in Sweden to offer Internet banking, is moving quickly to introduce new Web services.
Last month it added travel services to its Web site, and an option that lets customers pay for on-line purchases directly from their bank accounts. SEB also became the exclusive partner of seniornet.se, a nonprofit organization for people older than 55 that offers education and access to computer technologies. These service introductions came after a July announcement that SEB would create a unit dedicated exclusively to Internet development.
SEB Group, with $83 billion of assets, says it hopes to have five million customers banking via the Internet by 2004, up from today's 250,000, or 20% of its base. Working to its advantage is Sweden's high rate of Internet use and the high profile that banks enjoy relative to Internet portals.
In Sweden, "people consider banks their portals," said Avivah Litan, research director at Stamford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup. "And banks are trying to be everything."
Banks were the first in Sweden to market Internet services, enabling them to capture market share before the portals became big, Ms. Litan said.
Swedish banks also benefit from a higher Internet penetration rate than in any other country except Finland, with 45% to 50% of households connected and 10% to 15% doing Internet banking, according to an SEB spokesman. In the United States, 7% of households bank via personal computer, according to the American Banker/Gallup 1999 Consumer Survey.
A major contributor to Sweden's high Internet use is a tax break companies get for giving employees inexpensive PCs.
SEB's Web site, begun in 1996, averages one million log-ins a month, "which is more Web site visits than branch visits," said Anders Bons, head of strategy and competitive intelligence in SEB's Internet banking group.
SEB's most portal-like service is its Mutual Fund Market, which gives information not only on SEB's own funds but also on all 1,100 available in Sweden.
In June SEB introduced e-Giro, which added bill presentment to its bill payment service. Mr. Bons said 7,000 customers signed up for the service within a week of its launching.
Twenty percent of SEB's securities transactions and 10% of its mutual funds are handled over the Internet, and 35% of bills are paid there. SEB has 20,000 companies using a corporate Internet banking service begun in December 1997, and 900 clients a month are joining, Mr. Bons said. Trading Station, introduced in October 1998, offers real-time price quotes, news, and other information to 800 corporate clients in the foreign exchange, interest rate, money market, futures, and fixed-income trading areas.
In contrast to the U.S. banks committing millions of dollars to marketing, SEB has no separate Internet advertising budget. The Web site's promotion is included in the marketing efforts of different bank areas -- branches promote it and product units such as life insurance market it.