It is an area in which confusion reigns, as many investment banks are unclear about what they want and are often reluctant to spend large sums of money on rapidly changing technology. But the demand for interactive multimedia in financial training continues, and the training providers are responding by offering an increasingly wide range of options.
UK market leader Intuition Publishing now offers its popular product Intuition Plus on the internet as Intuition Web. This features more than 160 tutorials and 200 hours of training and offers coverage of foreign exchange, money markets, derivatives, financial mathematics, treasury and risk management, regulation and compliance, as well as economic and technical analysis.
Deutsche Bank has just decided to launch Intuition Web on an intranet site, having completed the user acceptance period. It has also just finished testing a product called Edu:net, which has over 200 end-user software programmes on it from Microsoft Office to advanced software. This can either be accessed on the internet or be downloaded onto a hard disk and taken home as needed, and is intended to complement Intuition Plus.
'Deutsche Bank has made the decision that it is willing to invest in technology at the cutting edge in financial training and is going ahead with flexible training that can be digested in bite-sized pieces. The intranet is so much a part of everyday life in the bank that it is an obvious move to put training on it as well,' says Fiona Collinson, head of training for the investment banking division.
In making this decision, Deutsche Bank has walked away from Columbus, a bespoke intranet/internet solution on which it reportedly spent a great deal of money. Its choice of Intuition Web also comes at a time when it is set to merge with Bankers Trust, which has a shareholding in the US-based training system Zoologic. The contract is a coup for Intuition Publishing and the envy of many in the industry.
But Deutsche Bank is perhaps among the minority in the City in being very clear about what it wants. It is looking towards global solutions for its in-house training.
As one of Intuition Publishing's main rivals is quick to point out, the product is wonderful, but people who are cost-conscious and not willing to commit to a total solution have trouble with it.
The cost of setting up a global internet link could currently run into six figures, and also involve problems within the organisation of how to deal with large user groups.
Graduates are one user group that could easily be targeted through an internal intranet system, and Barclays Capital is one bank in the early stages of setting up an intranet with a focus on its graduate intake. Pilot schemes are currently also running elsewhere in the City, and some of the large American banks have moved their European training over to London, adding to the scramble among financial training providers for a chance to offer their services.
'In many ways the financial training industry has been caught out. It is now 8-12 months behind the clients' requirements. Many providers are only now going into CD-Roms when they are not particularly versatile and not what the audience wants. Those investment banks looking to a global future are interested in web-based technology,' says the director of graduate training at a major investment bank.
Frustrated financial trainers say that although some banks are going into intranet training and distance learning, it is debatable how successful they will be. 'At the moment people are taking training materials and putting them on the internet. Often they are just not visual enough. We need to look at internet software that is interactive,' says Peter Wisher, head of BG Training.
Part of the race among financial trainers is to make learning aids, such as CD-Roms, more interactive. Organisations such as Euromoney and IFR offer 'smart' CD-Roms, while the recently launched Active Books being marketed by the training company IFF and others also stresses the flexibility and diversity of its CD-Roms.
At ACF Consulting, Lawrence Galitz offers complete interactivity with his global trading simulator Global Trader NT. It is fully integrated across all markets and all products, from spot FX, exotic derivatives and FRAs to structured swaps, fixed income and equities. Chase Manhattan has been one of his clients for many years, using Global Trader to train graduates, mainly in the forex and derivatives areas.
Being able to change the parameters of a given situation is crucial when using something like a simulator. 'We can respond very quickly to market circumstances. When the LTCM crisis was breaking we could take the developments and put them into the system for instant analysis. We also have a system called Global Banker, which allows us to simulate a whole bank and its clients - very useful during merger activity,' says Galitz, who has been marketing his Global Banker software for the last five years.
Investment banks continue to emphasise the need to improve the base of the knowledge of their employees, while admitting they often have very unstructured departments. This means that there will continue to be a great demand for learning aids that can be adapted to individual circumstances. Heads of training often stress that the flexibility of trainers is very important to them as they try and map out their training needs, while more and more institutions in the City are beginning to use the services of outside agencies to help them with the delivery of in-house training.
Crown Business Communications is one such agency, a combination of a consultancy and a communications delivery outfit. Its clients include Deutsche Bank, Warburg Dillon Read and Barclays Capital. 'We have got into this market because we are trying to get the human dimension across. We have looked at how you might emulate personality, with programme courses on an intranet site so they are delivered in a more personal way,' says Richard Gill, client services director. He says his experience suggests that coming up with a fresh perspective and new methods of delivery are of increasing importance to clients.
But not everyone is interested in better animation and the internet. Its great success is considered by many to be e-mail, which provides the capability of a new working environment and is very popular as a delivery mechanism for electronic workbooks. A learning communication and research company called Omtrac has built an e-mail learning system called Connect 2000, which has just been launched by Prudential Portfolio Managers (PPM) as a global business tool.
Nick Holley, PPM's director of training and development, says: 'PPM is a global business operating across 15 time zones. Time is critical to us and people need immediate answers. We also needed to resolve how to provide training across geography.
'This system links the internet with our intranet, identifies the aspects of the business worldwide that link together and allows an e-mail question to be answered at once and the knowledge then retained within the system. Each of 11 broad areas of knowledge will be headed up by specific managing directors within the company.'
Through Connect 2000, staff at PPM will have access to four specific areas of knowledge - such as portfolio management - and a further seven generic areas. They will be able to access 3,159 training courses and 465 on-line learning courses, as well as some of the Active Books material such as a modelling tool for Black Scholes theory. A link with the CIB City Bookshop in Bishopsgate will enable them to order a vast number of books online, while two self-development centres set up by PPM in Euston and Reading provide further research materials.
PPM is described by one major financial training provider with no involvement in this project as 'a forward-looking business that has always had easy access to training and does not mess about.'
The insurance sector is also seen by some in the industry as more innovative than investment banking when it comes to training.
But while there are examples like PPM in the City today, there are many who still suggest that the intranet/internet is merely today's toy, albeit one that might make stand-up training better managed and more professional.