WASHINGTON - An industry-sponsored survey of computer users bodes well for banks entering the business of consolidating, or "aggregating," a customers' financial information on one Web site, bankers said.

The survey, by the ATM operator Star Systems, found that 89% of the Internet-surfing public would be less likely to use nonbank aggregators if they knew that those providers were not required to comply with federal banking regulations. About two-thirds of the computer users polled said they believe Web aggregation services offered by financial institutions provide more security (70%), privacy (69%), and fraud protection (65%) than similar services offered by nonbanks.

When asked to evaluate potential features of a Web aggregation service, 89% said it was important for the service to be provided or supported by their current financial institution.

"We're excited about the results, but quite frankly it's not a surprise," said Gayle Wellborn, director of customer advocacy at First Union Corp., which plans to offer an aggregation service by yearend. "As a financial institution we're in the business of safeguarding our customers' information. Because of that, our customers trust us."

Citigroup Inc., Chase Manhattan Corp., and FleetBoston Financial Corp. are also launching their own aggregation services.

Just over half of the respondents (51%) assumed that all aggregators are required to follow federal banking rules governing the booming new business of aggregation, which currently is dominated by nonbanks. Ninety-two percent said that all Web aggregators - banks and nonbanks alike - should be required to comply with federal banking regulations.

More than 700 adults who expressed an interest in online banking responded to the Star Systems survey, which was sent to them by e-mail. Star Systems, of Maitland, Fla., commissioned the survey and will release it to member financial institutions this month and to regulators, lawmakers, and others in September. American Banker received an advance copy.

The primary federal law governing aggregation is the 22-year-old Electronic Fund Transfer Act. If money is not transferred properly and funds are stolen or misdirected, the financial institution that holds the customer account or issued an access device, such as a personal identification number, is accountable.

"If there is a breach in security on another aggregators' site, not only does it not reflect well on any of the players in the network, but as the regulation stands today, the financial institution will be held liable for making the customer whole," Mr. Wellborn said.

Recognizing this problem, the Federal Reserve Board has asked for suggestions on clarifying Regulation E. Comments are due Aug. 31, and a revised rule is expected by yearend.

In the meantime, "it is clear that comprehensive consumer education - including full disclosures of which protections are and are not applicable to various types of Web aggregators - is sorely needed," Star Systems said in a 17-page paper on the survey results.

Banks, nonbank aggregators, and regulators are working with the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat to develop a set of voluntary business guidelines.


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