As the initial shock over the events of Sept. 11 has faded, corporate bankers at Wilmington Trust Corp., as at many enterprises, have returned to something like a normal work routine. Travel-averse employees who embraced Web-based meetings and seminars immediately after the disaster are beginning to return to the skies, particularly to attend important meetings such as merger closings.
But that doesnt mean e-meeting software is about to become shelfware at Wilmington. In fact, Wilmington, the countrys 13th-largest personal trust company with $34.7 billion in assets under management, is actually accelerating its use of Web-based virtual meeting software. Why? Rather than seeing the Web meeting tool just as a way to cut travel costs and worries, Wilmington officials have shaken up the tool like its a piggybank, launching new online services that have not only paid back the cost of the application but also promise to open up new revenue streams.
“When we did the return-on- investment analysis for our management on these tools, we decided not to use a soft-dollar approach,” said Norma Closs, the companys e-commerce liaison and a corporate financial services vice president, in Wilmington, Del. “We said, This is how the bank can charge more and charge new fees for new services.”
Over the last few months, the company has launched a series of four fee-based services that allows corporate customers to collaborate online on everything from capital market fund-raising transactions to bankruptcy reorganization committee negotiations. The online services, trademarked and branded under the Wilmington Trust name, are built on top of e-meeting software from eRoom Technology Inc., of Cambridge, Mass. While the online services have yet to blossom into significant sources of new revenue, they have already more than paid for software licensing and other IT deployment costs, Closs said. And expectations are high that more new online service revenues will follow.
Drowning in Documents
Drowning in Documents
Wilmingtons interest in web meeting software actually began to build well before the recent terror attacks. The company, which provides merger and acquisition, capital markets, and other financial services to corporate clients as well as private trust services, first tried online meetings in 1996 using an early software product that officials declined to name. The experiment failed when the softwares document-versioning and access control capabilities came up woefully short. For example, Wilmington couldnt control on a user-by-user basis who should be allowed access to what information, Closs said.
Still, Closs said, the idea was sound: Streamline complex corporate transactions by replacing some document faxing, mailings and face-to-face meetings with online meetings and document collaboration. Even a relatively straightforward M&A can take a year to complete and involve armies of lawyers, accountants, business and IT executives, and thousands of pages of documents. So in 1999, Closs group decided to take another stab at using online meeting software.
This time, the effort proved more successful. The eRoom Digital Workplace software on which Wilmingtons so-called Cyberservices are built allows the company to create a separate, virtual workplace for each deal or transaction. Participants can log in, view documents, make changes, view changes made by others and track the history of changes. All the documents related to the deal are stored in a repository. Access to some or all documents can be restricted for each user. Content in the workrooms is also protected with 128-bit encryption available on the eRoom platform through a partnership with Authentica Inc., of Waltham, Mass. Wilmington hosts the eRoom software on its own servers to ensure security and availability, Closs said. The company was able to brand the service as a Wilmington Cyberservice by modifying the eRoom look and feel with the APIs and Cascading Style Sheets around which eRoom is built.
So far, Wilmingtons corporate financial services group has rolled out four Cyberservices. Each service is preconfigured to deal with the specific types of documents and interactions generated by a given corporate banking process. One, CyberClosing, helps companies manage capital-market transactions such as bond offerings from origination to termination online. The others are CyberNexus, an online service that lets companies set up offshore entities for tax and other purposes; CommitteeRoom, which facilitates communication among members of a creditors bankruptcy committee; and CyberProposal, where companies can find and contract for other services. Wilmington also uses the eRoom software to host Web-based seminars for clients.
For the various Cyberservices, corporate clients pay annual participation fees plus monthly charges for each workroom hosted on Wilmingtons eRoom servers. For the CyberClosing service, for example, enterprises pay a $10,000 annual fee plus $833 per month per workroom.
Early corporate users have included International Finance Corp., an arm of the World Bank Group, in Washington, which used the Wilmington e-meeting services to help sell bonds to finance a power plant project in Argentina, Closs said.
But not all types of business processes are good candidates for fee-based e-meeting services. For one thing, secure, robust e-meeting software isnt cheap, so enterprise processes that use it will need to deliver high value or carry high costs, experts say. eRoom, for example, charges a minimum of $200,000 for a license and support for a departmental deployment of its software. Charges go up to $1 million for large, enterprise rollouts, including deployment services.
In addition, Closs said, not all customers will be ready to replace the face-to-face meetings to which theyre accustomed with cyber-meetings. Although Wilmington could do final M&A closings using the eRoom software and digital signatures, she said, the company has decided to continue to do that part of the process the old-fashioned way: face to face and with a handshake.