BoM, RB set up sites on Internet

The race between banks to create Internet sites apparently has only two competitors, both of them sprinters who rushed to get online before creating anything substantial to put there.Royal Bank and Bank of Montreal recently set up sites on the multimedia...

The race between banks to create Internet sites apparently has only two competitors, both of them sprinters who rushed to get online before creating anything substantial to put there.

Royal Bank and Bank of Montreal recently set up sites on the multimedia section of the Internet called the World Wide Web.

But, neither site offers any real services, suggesting that Internet banking, at least in Canada, is still some way off.

There is, however, value in the experience of setting up a Web server, and, although humble, these sites do represent an effort to keep up with technology.

At the moment, the Bank of Montreal service (www.bmo.com) contains only news releases, speeches by bank officials, corporate profiles, and economic reports.

Brian Smith, Bank of Montreal’s senior manager of public affairs, says he is aware of the server’s limitations at this point, but adds the site is evolving and probably always will.

‘I hope, initially, it will be a useful source of information about the bank,’ Smith says.

‘In the longer term, we will be experimenting,’ he says. ‘Much of that will be driven by the users of the server.’

The Royal Bank site (www. royalbank.com) includes annual reports, and allows users to order business planning software, which is sent, rather inelegantly in Internet terms, through the regular postal service.

‘Certainly, what we’re offering right now is in its early stages,’ says Shelley Sunohara, a public affairs advisor at Royal Bank.

‘Over time, we’ll be developing the server,’ Sunohara says. ‘We’re still learning.’

While there is certainly some significance to the Canadian bank presence on the Internet, the competition is not particularly envious, or anxious to follow.

The Bank of Nova Scotia has no immediate plans to develop an Internet site, and The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will only say the Internet is under consideration.

The Toronto Dominion Bank seems the most interested in using the Internet somehow, but does not believe the establishment of the other bank sites is a cause to hurry the development of its own.

‘I suspect we will join the fray,’ says Steve Gesner, associate vice-president of cash management services at td.

‘Given the fact that we’ve taken a lot of time looking at the Internet, I think we’ll be able to offer to the world something a little more in line with the Internet culture,’ Gesner says. ‘We want to provide useful programs to the customer.’

Until now the banks have been only using private computer networks for corporate transactions, but these systems are not practical for the public Internet.

‘When banks start to look at utilizing the Internet for transaction business, given that you’re going outside a nice protected environment, the problems of data security and customer identification become magnified,’ Gesner says.

In the u.s., a number of companies are working on encryption systems, and other ways of securing the Internet, for financial transactions.

In December, the Bank of America announced it would be using an encryption system developed by California-based Netscape Communications (http://home.mcom.com).

The system can accommodate transactions using Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and others.

There are a number of other u.s. companies developing comparable systems, including Cybercash (http://www.cybercash.com), a company developing a system that can accommodate digital cash, credit cards, or debit cards, and First Virtual Holdings (http://www.fv.com), which acts as an electronic bank.