Microsoft Corp. has consolidated several financial services Web sites into one as it strengthens its bid to be a major entry point to the Internet.
The site, MoneyCentral, combines its Investor site for brokerage activities and HomeAdvisor for financing a home with money management information and financial calculation tools culled from the company's Money software.
In a speech at American Banker's OnLine '98 conference in Florida, Lewis Levin, vice president of Microsoft's desktop finance division, said MoneyCentral is positioned as a site that would direct people to bank Web sites.
"You've built this amazing Web site," he said. "Will anyone come?"
Internet traffic tends to be concentrated at a handful of sites offering either search capabilities or aggregated services, he said. America Online, for example, reaches 45% of Internet users, he said.
No Web site dedicated to financial services or any other type of specific content is among the top 12 most visited, he said. "This is a problem. Banks have got to get distribution at places where users go," he said.
In Mr. Levin's view, Web sites are starting to fall into two categories: "start sites," where people go first to organize their Internet searches, and "destination sites," where "people go to get things done."
In this on-line world, consumers would go through MoneyCentral to reach various bank sites, where they would transact business.
MoneyCentral would bolster Microsoft's challenge to Intuit Inc.'s Quicken.com financial Web site. It may also threaten banks and brokerages wary of Web sites that relegate financial institutions to a list of providers. Other institutions are vying for the same gatekeeper positions that Microsoft and Intuit covet.
"There's a concern about commoditization and competing not on the value of relationships but on price," said Mark C. Dolphin, senior vice president in Fleet Bank's small-business group. He said small banks could benefit most from the visibility a Web site like MoneyCentral would offer.
Larger banks, he said, would be better off as partners in a gateway site-as Citigroup has done with Netscape Communications Corp.'s Netcenter- rather than being a subset on such a site.
"From a small-business perspective," he added, "it's important for us to add value to our relationships. Microsoft would dilute the relationship."
MoneyCentral offers financial information in eight areas: investing, retirement and wills, real estate, insurance, money and banking, taxes, family finance, and "smart buying," which is linked to CarPoint for car loans and to Expedia for booking flights and making travel arrangements.
MoneyCentral is part of a Microsoft "mission to engage consumers in the Web lifestyle," Mr. Levin said. "We want to provide a realistic, practical place that users believe they can go to get things done."
The HomeAdvisor site brought five lenders to MoneyCentral, and the Investor site, 12 brokerages.