Signet Banking Corp. last week announced that it would expand its on-line information site to give customers full access to their accounts over the Internet by next year.
The Richmond, Va.-based banking company will set up a "comprehensive bank site" on the World Wide Web portion of the Internet to complement its current on-line information, according to Robert M. Morano, a bank spokesman.
The new site, which became accessible to Web browsers last week, contains general company information about Signet, such as an annual report and a brief history of the bank, as well as postings for job openings at the bank. It will connect to the bank's two other on-line sites, established earlier this year.
The Signet "home page" complements two other informational sites set up on the Web earlier this year. One provides between 150 and 200 pages detailing the bank's student lending services, and the other offers information about government contracts available in the surrounding area.
By next March, the bank intends to give customers full access to all their accounts via this system, which connects the bank's core data stores to the Internet, Mr. Morano said. Signet employees will begin testing interactive banking over the Internet in coming weeks, he added.
Interactive banking is the "really sexy part" of this announcement, Mr. Morano said. More than 100 financial institutions have already established a presence on the World Wide Web - the portion of the Internet that allows for greater graphical content - by setting up general information sites, like electronic bulletin boards. But only a handful of banks, including First Union Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., are attempting to run transactions and allow for broad account access over open computer networks.
"It's going to be a huge parting of the curtain on this thing," Mr. Morano said.
Although this system would bridge the gap between the freewheeling Internet and Signet's highly sensitive data files, Mr. Morano said the bank is confident that security will be sufficient. Firewalls will guard the information on the system server level, while data communications between both points will be encrypted and authenticated.
While some banks have worked with on-line services, to provide information and transactional services to customers within the confines of their private networks, more and more are investigating the broader potential of the Internet itself. Security developments in recent months have made work over the Internet more feasible.
Signet chose the Internet, Mr. Morano said, "because it costs less and reaches more people."
On-line service subscribers typically pay at least $10 a month for a few hours of Internet access, after which there is an additional charge. Only a small percentage of PC owners - less than 10% - currently subscribe to an on-line service.