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12:24 PM
Joe Berkofsky
Joe Berkofsky
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Banks Start to Embrace Workforce Technology

Some 3 million of Wells Fargo's retail customers, or nearly a third of its total customer base, are online. Its bill pay customer base increased 44 percent in 2001. And it recently signed off on two major online payments deals.

Wells Fargo has built a reputation as a leader in online banking. Some 3 million of its retail customers, or nearly a third of its total customer base, are online (the national average is 11 percent, according to Forrester Research). Its bill pay customer base increased 44 percent in 2001. And it recently signed off on two major online payments deals. (See What's News story.)

But the San Francisco-based institution is also committed to its branches, spending at least as much on technology to keep them running smoothly as it does on its online banking channel.

An example is workforce management (WFM) software. Since 2000, when Wells Fargo installed Click2Staff, a teller optimization system from Exametric, a San Diego-based software firm, in thousands of its branches, the bank has saved $20 million in operating costs, according to Randy Lee, chief financial officer at Wells Fargo.

With the technology used by 6,000 of its employees at 2,300 of its 5,400 branches, the bank "has been achieving some great results," a spokesperson said. With a nearly 96 percent accuracy rate, the technology has hiked Wells Fargo's customer-retention rate by at least one percent. At a national $312 billion powerhouse such as Wells Fargo, that amounts to at least $20 million in savings.

The Click2Staff teller optimization system creates electronic journal files which, when combined with customer statistics files, perform the desired scheduling. If a bank wishes to serve 95 percent of its customers within three minutes, the program can match the results to within a half-hour. The electronic files get regenerated each month using accumulated historical staffing and customer data, enabling the system to produce even more accurate results.

Dr. Ali Kiran, president and CEO of Exametric, recently discussed the firm's technology with a Wells Fargo manager as the two walked by a local branch. The manager, who oversees some three dozen people, said that the Exametric product had detected a shift in customer traffic from afternoon to morning hours before she did, enabling her to shift resources accordingly. "She said the software knows her branch better than she does," Kiran said.

Wells Fargo is one of a number of banks that have implemented workforce management technology. Royal Bank of Canada and First Tennessee Bank are using the GMT Planet system from GMT, Atlanta, in their branch operations. Bank of America has installed the TotalView system from IEX, Dallas, in its call centers. Fleet National Bank has licensed WFM technology from Deploy Solutions, Westwood, Mass., to streamline recruiting, hiring and retention processes.

For large banks, placing the right people at the right branch at the right time could mean the difference between a customer waiting 15 minutes or three minutes. Wells Fargo, which long focused on CRM and often insists no customer waits longer than five minutes, sometimes found that standard challenging to maintain. WFM technology allow managers to match agents with specific skills, such as ensuring that a senior-level agent is dealing with a valuable customer.

"This technology will allow branch managers to be more proactive," said Lisa Duncan-Hager, an analyst with GartnerGroup's CRM practice group.

Still, workforce management technology, a $29 million industry in 2000, represents only 7.3 percent of the overall CRM technology market.

Financial institutions have been slow to embrace workforce management technology, said Duncan-Hager, because many branch managers continue to do their scheduling by hand, typically using spreadsheet programs such as Excel, which tends to be more labor-intensive.

But the WFM industry will likely take off once managers realize the benefits of these cutting-edge solutions, she said. Ranging from the low- to-high six figures in setup costs, workforce management solutions impact the bottom line quickly.

"ROI for workforce management is about three months on average," Duncan-Hager said.

Installation costs vary according to a bank's size. Exametric, for example, charges credit unions and banks with up to 20 branches between $5,000 and $10,000 per branch in startup fees, plus $200 per branch per month. Exametric hosts the software on an ASP basis. A larger institution, with thousands of branches, would be more likely to purchase the software license outright and pay $1,500 per branch perpetually, and host the technology on its own system.

As WFM technology becomes easier to use, adoption will accelerate, Duncan-Hager said. Even for branch managers with little experience using high-tech solutions, products such as Click2Staff are easy to use. The browser-based system requires only about a half-day of training.

Ease of use at the branch level is critical. Forecasting and scheduling workforce levels from a national or regional office to the local level simply isn't efficient, said Gene Doeker, vice president of sales and marketing at Exametric. "They've got to do this at the branch. If they don't, it's worthless."

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