Two major software companies are introducing applications that they say could help insurers and banks improve their risk management, and possibly recover from the current economic mess that resulted from depleted capital, toxic assets and poor lending policies.

Database vendor Oracle Corp. today is expected to announce a pair of risk management applications aimed at helping financial companies monitor their capital adequacy.

Oracle's German rival SAP AG came out with a software suite last week, and one executive said the risk management and regulatory compliance modules will likely provide SAP its biggest sales opportunities in the financial industry for at least the next year.

Though many banks are being extremely careful about investing in technology, one analyst said such applications could be necessary for financial companies facing sharp questions from their boards, regulators and investors.

Boston-based Celent estimates that global institutions have spent an average of $50 million to $100 million on their programs for Basel II, which requires for the first time that regulatory capital be set aside for operational risk. The mandate went into effect in Europe last year and is in varying stages of implementation around the world.

Both Oracle and SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, plan to offer their products globally. Oracle, which has grown by acquisition, may have a stronger competitive position in the United States market than SAP, which has developed much of its technology internally.

S. Ramakrishnan, CEO of Oracle's Reveleus and Mantas financial software units, said he expects banks to be interested in his company's new products, even in today's capital-constricted environment.

Risk management "is necessary for their survival," Ramakrishnan said in an interview last week. "This is about survival strategy. This is about control in a very difficult environment."

The new applications are designed to meet the Internal Capital Adequacy Assessment Process requirements under Pillar 2 of the Basel II accord.

The applications, known as Oracle Reveleus ICAAP Analytics and Oracle Reveleus ICAAP Assessments, feature extensive dashboards and reporting tools bankers can use to identify trouble areas, Ramakrishnan said.

Cubillas Ding, a senior analyst in Celent’s securities and investments practice, said that although there are numerous competitors in the Basel II compliance market—Algorithmics, Iris Financial Solutions, Fermat, Quantitative Risk Management, SAP, SAS and SunGard Data Systems, to name a few—“no one has quite packaged a solution in this way, specifically highlighting ICAAP capabilities.” Oracle is providing “a framework for addressing ICAAP with an out-of-the-box flavor,” he said.

While the IT spending outlook doesn’t look good for the financial services industry, “regulators are on the backs of institutions to make sure their compliance practices are sound,” Ding added.

Dana Wiklund, a research director in the risk management practice at Financial Insights, a unit of International Data Group Inc., said banks are willing to spend in a few key areas, including this kind of risk analysis.

"Risk is an area of investment this year," he said. "This is an area where, if banks haven't done their homework up till now, this is going to be a priority for them."

Shareholders, boards and examiners are asking tough questions about how executives are analyzing risk and how they are implementing the necessary fixes, he added. "They have to make the investment."

Rakesh Shetty, SAP's director of financial services industries, said his company also plans to concentrate its sales efforts on governance, risk, and compliance—areas of focus for CFOs.

"Given the state of the U.S. market, we have more of a footprint coming from the risk side, the CFO side," Shetty said.

Shetty spoke after a press conference in New York last Wednesday, where SAP rolled out SAP Business Suite 7, which essentially breaks down the company's entire portfolio of database products and industry-specific applications into components that clients can buy separately and integrate to add the capabilities they need.

SAP said the strategy enables customers to respond quickly to the economic downturn by buying only the components they need. The company promised no product upgrades from this release for five years, though it plans continuous enhancements.

This strategy would let users bring new components into production in no more than 90 days, Shetty said. "We see that as a huge opportunity to make inroads into the lines of business."

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