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Banking on the internet


With the Internet knocking on their doors, traditional banks are being pressurised to adapt to new technology or stand aside and watch as more innovative players enter the highly lucrative banking game. Security First Network Bank (SFNB) is one a new breed of banks who avoid face to face contact with their customers by transacting over the Internet. Fully approved, insured and with an asset value of US$ 41 million, SFNB is likely to be a tough act to follow for banks still expecting their customers to walk through the door.

Electronic transfers have transformed banks from being a safe place to keep your money, to one of the most information intense industries that we deal with in our daily lives. SFNB uses the Internet to move banking from branches to the world wide web. Clients can use their browsers to login securely to the banks’ computers to pay accounts, transfer money, get up to the minute statements and even view digital images of cheques that have cleared. Deposits, always an online banking dilemma are handled by direct deposits or wire transfers from any other account.

While more than 200 banks are now offering an online service, SFNB was the first truly branchless bank. Strangely enough their next addition will not be another web server but rather a physical branch. Following the success of their online bank they are now opening city offices. The first is opening on January 30th is in Atlanta, Georgia. "We see our City Offices as a hybrid banking solution that blends the best aspects of a physical presence with all of the convenience and power of Internet banking," said James S. Chip" Mahan, III, SFNB chief executive officer. "We are bringing the technology to our customers in yet another way, a natural step in the further development and delivery of online banking." The physical SFNB branches are intended to compliment the online service. Although it is easy to open an account online, the branches will offer that human touch for those customers who aren’t yet familiar with the online world. Staff will assist customers by showing them how to use the online banking system.

SFNB have placed major emphasis on security to get approval from the office for thrift supervision (OTS) which is the banking regulatory body in the United States. Their security emphasis also helps to put customers minds at rest when transacting over the internet. After their first year of trading the bank concludes that the internet provides an even safer environment for banking than the real world. The internet community is to a certain extent self policing with customers suggesting better ways of operating to avoid fraud.

SFNB offers an extremely interactive service which allows customers most of the functionality of Intuits Quicken package or Microsoft Money. The difference being you don’t need to go out and spend money on software. All you need is a web browser and a connection to the internet.

STOP PRESS : The ABSA group recently announced that their online banking service was available and signed up more than 100 users in the following week. Not being an ABSA customer myself I asked a computer geek friend of mine, an ABSA client himself, what he thought of the service. “Signing up was extremely easy,” he said, “but there is no service. I seem to be have been added to a mailing list and they promised to keep me informed. I couldn’t even do basic things like transfer money.” It seems that we may have to wait before we can say that South Africa has a working online bank.