VerticalOne Corp.'s approach to mass personalization on the World Wide Web is to consolidate consumers' accounts in one place.
The Atlanta company launched a service this month that aims to save consumers the time and hassle of logging on to multiple Web sites with different passwords when they want personal account information such as travel rewards, household bills, e-mail, investments, credit card balances, and bank statements.
Much like portal sites that organize and present generic content (news, sports, weather, stock quotes), VerticalOne uses data mining techniques to draw content in real time from several providers. It then presents this information as a private-label service in one place -- the user's favorite Internet destination, which can be opened with a name and password.
"We're not trying to be a portal," said Marc Gorlin, executive vice president at VerticalOne. "We're getting personal information from banks, credit card providers, e-mail providers, and reward schemes. We organize and aggregate it, but we don't deliver it to the end user."
Delivery is left to the company's destination-site partners, of which there are now eight.
VerticalOne has not yet signed the "big fire hoses like Yahoo or Excite," Mr. Gorlin said. For now, it is working with BellSouth Buzz, TheStreet.com, Cox Interactive Media, Planet Direct, AnyDay.com, the Orchestrate messaging service, DoubleClick, and USA.Net. It is also talking to the top eight banks in the country about becoming destination-site partners, Mr. Gorlin said.
Realistically, no more than 25% of users will choose their bank's Web site as a base-line "place of comfort," he said. So VerticalOne gives banks a way to become information providers to other destination sites.
VerticalOne is working with 90 information providers, including some of the top 20 U.S. financial institutions.
"The bigger picture means consumers don't have to go to their bank's site, but we allow them to take a piece of their bank and syndicate it," the executive said. "The bank gets the ability to touch all users that don't come to its site." If a user wishes to perform transactions, then a linkage can be completed without having to reenter personal information.
"We're actively looking at a bill-pay download financial application," Mr. Gorlin said. This could put Vertical One in competition with on-line bill presentment companies such as Checkfree Corp. and Transpoint LLC.
VerticalOne sees its immediate competitors as personal financial management software such as Intuit Inc.'s Quicken and Microsoft Corp.'s Money, as well as the password consolidator MyPassword.net and Mileage Miner, a travel rewards company.
Mr. Gorlin said VerticalOne is the only one of these services to pull together personal account information across key vertical markets. "We think the convenience is overwhelming," he said. "Banks are in the catbird seat because they have a position of trust."
In VerticalOne's initial research, banking and brokerage tied for fifth on the list of services that consumers most wished to consolidate on the Internet. E-mail aggregation, frequent-flier rewards, credit cards, and bills ranked higher.
For now, most of VerticalOne's destination-site partners are offering the service free to their customers, but "we're definitely looking at paying" on the sites, said Mr. Gorlin.
VerticalOne has two revenue models for its destination-site partners. The first is for VerticalOne and its partners to split advertising revenues. The second is for VerticalOne to charge banks or other marketing partners a monthly fee per customer acquired through the service.
A spokesman for TheStreet.com, a New York-based provider of financial news, said the VerticalOne service will be made available to some of its 66,000 on-line subscribers in October. "We're definitely interested in services that offer personalization," he said. "This would allow our customers to have one-click access to information about their personal accounts, say, to keep track of their bank accounts or brokerage information."
Participation will be left to the subscriber's discretion, the spokesman said. "At this point we don't know of plans for an additional cost," he added.
Atlanta-based BellSouth Buzz, BellSouth's local portal in nine Southeast states, is using the VerticalOne technology for its own Account Keeper service, according to Matthew Mulqueen, senior manager for business development at BellSouth Buzz.
"We're marketing it as a destination site where people can get local information and consolidate all their accounts and view them in a one-stop shop," Mr. Mulqueen said. "It's a way to differentiate ourselves and to make our customers' lives easier."
Only customers who already have on-line financial services accounts can use the BellSouth service.
Robert J. (Jack) Staff, chief Internet economist at Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., said he likes VerticalOne's software and believes it "will be useful and appeal to a great number of users."
Mr. Staff cautioned that other companies are moving in this direction. Novell Inc.'s DigitalMe aims to offer people a secure on-line identity.
VerticalOne expects to have signed 16 destination-site partners and to have 600,000 subscribers on-line by the end of the year, Mr. Gorlin said. The company is interested in delivering information to Palm organizers and mobile phones, he said.
Before joining VerticalOne, Mr. Gorlin was a co-founder of Pretty Good Privacy, a company formed to commercialize a data encryption security standard on the Internet.
Privately held VerticalOne was founded last year by Gregg Freishtat, a former senior vice president at Premiere Technologies. It employs 71 people and recently received more than $16 million in equity capital from Flatiron Partners, Chase Capital Partners, TTC Ventures, Kinetic Ventures, and others.