UTC Online v2

UTC prepares for Online v2.0
Originally published in the Business Guardian for October 01, 2009

Executive Director Marlon Holder and Vice President-Electronic Services, Richard Shepherd in the space allocated to the QuickLinks service at UTC's Port of Spain head office. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Providing access to personal financial accounts online would seem to be something of a no-brainer. The data is already electronic and transmitted between branches, but opening up access to customer accounts on the Internet locally has tended to run up against the limitations of IT infrastructure, e-commerce laws that are still to be read into law and security measures that must meet global standards.
Even within those constraints, some financial institutions do a remarkable job with their online banking interfaces, others, well, not so much. The Unit Trust Corporation falls somewhere in the middle, with a usable web presence that allows users to view their accounts and do some very basic financial transactions online.

Launched in March 2007, UTC's Vice President-Electronic Services, Richard Shepherd, is well aware that U-Online is now starting to look a bit creaky and is in the midst of final testing on version two of the product, due for release in November.
"The first phase was allowing customers to access their accounts on the Internet," Shepherd said, "the next phase is allowing our customers to move transactions in and our of their accounts, more fully replicating the experience that the customer would have in a branch."

Pending new e-commerce laws that would extend the potential of the update, the corporation is building a platform that anticipates what will be possible when it's legal in Trinidad and Tobago to implement the kind of Web 2.0 commercial interactions that users take for granted when doing business online.
"Our approach has been gradual," notes Executive Director Marlon Holder, "first ensuring that our firewalls are properly in place. The new features we are planning will require more rigid risk management. It's IP laws that constraining us the most and the IP infrastructure is also a major obstacle. We want to be able to take advantage of fibre connections from TSTT when they become available. We need to be able to connect to the changes in our demographic of users."

According to Stephens, 10 per cent of the UTC customer base has signed up to make use of U-Online services and as many as 100 more sign up each day. While it's necessary to fill out a form, sign it and bring it to a UTC branch, the process from that point is fast and fully empowered. A receptionist took my form and allowed me to leave in just a few minutes. The electronic account was available for use later that day.
The system is responsive and easy to follow, allowing the most basic account viewing functions, but it feels, well, very 2007.

Stephens allowed me a sneak peek of the interface chrome that the company will be implementing in November, and it successfully straddles the often-conflicting need to be both conservative and modern looking.
Some of the compelling new features include the ability to open new accounts using money from any existing account, transfer money to any other unit trust customer and to transfer money to and from commercial banks. Users can set up electronic alerts (via text messages or e-mail) that notify them when changes are made to accounts, and it's will be possible to download electronic statements as a PDF file. UTC claims this as part of their "Green initiative" but most online users will accept it gratefully as a convenience initiative.

The changes will be good news for the 1500 users who access the system every day, 60 per cent of whom do transactions, within the rather strict limits currently in place.
Legal limitations limit money movement internationally to wire transfer transactions, but the system will allow credit card transactions when the law allows it.
For now, the UTC is pushing to increase customer use of U-Online.
"We go out to talk to our customers," Shepherd says. "We do roadshows, talking to people about our services and we are able to take signed forms from them on the spot."

The company is also building interest using QuickLinks, an initiative to provide computers that allow users to access the corporation's online service (and that service only) on PCs within the branches.
Users in Port of Spain and Chaguanas will also have encountered the corporations new ATMs, which sport high resolution touch screens, play advertising videos, offer voice guided navigation and use a new "dip" reader for cards that defies known card theft schemes.
While the financial institution is monitoring adoption and use of the new ATMs, Holder wants "to roll this out as far and as widely as possible."
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