EX-IM BANK WEB SITE IS WORTH THE EFFORT, DESPITE FLAWS, FOR ITS WEALTH OF INFORMATION

EX-IM BANK WEB SITE IS WORTH THE EFFORT, DESPITE FLAWS, FOR ITS WEALTH OF INFORMATION

Continuing our look at financing international trade deals over the Internet leads us to the U.S. Export-Import Bank. It was created in 1934, and its mission is to facilitate U.S. exports through financing. You can find its Web site at http://www.ex-im.gov/.

The Ex-Im Bank's Web site is rich in information but has some poor layout features. This means you have to do most of the work to find the information you need.

It makes you wonder if anyone at the Ex-Im Bank has ever looked at the Web site. For sure, there has been no consideration of how you would use the major search engines to find its address.

I began by typing ''EXIM Bank,'' not ''Ex-Im,'' in the major search engines. Other countries' export-import banks and financial companies have properly registered their Web sites under EXIM and Ex-Im in the search engines.

To add further to the confusion, the U.S. Ex-Im Bank's URL address is not hyphenated. It is www.exim.gov.

A quick check with InterNIC's Whois Search (http://www.internic.net/wp/whois.html) reveals that the domain name ex-im.gov is not registered with anyone. So the Ex-Im Bank could use it.

The home page also leads me to think no one at the Ex-Im Bank has looked at the site.

By now, you know that most people will not wait for heavy graphics to load up. You know that the rule of thumb is that the total bytes of the HTML page and graphics combined should not exceed 40K in size.

The Ex-Im Bank wants you to wait for more than a minute-and-a-half while you download a 62K image, a 15K image, a 10K image and a 7K HTML document along with a Java script.

If waiting for the images was worth it, maybe we would wait. Unfortunately, the image is duplicated by a menu bar and then by a text menu.

The site has the words ''text only'' next to the menu bar, but it seems to serve no purpose. I managed to find the text version buried in the site. If you want the text-only version, you have to type in http://www.ex-im.gov/

textonly.html.

There is a home button on the home page. Of course, when you click on, it reloads the home page, and you will have to wait again.

JAVA SCRIPT PROVES

VERY EFFECTIVE

However, the Java script is worth the wait and is a very effective tool. The script sends scrolling text along the bottom of your browser, announcing applications are open for the Small Business Exporter and Lender of the Year Award.

Had it not been there, I doubt if I would have been aware of the award. Could your Web site use this technique to highlight an event or a new product?

The Ex-Im Bank needs to run a Web analyzer on its site for missing links. If you click on Services for Small Business Fact Sheet, you get the ''not found'' error message.

Even with these flaws, the site is definitely worth the effort, because it is loaded with information to help you finance your deals. The Ex-Im Bank has ''completed nearly 11,000 financial transactions totaling $65.5 billion.'' More than 80 percent have assisted small businesses over the last five years.

A DEAL GROWS

IN BROOKLYN

If you want more detail, it gives you a map of the United States.

Click on an area and (a little more than a minute later) receive a list of cities showing how many deals were financed.

Click on the city, say Brooklyn, with 14 deals, and receive a list of companies.

It would have been nice to find more information on the deals or hyperlinks to the companies' Web sites. Who knows - someone might want to ask these companies about the lending process or even do some business.

You will also find information and the history of the Ex-Im Bank. The Forms & Publications section presents a large menu of items, most of which lead to the information you seek, including everything from working capital guarantees, to export credit insurance, to environmental financing issues.

Each section presents you with a list of names, addresses, phone and fax numbers for further information and assistance in your region. What is missing is the e-mail address for these contacts.

All the forms are there in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format. As you know, this format requires that you install the Acrobat reader plug-in on your browser. If you haven't done this, you cannot read the file.

The Ex-Im Bank site assumes you know all this and does not provide a hyperlink to download the Acrobat plug-in, as most other sites do.

Country information outlines the type of loan that can be financed over what time frame. For example, the Ex-Im Bank financed exports to Brazil of consumer goods, spare parts and raw materials are on 180-day terms, while bulk agriculture commodities are up to 360-day terms. It lists what banks qualify for inclusion in the Ex-Im Bank programs.

The Ex-Im Bank's City/State Programs section explains how the program works to help local governments ''bring Ex-Im Bank's financing services to small and medium-sized U.S. companies that are ready to export.''

Included are the application guidelines for states and local entities to participate in the program.

REPORT OF THE

LOAN COMMITTEE

One of the better-thought-out features is the Report of the Loan Committee, presented in a calendar format. Click on the date and find who was involved in the deal, for how much, and if it was approved.

It also tells you that ''the board of directors must approve the minutes of any Board or Loan Committee action before it can be released to the public.

As this process takes two weeks, there is always a minimum two week delay from the date of action to the date the minutes are released to the public.''

The U.S. Ex-Im Bank is trying hard to assist you by providing a wealth of information on its Web site about the Ex-Im Bank's services, the people to help you with these services, and the forms to apply for these services. Take advantage of it to expand your business.