International Banking Goes Local in Florida

International banking may not be in overwhelming demand in, say, Kansas or Idaho, but in Florida, it's big business. And until recently, international banking consumed significant amounts of time and materials in the Florida Office of the Comptroller.

All that changed this past June, when the office made available online a list of foreign bank offices and their complete quarterly statistics. Now would-be queriers -- primarily economists, other foreign banks and domestic banks -- simply can log on to the appropriate page on the comptroller's Web site (www.dbf.state.fl.us/

bankinfo.html) and either view statistics online or download them in a Lotus Development Corp.'s 1-2-3 format for further analysis.

It's just one of a number of projects designed by Jim Richardson and Doug Brown, the two Florida state workers responsible for the development of the department's vast and varied Web site. The international banking statistics joins such World Wide Web features as the Great Florida Treasure Hunt (the state's abandoned-property list), Florida Financial Highlights and the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, all developed with the specific goal of getting as much public information as possible out of the vaults and into the mainstream.

"[Comptroller] general [Robert] Milligan is of the opinion [that] taxpayers ought to know how their money is being spent," explained Richardson, a public-information specialist with the Office of the Comptroller who is responsible for all page design and Hypertext Markup Language coding on the site. Next in line, and due to be live by press time, Richardson says, is online access to the state's entire administrative code for banking.

Both the international and bank-code projects stand to change business as usual in the Department of Banking and Finance's seven-person Bureau of Research, Training and Staff Development. The office maintains a list of every international bank doing business in Florida and, on a quarterly basis, collects and distributes data on the banks' balance sheets and income statements, with assets and liabilities listed by individual office, according to David Devick, a financial control analyst with the bureau.

Previously, people who wanted to view that data had to wait for it to be compiled and printed into a hard-copy edition, which was then mailed out. In the last six months, clients who wanted a computerized version of the data to perform further analysis had the option of requesting a disk.

Either way, the burden was especially hard on international customers, who had to place an overseas phone call to arrange and pay for DHL international pickup and delivery of the material because the bureau cannot pay for shipping or faxing outside the United States.

On the back end, Devick and his co-workers had to field phone calls, track and process requests, photocopy lists and other data, and wrap and address packages for mailing -- all in addition to the data gathering and processing at the center of their jobs. The system was ripe for change, and Devick took it upon himself to ask Richardson if he could put the data online.

"One thing that spurred banking on was looking at what other people had done on the site," Richardson said. He occasionally has gone to different departments within the Department of Banking and Finance and suggested possible Web applications, but he found that the best way to effect change is to let word trickle down. "There's definitely been a steamroller effect" as departments see what their co-workers are putting up online, according to Richardson.

"The volume was the driver," said Devick, explaining which of his department's data went up first on the Web site. "These are things I get requests for on a continual basis. The Web is a clean way of delivering this product efficiently."

Now organizations can log on and either view or download the international bank list or quarterly statistics. As an added bonus, the quarterly data is online two weeks before hard copy is available. Eventually, Devick hopes to phase out hard copies entirely. The department hasn't quantified just how many people are viewing the Web page, but Devick reports the amount of clerical work he and his co-workers must do has dropped dramatically.

The system is relatively simple. Devick hands over data in the format in which it already resides (Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect), and then Richardson makes the data browsable, designs HTML pages around it, zips the data and posts it. Richardson admits that the older office standards aren't in keeping with the growing presence of Microsoft Corp. products in the workplace, but he said spreadsheets and word processors are all capable of reading other formats with ease.

Similarly, putting Florida's bank statutes online will allow citizens to search for specific laws at will while cutting down on telephone traffic to the office. "We do provide some guidance on statues and explanation of rules," Devick said, "so I spend a lot of my time discussing statutes that [people] don't have available to them. Now we can tell them where to locate an individual rule or easily send them a copy of it." Florida's entire banking rules and statutes may seem like a daunting download, but Richardson says the files are a manageable size: 269K zipped for statues and 178K zipped for rules.

With the exception of the abandoned-property database, which is connected directly to the Web site via Allaire's Corp.'s Cold Fusion software, all other data on the comptroller's Web site is currently copied onto a separate server, Richardson said. Future projects may make more use of that direct connectivity, possibly in the areas of licensing and securities, he said.

For his part, Devick envisions a day when companies will be able to file their applications for bank status in Florida directly from the Web. For now, Devick is content to have his two largest-volume projects up and running on the Web. "They cut down on questions, and they cut down on days of work," he said. "I can't quantify the savings, but it's been a big help."

Tracy Mayor is a Beverly, Mass.-based free-lance writer specializing in information technology. She can be reached at tmayor@shore.net.

At a Glance

State of Florida

Office of the Comptroller

Tallahassee Fla.

www.dbf.state.fl.us

Job: Monitors and keeps the books on a $39 billion (1996) state budget.

Invoices Processed in 1996: 3 million.

Projects: International Banking Online Florida Banking Statutes Online.

Organizational Payback: By making quarterly international bank statistics available online the state cuts down dramatically on the amount of time workers must spend fielding phone calls and photocopying documents as well as addressing and packaging them. With the Florida banking code online comptroller employees no longer have to explain the statutes individually in time-consuming telephone conversations.

Citizen Advantage: Bank regulators economists and foreign bankers among other heavy users can now instantly view international bank statistics around the clock or download Lotus 1-2-3 files for further analysis. With Florida bank statues online citizens can view or download laws without having to request a manual copy and they can find answers themselves to many questions that would otherwise have required a telephone call.

Cost Containment: By dividing costs among departments no one group has to shoulder the entire cost of the Web project. One employee who codes in HTML works in Public Affairs the other responsible for database connectivity issues is in Information Systems. IS also picked up the initial hardware costs and ongoing telecommunications fees.

Tools: An IBM Corp. PC server 720 running Netscape Communications Corp.'s SuiteSpot server software Microsoft Corp.'s NT-based internal local-area network Lotus Development Corp.'s Lotus 1-2-3 Corel Corp.'s WordPerfect and PKWare Inc.'s PKZip for back-end preparation of downloadable files and Allaire Corp.'s Cold Fusion server software for connecting the abandoned-property database directly to the Web site.

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