Internet banking functionality is growing with the anticipated launch of First Chicago NBD's "virtual bank." Bank sources say the new offering will consolidate all of a customer's relationships with the bank and make them accessible through a

single log-in. In February 1998, First Chicago plans to add connections to brokerage accounts. "There will be middleware packets of data from all of these different subcomputer systems to pull up your data," says a First Chicago insider. "With one log-in ID, you'll be able to see all of your relationships on one page, checking, car loan, everything, right there."

First Chicago wouldn't comment officially on the project because its launch has been delayed to as late as January, spokesman Tom Kelly says.

But as banks like First Chicago pump big investments into mega-banking Web sites, industry experts are at odds as to whether these ventures actually induce customers to quit their brokerage firms and consolidate their banking relationships. "To get people to consolidate their relationships, you've really got to be competitive on price and services across a broad array of products," says Larry Cohn, director of research at New Jersey-based Ryan, Beck & Co. "If you can't, the bells and whistles like this don't spell the difference between success and failure."

Toronto-based Scotiabank launched a similarly integrated site earlier this year. Robert Marshall, evp of retail banking at Scotia, argues that because a majority of bank transactions will be conducted electronically, banks must offer enhanced electronic services. "I think we risk our business not being in this game. Not just a portion of it, we risk being out of the business."

-sausner tfn.com

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