Most financial services companies are failing to use the Internet to offer personalized services to customers, Speer & Associates' quarterly Web Site Marketing Practices survey found.

Of the 180 companies evaluated by the Atlanta company in its fourth marketing-practices survey, only four, it said - Citigroup Inc., American Express, Charles Schwab & Co., and Comerica Bank - are using the Internet effectively as a marketing tool.

It was the first time Citigroup made the top four in the ranking, which uses 125 criteria and puts the best performers at Level 5.

The top four companies made Level 4, Speer said, by personalizing their sites - offering account alerts and news, stock prices, and access to accounts at other institutions.

Ninety-four percent fell into Level 3: offerings limited to account balances, funds transfers, or bill payments. This indicates that financial institutions have become proficient in improving transactional capabilities and tying online banking systems into legacy systems, said Russell Wehrlin , a senior vice president at Speer & Associates. He said few break into Level 4 because "it is difficult to take disparate databases and integrate them across all channels and personalize those offerings to customers."

All these companies should try to do more, Mr. Wehrlin suggested. "The Internet provides financial services with the greatest opportunity to utilize customer relationship management," so they stand to lose more money than other types of companies if they fail to seize this opportunity, he said.

Speer says it is confident these companies will improve, and predicts that in the next 12 to 18 months 10 to 20 financial sites will offer personalized services along with transaction capabilities.

Upgrades to their technology platforms and alliances with technology companies will help financial services companies, Mr. Wehrlin said.

The biggest change in the latest survey was a significant movement of companies from the first and second levels to the third, he added.

Just three Internet-only banks - Wingspan.com, NetBank, and E-Trade Bank - made the top 25. "It is somewhat surprising, because this is the only channel that these banks compete in, and they have done little to differentiate themselves," Mr. Wehrlin said.

The Internet "is still an evolving channel for banks to get their arms around, and it will take some time to determine the winners in the space," he said. "But the ones that leverage the interactive marketing capabilities have the greatest chance of emerging as leaders."


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