First Union Corp., which just a few months ago seemed to be a role model for banking companies opposed to screen scraping, seems to have reversed its position: It is now collaborating with a screen-scraping company that it once sued and has made an equity investment in a second screen-scraper.
Companies that cull customer information from others' Web sites - usually without the site owners' knowledge or authorization - are known as screen scrapers. Most banking companies have refrained from using screen-scraping technology for fear of compromising customers' privacy. But amid growing evidence that banks' Web sites will be targeted no matter what, some bankers seem to be adopting the attitude: "Scrape or be scraped."
It isn't clear that Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union has definite screen-scraping plans, but it confirms that it has invested in Adhesion Technologies of Charlotte, a newcomer to the aggregation business. When its business goes live in October, Adhesion plans to use screen scraping and Open Financial Exchange technology to give people access to accounts they hold at multiple banks, said Adhesion chief executive officer Todd Johnson.
First Union declined to discuss its relationship with Adhesion except to say its investment in the company is "not insignificant." Last week The Charlotte Observer reported that "sources familiar with the project" said First Union plans to use Adhesion's software, but Mr. Johnson and a First Union spokeswoman would not confirm or deny this.
"I cannot yet announce that First Union is using what we have built," Mr. Johnson said.
In January First Union sued a screen scraper, Secure Commerce Services Inc., charging that it pirated customer information from the First Union Web site and stored it in a way that threatened customers' privacy.
But First Union dropped the lawsuit in March and said it had begun working with Secure Commerce to make sure the vendor's "systems and policies meet our Internet aggregation standards."
Days before announcing that it was dropping the suit, First Union's Kellie Scott, senior vice president and e-channels director, told American Banker: "We support aggregation. We want to be aggregators, but we want to be sure that we do it in a way that safeguards our customers."
Matthew Cone, chief marketing officer at Corillian Corp. of Beaverton, Ore., a vendor of Internet banking software, said First Union's about-face is hardly unusual.
"The industry went from 'How can we stop this?' to 'We realize that this is inevitable' to 'We would like to do this ourselves' in a three-month period," he said.
Demand is a big reason. "Banks realize that their customers want these services and that they have the right to these services," Mr. Cone said.
Other banks that have reversed field on this issue include NetBank, an Internet-only bank in Atlanta. In March, a month after vice chairman and CEO D.R. Grimes expressed deep reservations about screen scraping in an American Banker interview, NetBank announced a deal with Teknowledge Corp., a Palo Alto, Calif., aggregator.
"We believe a consolidated financial statement is an incredibly attractive and innovative offering," Mr. Grimes said at the time.
Speaking Tuesday at the National Automated Clearing House Association payments conference in Los Angeles, William S. Wallace, executive vice president and chief information officer at Bank One Corp.'s WingspanBank.com, said, "First Union came to the same conclusion we did. It's hard for us to tell our customers they can't do something, but it's important for us to define policy around it."
Wingspan is not offering aggregation services but has been exploring the technology for five months. "We're likely to be out in front doing early learning on screen scraping," Mr. Wallace said.
Chris Costanzo contributed to this article.