Treasury Apps Take on Game Features

Touch screens and voice control enliven software and bank portals as more activity occurs on mobile devices.

Which treasurer on the beach is playing a video game on her iPad and which is accessing her treasury system to approve payments? It’s getting harder to tell, even if you get a glimpse of the screen, because the user-friendly features of the personal virtual world are spreading to the workplace.

Treasury systems vendor IT2 is following Microsoft’s lead and building its new version 8.0 to offer the touch-screen experience, says chief technology officer Paul Higdon. “Users will see live tiles that change color and intensity according to alerts, policy violations or work waiting to be addressed,” Higdon says. Microsoft is bringing touch screens to Windows 8 and Office 13 this fall, and IT2 will be touch-ready to capitalize on those latest releases, he says.

Watch for treasury portals to start offering the kind of technology common in computer games. “We’re investing in bringing voice, touch and presence control to our CEO treasury portal,” says Michael Daley, senior vice president and group product manager at Wells Fargo Bank. If a treasury executive’s device has those capabilities, treasury tasks can be done by giving a voice command, touching what you want to do on a screen or waving a hand to indicate commands without actually touching a screen or keyboard, Daley explains.

Some of these popular consumer technologies also have a role to play in Wells Fargo’s multilayer approach to security. For example, the CEO Mobile service can provide users a one-time code to use in place of an RSA token. Voice verification will add another security layer.

Corey Walsh of BMC SoftwareCorey Walsh, treasurer at $2.2 billion BMC Software in Houston, Texas, and his staff of seven have started to access their IT2 treasury system remotely with smartphones and tablets when they are tied up in meetings. “We’re more productive now that we aren’t chained to our desks and can contribute even more to business or strategic issues,” Walsh says.

Less glitzy mobile deposit activity is now routine at US Foods, a $20 billion food and food distribution company based in Rosemont, Ill., which runs check collections out of a national service center in Tempe, Ariz. More than 100,000 paper checks are written on the spot each month at retail locations and handed to US Foods sales reps for deliveries. While the overall percentage of checks US Foods collects in this manner is relatively low, it represented a real pain point because the salespeople, called territory managers, had to take the checks to bank branches to deposit them. This was inconvenient, risky and inefficient, explains Christopher Cheniae, project manager at the service center. Then the company had to reconcile and concentrate those deposits.

Now about 1,000 salespeople simply take out their iPhones, open the bank app, log on with their user ID and password, and key in the amount of the check on the screen using a virtual keypad, Cheniae explains. Then they photograph the check’s front and back. In the stores, back in their vehicles or at home at the end of the day, salespeople transmit the encrypted photographs to a J.P. Morgan destination, where the bank matches the amount keyed in to the amount on the image. Then the checks are deposited just as if they had been remotely deposited using desktop scanners back in a treasury or shared services office, Cheniae explains.

J.P Morgan immediately screens the check images for compliance with Check 21 standards; checks that don’t comply are rejected and the territory managers are notified so they can try again.

The bank forwards images of all the remotely deposited checks to US Foods’ cash application operation in Tempe. Without remittance documents, the hit rate for check payments is approximately 50%, Cheniae says. If just one or two invoices are being paid, the company encourages territory managers to write the customer number and invoice numbers on the front or back of the check, but the purpose of the program is to streamline the process for territory managers, not give them extra tasks, he explains.

US Foods is cashing in on J.P. Morgan’s expanded remote deposit services. “You can now use a hand-held phone as well as a desktop scanner, and the two channels are fully integrated on the back end,” explains Joe Hussey, executive director of J.P. Morgan Treasury Services. “We entitle US Foods to remotely deposit checks into their account with us using smartphones, and they decide how the drivers can use this service.”

Improved camera technology in the phones paved the way for such a service, Hussey notes. If drivers have been trained to photograph the checks in well-lit places against a plain dark background, “you can’t really see any difference between checks scanned with smartphones and checks scanned with desktop scanners,” he says. The next generation of J.P. Morgan technology will capture remittance documents in addition to checks, Hussey adds.

Of course J.P. Morgan is not alone. Citigroup is funneling much of its R&D budget for treasury services into mobile and digital services, says Hubert J.P. Jolly, managing director for channel and enterprise services at Citigroup. “That’s what our clients are asking for. We’re upgrading the whole CitiDirect online platform for mobile access and a single entry portal with a new user interface and analytics.” Citi is also introducing mobile collections in select markets.

Don’t expect the latest mobile treasury applications to show up first in North America or Europe. Less developed countries are embracing mobile solutions faster than the developed economies.

“We are introducing a mobile collections product and are piloting it in Indonesia,” reports Arthur Brieske, head of product management for the Americas in global transaction banking at Deutsche Bank. “Uptake seems to be quickest in countries with high penetration of mobile phones and limited payments settlement infrastructures,” where mobile payments can be leveraged as an alternative to currency payments.

 

For more stories about treasury technology efforts, see A Tech Transformation for Treasury, Achieving Efficiency with a Single Instance of ERP, and EADS Treasury Opts for Risk Management Muscle. To read more about depositing checks from a smartphone, see Remote Deposit Goes Mobile.

 

 

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