No doubt banks face eroding trust among their customers. Consumers are fed up with a steady barrage of debit card and non-sufficient funds fees. Yet on the highway of financial management, many banks have realized that being seen as a compass – rather than a tollbooth – might actually have a greater benefit in the long run. Enter the era of online personal financial management.

With consumers more focused on saving and budgeting, Web sites such as Quicken.com and Mint.com have gained popularity. The sites allow users to bring account information together in one place so they can track spending easily.

Many banks have recently introduced their own PFM versions, with the goal of increasing customer loyalty and retention. Bank of America, PNC and Wells Fargo all have developed their own PFM platforms.

Community banks have also joined the fray, piggybacking onto vendor offerings such as FinanceWorks, which is powered by Quicken, and Yodlee, a vendor partly owned by BofA.

Banks have distinct advantages to offer over nonbank PFMs. When it comes to security, customers trust banks more than PFM Web sites by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Banks can also offer more convenience, since users can monitor and conduct transactions at the same site; customer service departments can answer consumers' questions.

In terms of return on investment, PFMs can deliver, Javelin says. They build loyalty and drive traffic to the Web site. They can also cut costs by steering customers to check balances online. The aggregated information provides banks with cross-sell opportunities.

Banks that have yet to offer a PFM tool must move fast to avoid losing out to nonbanks.

"If banks do this right, consumers will see them as an ally rather than somebody they just have to do business with," says Mark Schwanhausser, an analyst at Javelin.

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