Barclays Bank is the first of the big four high street banks to announce an online banking service, and has chosen to operate this with Microsoft personal finance software rather than its rival, Quicken from Intuit.
When it launches the service in April, Barclays will join a list of 58 banks and financial institutions currently offering online banking on the Microsoft package, another blow to Quicken?s market dominance.
As recently as last year Microsoft Money was seen as the outsider in the online banking race. Rather than develop the product Microsoft attempted to take-over Intuit but was prevented by US antitrust authorities. But now the products are running neck and neck.
Microsoft claims that a new user downloads Money 97 every 30 seconds, and that many of these are former Quicken users. They are apparently attracted by the ease of use and larger choice of banking institutions available.
In reality there is little to choose between the functions of the two products, especially since the launch of the new and improved Quicken 7. Both allow you to pre-set payment of bills, set up standing orders, and check your balance from your home PC. They will also offer advice on investment plans and pensions. Both offer similar assurances about customer security.
Barclays says it adopted the Microsoft product on the basis of the results of a pilot scheme tested on 2,500 of the Bank?s existing customers. People preferred to have their accounts in pictorial form, as allowed by the Microsoft graphics. The service appealed to the younger, more upwardly mobile and computer aware. A particular attraction was the ability to pre-plan the payment of bills; enabling customers to go on holiday secure in the knowledge that their PC wouldn?t pay the bill until the wages have cleared.
Barclays has incorporated a 64-bit encrypted code on the bank-customer wire connection, which they claim is safer than any other online banking system offered. Louise Footner of Barclays said customers? finances would be safe as long as they kept their passwords secret.
Presumably the deciding factor to the Quicken or Money 97 purchaser will be which system his bank has adopted. If Microsoft continues to win clients like Barclays, they will have the market sewn up.
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