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RFID: A Beacon of Light in the Banking System

Although RFID won't fix the mortgage problem, banks are investing in the technology to improve other business practices—a move they believe will pay off in dollars and sense.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Feb 01, 2009—These could hardly be worse economic times for the financial services industry. The mortgage problem snowballed last year into a global banking crisis, leading to bank failures, forced sales, government bailouts and plunges in the market cap of many of the industry's biggest players. But while the fiscal meltdown has forced the industry to slash staff and expenses, several banking giants—including Bank of America and Wells Fargo—are actually upping their investments in RFID technology.

A number of financial institutions have started tagging and tracking assets—from laptop computers to data backup tapes—to automate inventories, improve visibility of equipment that's checked out or moved between facilities, and prevent theft and loss. In the United States, RFID vendors say the biggest driver for the financial services industry to adopt RFID has been to ease compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002 to strengthen corporate governance. Another important driver in the United States, as well as in Europe, is the pressing need to better protect sensitive customer data.

"RFID automatically gives us the ability to track assets or any item that we want to have visibility into, without requiring human intervention to update databases, systems or records in our asset environments," says Mike Russo, senior VP of automated identification technologies for Wells Fargo, which is in the midst of deploying an RFID asset-tracking system at its five primary data centers nationwide.

"Even though we use bar codes, it's still been a manual process. To perform an inventory, you must scan each individual bar code. In a single data center, there might be 15,000 assets on just one floor. It may take a team of individuals three weeks to do that inventory by manually scanning every individual item. With RFID, I merely have to be in the vicinity—I can wheel a cart equipped with a reader and an antenna array down the aisle—without having to physically see or touch the asset. I can now do that same inventory process in a day or two."
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