Internet banking: The next level

As leading financial institutes strive to build better customer relations, more new and sophisticated features are introduced for their online services. Here are some of those features and how you can make use of them.
Written by Sonal Parikh,GomezWire, Contributor
Many of you may already be familiar with the basics of Internet banking, but there are more sophisticated tools and features available online.

Leading firms strive to build customer relations, both offline and online. With a tight focus on saving customers' time, adding convenience and providing advice, banks are actively building automated features as well as decision support tools that empower customers to better calculate and financially plan life events. By providing more sophisticated tools and features online, customers have the ability to plan, finance and control their accounts without ever having to pick up the phone.

Here are a few of the new features that give customers more control of their finances.

Account aggregation: Sick of remembering all your user names and passwords for your financial accounts online? Wouldn't it be nice if you could combine your accounts into one place? A growing number of banks provide consumers a consolidated view of all their financial accounts from different institutions, including credit, loan and investment accounts.

Directbanking.com, Virtual Bank and Citibank (MyCiti) are among the banks that offer account aggregation services. Directbanking.com, for example, will categorize bank accounts and provide a financial snapshot of all accounts held at various institutions.

Account aggregators help save time because you don't have to trek to each institution's Web site to determine your financial position. Still ahead - transaction capabilities that will allow customers to transfer money from one institution to another within the same application.

Bill presentment: Your daily mail just got lighter? How? Using electronic bill presentment, customers can receive and pay their bills online. Scanned bill presentment enables customers to receive their bills no matter how they originated. Bills are then converted (digitally scanned) for online viewing.

Once customers login to their Internet banking accounts, they can review and pay all their bills online. Depending on the biller's functionality, payment is sent electronically or even via mail. Advanced setup time is necessary to ensure timely delivery and processing.

Some firms, such as American Express and Wingspan, enable customers to electronically receive and pay their bills online, while others use the scanned bill presentment for all bills. Bill payments and presentment is not free for all banking accounts. Prices can be up to $9.95 per month, depending on your banking relationship.

Personal look and feel: Now you can get banking information the way you want it. Many banks, such as Citibank, Clarity Bank and directbanking.com now enable customers to customize their banking experience online by setting their account view, adding local content and creating a personalized home page. Customized home pages enable customers to receive their account information, change color schemes, add/remove local content and even build stock-watch lists. Customers can also set up a daily planner, an address book and setup reminders for important days. Other banks, such as American Express and E*Trade bank, enable customers to personalize their account management area by nicknaming accounts (i.e. Bob's checking).

Planning tools and advice: Building your financial plans online is now a simpler process, with new breeds of planning tools and calculators. Budget creators, loan calculators and savings calculators help consumers plan out their monthly income and expenses.

SFNB, for example, introduced a planning section to its site this quarter. In addition to the calculator component, SFNB provides a detailed explanation of the results computed with each of its calculators. American Express provides consumers with a slightly different approach that helps them build a road map to reach their financial goals. This saved document enables customers to periodically reference their "road map" without having to recreate it.

These features continue to help customers control their finances, save time and simplify their lives. Please note: Not all of the above features are offered with every Internet bank. Check your bank's online capabilities to find out which features it currently provides. You can also try Gomez's feature comparison tool.

Sonal Parikh is a Gomez analyst who follows the Internet banking space.

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