EBam is coming and treasuries need to start preparing now by rationalizing their bank account structure and getting software to organize data and embed administrative processes, says consultant Craig Jeffery, managing partner of Strategic Treasurer in Atlanta. “If you use more than seven banks and more than 100 accounts, you probably need technology tools to manage the accounts,” Jeffery says. “It’s time to set up procedures that will make you ready for eBam,” the standardized electronic bank account administration message set that SWIFT will make available later this year.

“With many banks and accounts and no software, you’re wasting time and putting your company at unnecessary risk,” he adds.

Viacom uses about 130 accounts at three or four banks domestically and 393 accounts at 44 banks globally, so account administration is a big chore there. Until last April, it was all done manually. “Like most companies, we were shuffling paper and sending it everywhere,” says international treasury manager Jenifer Pedersen. Then Viacom switched to software from Speranza Systems and saved “a humongous amount of time,” notes Brooke Tilton, director of treasury operations.

Because the changes to bank accounts involve work by so many people in so many locations, it’s not possible to quantify the time savings, Tilton says, but Pedersen estimates that using the system saves her at least five hours a week. She has to deal with 30 to 40 requests weekly for account changes, she says.

New York City-based Viacom, with annual revenue of $14.5 billion, also eliminated overnight shipping charges and greatly improved turnaround time on changes now that messages are sent electronically but over multiple channels. The company is looking forward to connecting that software to SWIFT’s eBam when the service becomes available at Viacom’s banks later this year or next year, Tilton says. “With SWIFT, we’ll save even more time. We’re excited about it.”

EBam will be particularly useful, Pedersen says, for getting confirmations that the bank received the message and made whatever changes were requested. “The confirmation process has been frustrating,” she says. “Confirmations are a key audit issue, and getting them by mail has been slow and not always reliable. EBam will accommodate all that electronically within the system.” Viacom has not used corporate access to SWIFT until now, she says.

Viacom should have plenty of company in turning on eBam. In two years, eBam will be the way nearly all messages about bank account changes will be sent, insists Glen Solimine, CEO of Speranza, based in Portland, Maine. “All of the Fortune 1,000 will be administering their accounts electronically,” he predicts. “It just makes sense. Both banks and large corporations will adopt this capability over the next two years.”

Software from Weiland Financial or Speranza can bring efficiency and control to managing bank account openings, closings, changes in signing authority, services and passwords, and providing documentation. Such software will be ready for eBam when SWIFT makes it available and banks are prepared to receive eBam messages, Jeffery says. “The software makes the task more efficient, and it will only get better when eBam comes.”

Corporate treasuries that have account administration software don’t have to do a lot to get ready for eBam, Solimine says. “The process up to the point of communicating changes to banks won’t change, but instead of printing paper, they’ll be sending XML messages to the banks for processing electronically. The communications piece that is missing now will be supplied by eBam.”

Both banks and corporates will have to build eBam applications for it to work, explains Dan Gill, director of corporate systems at Bannockburn, Ill.-based Weiland. Vendors like Speranza and Weiland are building those applications for their corporate clients. “We’ll be ready, but treasury staffs may have to push their banks to get their end up and running,” Gill says.

It will be worth the effort. EBam, coupled with administrative software, “closes a gigantic control gap around bank accounts,” he maintains, calling the end result nirvana for treasuries. “We expect eBam to start rolling out this year, probably in the third quarter, and to be used by a handful of companies that will lead the way and probably win some awards,” Gill adds.

“SWIFTNet is the perfect channel for eBam,” says Steve Weiland, chairman of the company he founded. “You set up whatever changes you need to make in the software and then hit a button to create a message to the bank.”

That message currently is mailed or e-mailed, but with eBam, it will go straight to the bank as a secure electronic message in a format that the bank’s systems understand, bringing straight-through processing to something that has been slow, manual and fallible, he explains. Confirmation should come back in hours if not minutes. It will be done through a single electronic channel that eventually will reach nearly all banks. And it will all be done with one sign-on, a big advantage over using multiple bank proprietary channels with multiple sign-ons.

Bank account administration software will include a connection to SWIFT eBam messages, so software users will enjoy a head start, Gill says. Already, Weiland has picked up new customers. A couple of them are large corporate users of SWIFT and are preparing to pilot test a Weiland/eBam connection, he reports. “It will definitely bring us more customers, probably our biggest wave since SOX introduced a lot of concern around demonstrated controls.”

While software providers will build the bridges to eBam, treasuries will have some work to do to get the digital signature capability they’ll need to approve transactions, Solimine explains. Both individual signatures, either images of handwritten signatures or digital signatures, and digital signatures at the corporate level will be needed. The eBam message containing the specific instructions and documentation will be signed digitally at the corporate level and once sent cannot be repudiated, he explains.

While opening or closing an account is done individually with specific banks, it is sometimes useful to broadcast one message to multiple banks, using one communications channel, Solimine says. “We had one client where a senior treasury manager left who was a signer on all their accounts. That treasury was able to go into our software, create one message to replace this signer and send that message with 700 pieces of documentation to 200 banks.” The software could generate the message. In the future, eBam will be able to deliver it.