The Bank of America that existed before its merger with NationsBank Corp. has won the top ranking in two recent evaluations of bank Web sites, bolstering widespread sentiment that its Internet program will survive the transition.
"When it comes to Internet banking, Bank of America is ahead of NationsBank and just about everybody else," said Christopher Musto, senior analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc., a research and advisory firm for Internet commerce in Concord, Mass.
BankAmerica has placed first in the two quarterly rankings of bank Internet sites Gomez has done so far. The most recent was released in October, based on an evaluation done in August. The merger with NationsBank closed Sept. 30.
"I would expect that most of the (new bank's Internet) offerings will be taken from what Bank of America has done," Mr. Musto said.
Sukan Makmuri, vice president of interactive banking technology at Bank of America, confirmed that the combined bank would use many of the existing features of the three-and-a-half-year-old Bank of America Web site.
"The sense the customer gets from the whole experience is that this Web site is not an orphan but part of a delivery channel," said Mr. Musto. "Bank of America has integrated and reengineered the bank's processes from the front to the back end to facilitate an Internet delivery service."
Gomez rates Internet banking five ways: ease of use, customer confidence, the level of on-site resources, relationship-building features, and cost. The old NationsBank did not qualify for the Gomez survey because it did not offer Internet bill payment.
Of the 54 bank sites surveyed, Bank of America earned the highest score for relationship-enhancing features.
It ranked second in terms of on-site resources. For example, it grants instant home-equity-line approvals and lets customers pay credit card bills. They can also estimate the value of their homes by researching recent property sales in their neighborhoods, for a $9.95 fee.
Gomez ranked the site third in terms of ease of use.
In a separate survey of 55 Internet Banks by Virtu Inc., Bank of America was No. 1 in the 10 categories evaluated. Philadelphia-based Virtu surveyed bank Web sites for: security, ease of navigation, free downloadable software, on-line loan and enrollment applications, low monthly cost, ATM capabilities, monthly payment calculators, on-line bill payment, advanced funds transfers, and good customer service.
"It's a well-done site with a user-friendly feel and easy navigation," said Joe Barone, chairman of the marketing firm. "Everything you need in each of the business segments is there."
About 10% of Bank of America's four million direct-deposit account customers in California perform banking and bill payment at home, through Internet browsers, America Online, or WebTV. Soon a PalmPilot option will be added.
"We are using the same back ends but we support multiple delivery channels," said Mr. Makmuri. "We are continually improving or adding more capability and functionality for the consumer to make it a transparent banking experience."
Bank of America uses a tool called TPBroker 3.0 from Hitachi America Ltd., which facilitates customer service on the Web site. It lets credit card customers, for example, retrieve from mainframe systems current information about their accounts.
Bank of America soon will introduce electronic bill presentment, a way to apply for mortgage loans and insurance policies, and the ability to transfer funds from checking accounts to pay off credit card debt, said Mr. Makmuri.