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ABN AMRO Bank N.V. (ABN AMRO) is one of the largest banks in the Netherlands with roots reaching back as far as 1720. In Asia, the history of the bank dates back to 1826, when the bank’s first branch in Indonesia started operating to support trading activities. Today, ABN AMRO serves some 6.8 million clients and has operations across 21 countries and territories. Through this network, the bank aims to offer clients the best opportunities presented by Asia’s growth by combining global strengths and local know-how.
ABN AMRO is active in Private Banking, Corporate Banking and Clearing in Asia and the Middle East. The bank is a leading provider of private banking services and offers its clients Energy, Commodities and Transportation (ECT) financing solutions. With offices in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai covering Asia, the bank employs close to 1,000 staff across the region.
Since 2009, ABN AMRO in Asia has been using an IP-based unified communications technology platform across the region. In 2014, the bank decided to embark on a technology refresh across the region and started to look at new solutions and collaboration capabilities that were available in the market.
Leading to the upgrade, the IT team consulted the bank’s business development managers to understand their requirements for the next 18 to 36 months. They wanted to find solutions to meet the growing needs of the bank’s mobile and remote front-line staff, particularly the relationship managers in the private banking business and account managers in the ECT business division, to ensure that they derive maximum benefit and value from the technology.
“Based on their feedback, we listed three objectives: To enhance the support of mobile devices as our staff travel 60 to 70 per cent of their time; to be able to record calls on their mobile phones when they are out of the office; and to improve the communication between the front office users and our back-end office,” said Dirk P. Sibiet, Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer, Singapore and United Arab Emirates, ABN AMRO Bank N.V.
Mr Sibiet said the technology upgrade also needs to cover telephony, video and integration of mobile devices. As a financial institution, a key prerequisite was that the data from any device used to facilitate communications needs to be recorded to meet compliance and audit requirements.
ABN AMRO in Asia began looking at solutions from several vendors before choosing Cisco in June 2014. Mr Sibiet said Cisco presented a more complete offering and was the only vendor whose staff are connected to its corporate network via their mobile devices, leveraging the very same solution which it pitched. “It was not something on paper. Cisco was already using the solution,” he said.
Equally important was the expertise of the system partner, said Mr Sibiet. After discussing with several parties, Logicalis was selected as the preferred system integrator in September 2014 to develop the architecture and implement the Unified Communications (UC) solution for ABN AMRO. “Logicalis had the experience and best practice know-how, and was able to translate our business requirements into one document. They provided us with a single point-of-contact and were able to successfully work with other parties within Cisco to develop an end-to-end solution for all three technology segments that we required – voice, video and mobility,” he said.
Mr Sibiet said ABN AMRO has invested a significant sum to develop the new UC and collaboration infrastructure for Singapore and ultimately the Asia and Middle East region. The first phase of implementation went live in Singapore in December 2014. The second phase began in February this year with the integration of telephony and recording on the Cisco Mobility solution. A Cisco Jabber client – a soft phone with video and desktop sharing capabilities – was also made available to enable front-line staff to call the office from remote locations.
The UC implementation includes a full suite of Cisco solutions including Cisco Unified Workplace Licensing Professional, Jabber IM and Presence, WebEx, Telepresence with SX10, DX 80, SX80, MX700D and network switches. There are currently about 460 active users of the UC solution in Singapore, a number expected to go beyond 1,000 users when the core infrastructure is extended to support users in Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong by the end of 2015.
According to Mr Sibiet, ABN AMRO is one of the first few financial organisations in the region to deploy a full suite of the Cisco UC solution in a virtual stack. The only physical device used was the voice gateway router that was connected to Singtel, with the rest of the environment being fully virtual. The solution is also unique globally, being one of the first on-premise virtual platforms built in the banking industry.
Over the recent months, Mr Sibiet said ABN AMRO was able to reap immediate benefits ranging from cost savings, faster response to improved customer transparency and communications. Citing examples, he said the new collaboration platform enabled positive outcomes such as:
During the first three months, Mr Sibiet estimated that mobile voice roaming costs were reduced by 15 per cent and will continue to go down to 75 per cent by the end of the year as more users become familiar with the solution.
“Globally, we wanted to improve our client-servicing model and enable our product specialists to be more accessible to our relationship and account managers. Previously, whenever they were travelling, they would be unavailable for one or two days,” said Mr Sibiet.
“Our front-line managers can now engage with the product specialists in real-time and over video calls with clients. The product specialists now have access to all the information and can offer a full presentation during the call. This enhances the client experience while at the same time, reduces our travel expenses,” he added.
Following the implementation in Singapore, ABN AMRO in Asia will continue to partner Logicalis on the UC roll-out to the other locations – Shanghai, Dubai and Hong Kong. Both parties will also continue to make enhancements to the solutions during this phase. By May, WebEx will be available on-premise, using non-UC hardware and located in ABN AMRO’s data centre. This will allow the front-office staff to easily and remotely share desktop presentations with their clients.
“We have better communications capabilities as Telepresence units are now installed in our Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong offices. Our global heads can interact with our country executives through video-conferencing and further save travelling costs,” said Mr Sibiet.
He added that the full mobile integration of the UC solution with all the other offices in Asia is targeted be completed by the end of the year. A Jabber ‘guest’ client solution will be offered to customers to enable them to contact the bank’s relationship managers or product specialists through an application on their mobile devices.
Looking ahead, Mr Sibiet said that the bank is focused on improving communications, collaboration and the customer experience. “Our wider digital ambit is to incorporate the same video capability into our corporate website. Once our relationship managers have their identities authenticated, they can securely log in and share a video call with the product specialists. By 2016, we will expand this solution to a select group of customers.”