Bank of Nova Scotia Aiming for E-Commerce Big Leagues

By Power, Carol | American Banker, November 22, 2000 | Go to article overview

Bank of Nova Scotia Aiming for E-Commerce Big Leagues


Power, Carol, American Banker


Unlike its bigger Canadian rivals, Bank of Nova Scotia does not have a reputation as a leader in electronic commerce technologies.

It is hoping to change that with a plan set in motion last month.

Scotiabank has directed its year-old electronic commerce subsidiary, e-Scotia.com Inc., to take a more active role in developing electronic commerce and Internet technologies. Before, e-Scotia had been just examining and adapting existing technology to serve the bank's clients.

Now "we want to lead the transformation of technology systems and set the standards and architecture," said Albert Wahbe, 53, chairman and chief executive officer of e-Scotia.com and executive vice president of electronic banking at Scotiabank.

Though not stopping with Canada, e-Scotia has not especially targeted the United States, as have some Canadian banks. "We want to expand what Scotiabank can do in 52 countries," Mr. Wahbe said. The first targets are Chile, Mexico, and Argentina.

Scotiabanks competitors Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada are behind some of the most ambitious efforts in North America to introduce wireless banking to the masses. Both also have extensive experience in Internet banking.

Bank of Montreal, which has $156 billion of assets, was among the first in North America to start an Internet-only venture, mbanx. It has now been folded into the traditional bank's online operations.

Royal Bank, with $184 billion of assets, operates Security First Network Bank in Atlanta as a U.S. adjunct to its Canadian online offerings, which have attracted more than a million customers. Royal, which spends more than $1 billion a year on technology, is recognized as having one of the industry's most sophisticated customer relationship management systems.

As the fourth largest of Canada's six big banks, $151 billion-asset Bank of Nova Scotia wields little power on the country's e-commerce scene. And with just a million Internet and telephone banking customers combined, and little development to date in wireless and other hot technologies, Scotiabank has not gained high visibility.

Now it may. It has told 200-employee e-Scotia to develop leading-edge consumer and business technologies and Internet portals for professionals and to introduce electronic commerce services for Web, television, and wireless devices. The group will also develop strategic alliances and look for opportunities to invest in high-tech companies.

The bank backed its vision by appointing a new management team, including Mr. Wahbe; Mark Greenspan, chief operating officer; Gail Smith, chief information officer; Drew Brown, senior vice president of business-to-business; Bob Grant, senior vice president of business-to-consumer; and Greg Milavsky, managing director and group head of e-Scotia acquisition.

Mr. Wahbe, a native of Quebec and a 12-year veteran of Scotiabank, was chief information officer. Before joining the bank, he worked at International Business Machines Corp. for 20 years. He conceived and outlined the idea for e-Scotia as part of his work in the Harvard Executive MBA program. He was able to actually create the company when named executive vice president of electronic banking two years ago.

The revamped e-Scotia's first move came late last month when it introduced the Canadian Doctors' Network, a portal for physicians, in cooperation with WebMD Canada, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. "Our role is to offer full financial services," Mr. Wahbe said. "We hook them to suppliers on the Web, and we do the financial settlement."

He expects e-Scotia to announce similar partnerships each month. "Now we're going after other professionals," he said. "We'll give dentists or lawyers their own portal solutions. …

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