Citigroup Inc. is angling to get on the account aggregation bandwagon with a separately branded personal finance Web site.
The site, Finance.com, has been in a test phase for about a year. The aggregation service will be run by e-citi and target 25-to-40-year-olds earning $50,000 to $100,000 a year. By yearend, according to Citigroup, subscribers will be able to get financial advice from Finance.com and use it to shop for loans and other financial products and to view all of their accounts. The company would not give a more precise starting date.
"We want to be able to deliver a private banking experience to a mass-market audience," said Larry Rubin, Finance.com's chief executive officer.
Mr. Rubin, who is also a vice president of product development at e-citi, said the key is to provide independent, "agnostic" advice.
Only the line "Sponsored by Citibank" at the bottom of the site's home page will reveal the Citi connection, and the only links to Citigroup's Web sites will be through paid advertising, Mr. Rubin said. He said Citigroup will be a substantial advertiser but will probably be limited to 25% to 30% of Finance.com's total advertising.
Mr. Rubin said that Finance.com would consolidate account information primarily through screen scraping, a process that involves culling data from other financial institutions' Web sites, often without their knowledge.
Others that offer or plan to offer account aggregation and finance information over the Internet include Chase Manhattan, First Union, Intuit, and Microsoft.
Bank One's Wingspan lets consumers choose from a number of providers of mutual funds and insurance. And FleetBoston has been working on a separately branded online venture called NetFriday, which will offer ticket-buying and other services along with account aggregation. A spokesman would not say when NetFriday will be fully up and running.
As a test site, Finance.com site has been offering articles on everything from investing to mortgages. It is analogous to another e-citi project, the small-business portal Bizzed.com.
Finance.com will continue to provide reporting from news services such as Morningstar and SmartMoney.com, and will eventually carry original content. Mr. Rubin said staff writers would be free to write about competitors' products and would never be expected to tout Citigroup's.
Likewise, when a consumer wants to buy a certain financial product - say, an insurance policy - Finance.com will generate a list of offerings, Citigroup or otherwise.
Mr. Rubin said visitors will be classified as paid subscribers, registered users, or unregistered visitors, with different amounts of content available to each. He said that subscription and transaction fees had not yet been determined.
By operating separately from Citigroup, Finance.com can attract customers who want independent advice, said Christopher Musto, director of financial services at Gomez Advisors of Lincoln, Mass. At the same time, Citigroup's brand name and product expertise may give Finance.com a leg up on other independents, he said.
The challenge will be to leverage Citigroup's name and reputation without losing the perception of independence, Mr. Musto said.
Finance.com will advertise through both traditional and new media when it add services this year, Mr. Rubin said. Without any promotion, the site is averaging 300,000 views a month from about one-third that many visitors, he said.