Operators of a Canadian on-line financial site want to take their brand of personal financial management into the United States.
To ease its passage across the border, the Internet aggregator iMoney is seeking partnerships with a U.S. bank, brokerage, and/or a media company, said Andrew Brown, executive vice president of the Toronto-based venture.
That could pose a challenge to Intuit Inc.'s Quicken.com and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Investor, both of which have presences in Canada.
"Our service is much broader," Mr. Brown said.
Henry Wolfond, iMoney's president and chief executive officer, said his company's service combines information with analytical tools and lets consumers conduct transactions with participating institutions.
"We are not simply an information site," he said. "We integrate transactions into the content of the site."
MSN Investor and Quicken.com offer links to the sites of their financial service providers, but not the same capability to submit applications or open accounts at those institutions.
Like Investor and Quicken, iMoney acts as a conduit, connecting on-line customers to 20 institutions, including banks, insurance companies, and mutual fund organizations.
Consumers can compare quotes, rates, and products, conduct transactions on-line, and get up-to-the-minute financial and company news. Tools developed by iMoney make the site dynamic and interactive, Mr. Brown said.
The company considers its transactional capabilities unique.
"Our site integrates the user experience with the order-entry screen, pre-populated with information so the consumer can go right through the purchase to verification," Mr. Brown said.
Currently, iMoney is working on ways to simplify transactions. "The easier a transaction, the higher the rate of fulfillment," Mr. Wolfond said.
He estimated that 66% of credit card applications are completed, compared to only 10% of mortgage applications, which are more complicated.
In the next 12 to 18 months, iMoney might introduce one-click purchasing, a digital-wallet concept that aims to simplify transactions by eliminating the need to re-imput information for every visit to the site, said Rick Yazwinski, chief technology officer.
"Right now, if consumers apply on-line they are required to recomplete the application form," he said.
The iMoney service is available free to two types of consumers. About 300,000 people use it monthly to obtain financial information. There are 115,000 more consumers registered on the site who may use enhanced tools to monitor stock portfolios and track assets.
Available through the www.-imoney.com site are credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, certificates of deposit, stocks, mutual funds, and auto insurance. It can alert consumers to changes in their accounts by telephone, pager, e-mail, or mobile phone.
"We're giving consumers control over their finances and choices," Mr. Brown said.
The Canadian depository institutions in iMoney are Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canada Trust, the FirstLine Mortgages division of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the Montreal Trust division of Bank of Nova Scotia.
The insurance companies represented are Dominion of Canada General Insurance Co., Economical Insurance, and Scottish & York Insurance.
Fidelity Investments, AGF, Templeton, Trimark and AIC are the mutual fund companies in the program. Charles Schwab Canada is the only brokerage.
Mr. Brown, 34, and Mr. Wolfond, 40, dreamed up iMoney in 1995 during their tenures as lawyers for Bayshore Capital Inc., a private equity investment holding company that finances companies in financial services and technology.
A subsidiary, Bayshore Trust Co., was an on-line lending pioneer in Canada, processing mortgage applications in about two minutes. Bayshore Capital retains 100% ownership of iMoney, which was established in October 1997.
The founders said they spent more to develop iMoney's brand in Canada than on the technology, which includes Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris computer platform and an Oracle Corp. data base. Developing the technology cost about $4 million (Canadian), and the brand-building cost about $4.5 million.
"Our brand is well known in Canada, but it takes a lot of capital to move" into the United States, Mr. Wolfond said.
Yet they have even loftier goals for iMoney.
Mr. Brown said that after the United States, other "natural extensions" would be the United Kingdom and Australia because they offer "a similar landscape" in financial services.
Among the ways the company makes money are through banner advertisements, fees from the participating financial institutions and consumer users, and sales of its interactive tools to member institutions.
The company collects payments from its 20 institutional partners for maintaining transaction-oriented versions of their own sites within the iMoney system.
Toronto-Dominion's TD Bank Financial Group sees advantages to iMoney over the Canadian versions of America Online and Microsoft's MSN, on which TD Bank also has a presence.
Stephen Gesner, the bank's vice president of interactive services, said: "iMoney drives a lot of traffic. The advantage of iMoney is that it is targeted properly. This is the place to compare best-of-breed products from Canadian financial services companies in an unbiased manner."
TD Bank sells mortgages, personal loans, and credit cards through iMoney, where consumers may open and submit product applications. The bank, which handles fulfillment and holds all customer information on its server, pays iMoney a commission each time one of its products is sold through the site.
Sales on TD's proprietary site, which offers 40 products, are substantially higher. Customers come to that site specifically for those bank products, Mr. Gesner said.
TD Bank uses iMoney "to get our brand out to Web customers who wouldn't normally click on the Toronto-Dominion site."
People who go to iMoney are getting ready to buy, Mr. Gesner said, noting: "This appeals to us because we think our products are better than any on the street."
Charles Schwab Canada chose iMoney because it offers "good tools that we knew would attract our target market," said Sean Church, chief operating officer.
The Canadian operation was formed last month when Charles Schwab Corp. bought Priority Brokerage Inc. and Porthmeor Securities Inc. Mr. Church said the brokerage has received a "steady flow" of referrals from iMoney, adding: "iMoney has been aggressively advertising itself electronically and in other ways."
Because of rules that forbid iMoney from taking orders on-line, it can only refer customers to the brokerage. "The client places the order with us," Mr. Church said.
He called iMoney - which offers real-time equities quotes, options, historical charts, intraday news, research reports, and account history - a "good aggregator of information."
But there will always be a need for "transactors like Schwab and others to take care of business for customers."