INTERNET BANKING TAKES OFF AS SECURITY FEARS ARE EASED; Million Users by Years end,FINANCIAL MAIL
Byline: CATHY SIMMONDS
BANKING by computer has broken through the fear barrier and about 700,000 people have already signed up.
But that figure is expected to top a million this year, according to Fletcher Research, a
London company specialising in Internet analysis.
It predicts the total will swell to seven million by 2003. At present about 14 million use the phone for some or all of their banking transactions, but the major growth is now expected to come from the Internet. There are two main options for personal banking by computer.
The first gives customers special software so they can use their PCs to gain access to their
accounts through private links to banks.
The alternative is connection between customers and banks over the Web.
This is the shape of things to come. It is more flexible than PC banking, allowing customers to access accounts from anywhere in the world.
Banks and building societies that concentrate on the more old-fashioned PC banking include NatWest, First Direct and Alliance & Leicester.
The likes of Citibank, Barclays, Nationwide and Norwich & Peterborough are focusing on Internet services.
Customers can simply ask to manage their money online without forfeiting any benefits or changing account numbers.
Few banks charge fees for computer banking.
Clients can check bal-
ances, view statements, settle bills and transfer money between accounts 24 hours a day.
Customers can also gain free access to the Internet now that the likes of Barclays and Nationwide have set themselves up as one-stop Internet service providers.
Barclays, which claims to be Britain's biggest Internet bank, has launched Barclays.net.
This combines access to the Internet, online banking and stock-broking services, and it is offered free to customers.
Peter Duffy, head of Barclays Online Banking, says: 'In 1995, Barclays was the first bank on the Internet and we were determined to become the first in the industry to provide a free service.
'We have always recognised the growing use of the Internet and know that customers will use it more, and want more from it in the future.' The one thing that stops
many current account customers from turning to the Internet is fear that security is poor and computer hackers may be able to access information and even steal money.
But the banks claim they have tackled the problem. Roger Miles of the British Bankers' Association says: 'In the early days of the Internet many people would not have trusted it with personal details.
'Now, though, we are well into the third generation of Web technology and the improved security measures are very good. …