With a banking heritage spanning more than 150 years, UK-based Standard Chartered Bank is one of the top 50 global banks. And as one of Hong Kong's three note-issuing banks, it needs no introduction to Computerworld Hong Kong readers (its issuance of the commemorative HK$150 note was an award-winner for marketing, although don't expect to see this interesting banknote in your change from Wellcome or Watsons anytime soon).

The bank offers wholesale, retail, private and Islamic banking services to corporations and individuals across the globe. Web sites localized for each market help Standard Chartered Bank promote its brand globally.

But the bank was hosting 55 sites and 14 domains from many data centers across the globe. A strategic shift to a centralized infrastructure would deliver superior banking services more cost-effectively by leveraging economies of scale.

And Standard Chartered sought to provide better Internet banking services than their competitors. To do that, the bank needed to figure out a way to effectively deliver secure Internet banking applications worldwide from a single data center in Asia, without compromising performance, reliability, or customer experience.

The goals

• Enhance customer experience--delivering performance comparable to local banks in markets around the globe.

• Enhance stability of online banking--mitigating the risk that Internet network congestions, outages, and natural disasters--such as earthquakes and typhoons causing submarine cable cuts--would threaten the availability of online applications delivered from remote centralized infrastructure.

• Manage operational risk--ensuring the bank's Web delivery strategy met strict security management guidelines to protect customers' financial information.

Aware that a competing global bank was already using services from US-based Akamai Technologies, Standard Chartered decided to conduct a benchmark of its Web site performance with and without Akamai's platform. The analysis showed that centralized Web hosting complemented by Akamai's globally distributed platform of over 61,000 servers spread across over 1,500 locations in 70 countries provided significantly better performance than hosting sites regionally. With the platform, Web pages were delivered five times faster on average to cities around the globe in the bank's tests.

"Akamai's acceleration solution was a natural choice for us given both the performance and cost benefits," said Aman Narain, Head of Remote Banking, Consumer Banking, Standard Chartered Bank. "Its capabilities and massive global computing platform have lived up to our performance and availability requirements. We now host our corporate Web site content on Akamai's platform for superior availability--and fast delivery--globally."

The bank previously struggled to plan and manage multiple Web hosting facilities, requiring it to overprovision each regional data center with excess capacity and redundancy. By leveraging Akamai's platform to deliver its corporate Web site, Standard Chartered was able to significantly reduce its annual operating costs for hardware, bandwidth, maintenance, disaster recovery, and IT staff.

Accelerating secure online banking transactions

Standard Chartered turned to the acceleration of its secure, transactional banking applications. The bank's Straight2Bank application--named the best corporate online banking application by Global Finance magazine--provides wholesale banking customers around the world with online cash management, trade finance, foreign exchange, and securities trading services through a single sign-on portal. For cost-effectiveness and ease of management, Straight2Bank was designed to be hosted centrally from Hong Kong. However customers around the world experienced performance that was significantly slower than that experienced by customers in Hong Kong.

Rather than building regional data centers to deliver the application at great expense, the bank evaluated Akamai's Web Application Accelerator solution designed to accelerate secure online transactions. According to Naresh Vyas, Head of Technology Solutions Delivery for Standard Chartered Bank, "Akamai automatically chooses the optimal route between our data center and users based on real time Internet conditions. The general public Internet uses the cheapest route, while Akamai's private Internet routing is designed to use faster routes. This ensures the best online experience for our end-users."

The implementation reduced the time it took customers in Europe and the Americas to complete an SSL-protected, multi-step transaction from over 90 seconds to less than 45 seconds. At the same time, customers in Asia enjoyed a 25% performance improvement on average. This performance improvement contributed to dramatic growth in the adoption of its Straight2Bank application across all regions, and an approximately 20% increase in online wholesale banking transaction volume.

Consumer online banking worldwide

When the bank decided to roll out consumer online banking services to its customers worldwide, it decided again to use a centralized data center approach and leverage Akamai. "To ensure strict protection of customer data, we undertook a rigorous evaluation of the security of Akamai's platform, and found it met our stringent standards," said Vyas. The platform reduced the time for customers in the UAE to complete a five-step secure banking transaction from 171 seconds to below 25 seconds, and from 70 seconds to approximately 20 seconds for customers in India, ensuring a successful rollout to these countries.

New market challenges

The bank now has the confidence to quickly enter new markets worldwide at lower cost. For example, with Akamai in place, it is rolling out consumer online banking to Africa and the Middle East, and preparing to deliver new systems to private banking and brokerage customers. With increased confidence and reduced time-to-market, Standard Charted has a distinct competitive advantage as it expands around the globe.

Robert Hughes, executive vice president of Global Sales, Services and Marketing at Akamai said: "Internet banking is now a core requirement for many customers, and because of this demand, banks are looking to expand and improve their offerings. However, the pace of change in this sector places more pressure on the infrastructure, making services slower and more costly to administer. Standard Chartered is making a commitment to its customers to deliver the most efficient, secure services in the market and we're proud that Akamai is underpinning that."

"Akamai's proven capabilities complement our business strategy," concluded Narain. "They gave us the agility to quickly enter markets such as the Middle East or Africa without incurring huge capital investment in local data centers."