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Updates? Just A Mouse Click Away



When the Internet and the World Wide Web exploded into the corporate consciousness last year, Visa International Inc. executives Cathy Basch and Deborah McWhinney saw an opportunity. "We got to thinking maybe there was a way to take advantage of that technology to do things in a faster, cheaper, and better way," says Basch, who is senior vice-president in charge of VisaVue, the company's information service for member banks.

Basch and McWhinney, senior vice-president for information products, helped the financial services company put all sorts of information on an internal Web site: employee directories, newsletters, even cafeteria menus. The electronic directory alone was a boon. Before, to keep Visa's 1,200 employees informed about who was the right contact for each of 19,000 member banks, Visa regularly published two volumes, each nearly four inches thick--and each instantly out of date. Now, the latest information is a few mouse clicks away. "It makes all the difference," says Basch.

Visa's intranet has been such a hit that the company is now looking at creating a separate network for member banks. Today, the company sends out most information--such as fraud alerts and marketing updates--on diskettes. By putting that online, Visa will not only speed things up, it will also be able to offer more services, and let banks tap directly into its databases--to check the status of a transaction electronically, a process done manually today.

Creating intranets that extend to customers is a risky but potentially profitable development. Venturing beyond the corporate fire wall introduces security risks, and Visa is holding off until it can be sure its data will be safe. But the company is eager for the payoff: greater efficiency for itself and better service for the banks. And in a cutthroat business such as Visa's, says McWhinney, that kind of advantage is hard to pass up.BY AMY CORTESE IN NEW YORK

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