The war between online and brick-and-mortar financial services firms has been won, surprisingly, by brick and mortar. At the close of the dot-com boom, name brands made a comeback, bringing their brand strength online. This was true in consumer products (The Gap, Barnes and Noble) and in consumer financial services. While the online “channel” has grown exponentially, most of that growth has come from traditional institutions offering online services as one among a variety of options. A Jupiter Consumer Survey found that consumers were more likely to bank online with a company that also offered easy access to customer service (54.6 percent), nearby ATM machines (52.4 percent), and convenient branches (52.3 percent).
Although the add-on benefit of the Internet channel is most apparent in consumer banking, no area of financial services has remained unaffected by the Internet’s potential. In retirement services, for example, the Internet has allowed plan participants easier access to their retirement accounts, as well as to interactive planners, investment advice, and other information. At the same time, the Internet channel has lowered the cost of servicing for plan providers. As a result, the Internet has spurred the growth of qualified retirement accounts, especially to small business.
In institutional financial services, the Internet has created a new channel for transactions that is, like its consumer counterpart, often an adjunct to other methods of access. Most trade-execution firms already had some sort of computerized access to trade data, account information, and electronic communications networks (ECNs). These proprietary links often still exist alongside their Web based counterparts. As in the consumer arena, the Web seems to be offering more choices rather than becoming an alternative to conventional methods of transactions.
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