A new study on remote banking underscores the frenzy surrounding alternative delivery and confirms bankers' keenest suspicions about home banking delivery channels.
A soon-to-be-released report by the New York-based consulting firm Jupiter Communications Co. predicts a continued rise in growth of PC-based banking applications and says touch-tone telephone services will be ubiquitous within five years.
"The software industry had seen this in spades," the report quotes Brian Arthur, an economist and Citibank professor at the Santa Fe Institute, as saying. "Intuit, Bill Gates, and just about anybody with smarts had put two and two together and were just about to cream the entire banking industry. " But many of the home banking experts quoted in the study say banks still hold the upper hand in the battle to be the primary providers of remote financial services, despite encroachments by software companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Intuit Inc.
"The six largest banks in the country today have relationships with more than 100 million households," versus less than 10 million for the Big Three on-line service companies or personal financial management software packages, observes Mark Burns, a vice president in the emerging delivery unit of Chase Manhattan Corp.
As for interactive television, a more experimental delivery vehicle, Jupiter predicts that mass-market acceptance is at least a decade away, and that the availability of television-based financial services should be even further off.
Opinions vary more widely on the long-term viability of screen phones.
Citibank hired Catherine Allen in 1988 to oversee screen phone development. Back then, she says, she thought Citi was "right on" with its focus, since screen phones would make few technological demands on the user.
What has changed today, says Ms. Allen, the bank's vice president of business development, is how many more people have seized upon the opportunity to use the Internet. "It changes strategy quite a bit," she says. "That has happened more quickly than I thought it would."
Citicorp is said to have spent $100 million on creating its enhanced screen phone, which according to the report "was a total flop."
Peter Andersen, vice president of advantage home banking at Meridian Bancorp in Reading, Pa., agrees. "Screen phones are cold," Mr. Andersen says in the report. "They're frigid."
Further down the line, the study also anticipates a rise in the use of personal digital assistants, hand-held data storage units, and "intelligent agents" - three-dimensional computer-generated interfaces to services.
Personal digital assistants, or PDAs, failed miserably when they were first released a half-dozen years ago. But as with home banking itself, Jupiter analysts say, falling prices and increasing power will boost consumer acceptance, perhaps encouraging use of the devices in remote banking.
Intelligent agents, meanwhile, would give consumers some of the feeling of live, personal interaction without the human expense.
So far, on-line services such as America Online, Prodigy, and Compuserve have played only a small role in financial services. But this seems likely to change as giant Microsoft Corp., a formidable force in electronic financial services, launches its network, and as such banks as BankAmerica Corp. and First Chicago Corp. set up sites on America Online.
"The home banking war begins this year," Mr. Burns says. "There's going to be a great battle," beginning in the fourth quarter and raging on for the next 12 months, on products, pricing and functionality.