches. Some 7,000 to 8,000 teller workstations were upgraded.

After flirting with the idea of moving all retail transactions to the Internet in the early 2000s, banks have come to realize the need for integrated delivery. "The branch system was supposed to become obsolete," says Warren Lewis, Microsoft's managing director for banking. "That didn't happen; the industry has come full circle and is focusing on customer-centricity."

But not every bank is buying new technology to accomplish these ends. Research firm Financial Insights (Framingham, Mass.) says banks are projected to increase spending on retail technology at a compound annual growth rate of 5 percent through 2007, but little of that spending will go toward new technology. The bulk will maintain or enhance existing systems, says Richard Bell, a Financial Insights analyst.

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