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Despite risks, online banking grows
Over 70 percent of people under 40 checking their balances online despite growing security concerns.
June 29, 2005: 6:01 PM EDT
Rob Kelley, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Young people are driving major changes in financial and banking services, favoring the convenience of a laptop over waiting in line at the teller's window, a new study shows.

At the same time, growing security compromises on the web are keeping online finance from becoming even more widespread.

In a survey of nearly 2700 Internet users, 64 percent of respondents used online services as the main way to check their bank account balance and 56 percent checked their investments online, according to a study by Yahoo! & OgilvyOne.

"The Web gets people more engaged with their personal finances," said Andy Jones of OgilvyOne. "And they become more predisposed to thinking about how they're managing their finances in both the short and long term."

74 percent of respondents said that the features of online banking -- instantaneous balance checking and transactions -- made them feel more in control of their finances.

20 percent of respondents were so diligent as to check their accounts every day, according to Richard Kosinski of Yahoo.

"The numbers of people conducting financial services online is growing," said Kosinski. "It's imperative for companies to recognize this behavioral shift and to create the type of experience that's going to allow them to capitalize on it."

But while the growth in recent years has been remarkable, it is threatened by growing security concerns surrounding online transactions.

A Gartner study on consumer confidence online found a 28 percent increase in predatory "phishing" attacks in 2005, which according to the study could inhibit e-commerce growth rates by 1 percent to 3 percent each year.

"Banks are relying on the online channel for the lower communication cost," said Avivah Litan of Gartner. "But as consumers start to think that they can't trust email anymore, companies will lose that channel."

Phishing scams involve sending email communications that look like they are from credible organizations, but actually encourage users to send critical data to thieves.

The two main risks for users conducting financial activities online are sufficiently securing your own data, and making sure the businesses you are dealing with are securing theirs, said Mari McQueen, Senior Editor at Consumer Reports.

"But a lot of your information is being moved around whether or not you initiated a transaction online. Just because you're not using a computer does not mean you're safe," said McQueen.

She urged people considering financial services providers to read their privacy policies and to ask them what efforts they take to safeguard online transactions.

"People need to start asking those questions regularly," she said. "It lets the companies know that their customers care about this."

"Unfortunately, most of the response to consumer interest in online security has consisted of companies trotting out new services like monthly credit monitoring. These may generate revenue for the security industry, but they're ID theft mitigation, not prevention."

The Yahoo study found a substantial difference in Internet usage patterns between users under 40 years old and those over 40. 72 percent of the younger group checked their balances online versus only 37 percent of the older consumers.

"The web is playing a powerful role for a younger demographic that hasn't traditionally been a target for the higher-priced offerings of the financial services industry," said OgilvyOne's Jones. "The growth of younger users online is a potential boon for these companies, but because these users are more financially savvy, you have to demonstrate that you're dedicated to serving them."

The Yahoo survey found that for older users, security was a far greater concern. And it is this demographic that has traditionally been the focus of financial service companies' marketing efforts.

"Older consumers often have more assets to manage," said McQueen. "The implications for financial services companies are greater if groups with more assets are reluctant to do transactions online."

Still, the transition to online financial transaction was not as marked for all activities, specifically those involving complex decisions, like mortgages and insurance.

"In the insurance and loan areas, people still have a need for face-to-face interaction," said Kosinski. "They conduct research online, but they go to offline channels -- like a bank branch or an insurance agent -- to make the final transaction."

53 percent of respondents preferred to apply for mortgages in person, while 51 percent said the same for insurance policies.

As for the future of transacting online, all parties saw room for growth.

"It will grow even more as the current group of twentysomethings age," said Gartner's Litan. "There are people under 25 who barely know what a bank branch looks like. Online finance will be ubiquitous in 5 to 10 years."

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