The Royal Bank of Scotland has introduced the UK?s first Internet-based online banking service aimed at the general public. Other big clearing banks, including Barclays and Natwest, are expected to follow over the next few months.
What?s new about Royal Bank?s service is that it?s based on open Internet standards ? previous online banking services have required special software. As well as allowing you to use an ordinary browser, this open approach lets you import data into standard spreadsheet or financial management packages for analysis.
Users will be able to do the full range of personal banking transactions online, including checking balances, transferring money between accounts and paying bills. At the moment, the service is aimed at personal banking customers, though Royal Bank says it is looking at the possibility of introducing a small business version later this year.
On the security side, the bank is using 168-bit encryption, which should give much better protection than commonly used 40-bit schemes. All data transferred in either direction is also digitally signed to authenticate where it is coming from.
Barclays and Natwest have been running extensive trials of similar Internet-based banking services. Barclays is expected to go public shortly, while Natwest may wait until the summer.
Barclays is known to be using Microsoft software as the client front-end, while Natwest is employing Netscape Navigator and Java. Natwest?s trials also involve small business users as well as personal customers.
Several banks already offer online banking, including TSB and Royal Bank?s similarly named rival Bank of Scotland, which has long offered the pioneering HOBS (Home Office Banking Service). But these established services use older approaches that pre-date the emergence of open Web standards. The real challenge is to tap into the vast new population of Internet users now swarming online. Royal Bank of Scotland?s Web site is at www.rbos.co.uk.
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