Providing online banking facilities is now expected for retail
banks. However, the range of services that banks offer solely over the Internet
tends to be limited. For example, often customers have to call to set up bill
payments. Alternatively, they cannot integrate personal finance software with
account information from the bank.

The commercial story
behind this blockage is that although banks feel the pressure to offer some
features on their Web sites—perhaps displaying balances as graphics or
providing primitive calculators to forecast expenses—these offerings are
limited, due to the cost and complexity of more advanced functionality.

However, that is
changing, according to a new report from Celent Communications.
By 2006, the amount retail banks spend on external IT services is expected to
break the $500 million mark. On the one hand, what is happening is that online
banking vendors are gearing up their offerings and extending the interoperability, customization, and
integration capabilities of their products. And on the other hand, new pure
players in the online space are raising the bar.

Virtual banks push the envelope

Take the case of NetBank.
This exclusively online bank claims to be the United States’ first commercially
successful Internet bank; it currently has more than 150,000 customers in 50
states and 20 foreign countries.

The bank sells itself as offering a full line of financial
services designed around the needs and lifestyles of its net-savvy customers—this
is the flexibility that the online channel brings. Moreover, its branchless
business model allows it to operate at a fraction of the cost of a traditional
bank, savings that the bank says are then passed back to customers through more
competitive deposit rates and free account services, such as online bill

However, the bank wanted to develop its online functionality,
partly to extend Web site facilities into the more advanced services, but also
to move its offerings into the small to midsize business space. In other words,
it was thinking about the kind of operations in which the use that an advanced
individual user might make of a Web site would be pretty similar to the use
that a small business might require.

NetBank turned to Corillian,
the leading online banking vendor, according to Celent, and NCR, a provider of
ATMs and other self-service solutions. “In launching a new small business
banking program, we needed partners who could help us deliver a superior
customer experience to a targeted group of tech-savvy business professionals,”
explains Tom Cable, NetBank CTO. “As a branchless bank, we rely on the Internet
as our primary delivery channel for services. We chose to partner with NCR and
Corillian because they provide the expertise, and flexibility required to
compete and win in today’s marketplace.”

So far, the project has proved a success. It generated $17
million in new deposits in five months, and without aggressive advertising.
Cable believes the new services are proving attractive to existing retail
customers too: he projects a 5-10 percent improvement in retention, accounts,
and revenues.

Speaking about the
market in general, Dan Schatt a senior analyst at Celent, says that this kind of
activity will form a trend: “Historically, banks have been content to
allow Quicken or Microsoft Money to take care of their customers’ personal
financial management needs and have spent considerable sums to facilitate OFX
downloads for this purpose. We are now seeing quite a bit of expense
management, funds transfer, and aggregation technology offered within bill
payment and online banking offerings, enriching a user’s online banking
experience. This year, banks have an opportunity to take advantage of this
functionality through core and application vendor offerings like never before.”

His colleague, Alenka Grealish,
adds that the vendor market offers retail banks increasing choices if they want
to go down this route: “Over the past decade, Internet banking vendors
have significantly increased their ROI arsenals. Despite the tepid market,
vendors have not slowed their pursuit of enhancements that strengthen the ROI
equation. Their current challenge is demonstrating to bankers how these
enhancements translate into line items on income statements.” And if the
half-billion dollar spending prediction is anything to go by, it looks as if
they are succeeding.

Stay up to date with the latest IT news and information affecting the world of finance with TechRepublic’s free Financial Services IT newsletter, delivered each Wednesday. Automatically sign up today!