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Towards the plug 'n' play bank

Financial web sites are no longer little more than electronic advertisements. Investment banks want to offer their clients meaty services - pricing models, account-management tools, databases of trades, perhaps even real-time trading. Security is a declining problem but there are still bandwidth limitations to contend with. However, at least one bank reckons it can reduce its own costs if clients can get straight to data rather than deal with customer services. Andy Webb reports.

Although the financial community has been quick to embrace the Internet, two major handicaps are impeding fuller use of it - security and reliability. Most banks have moved beyond putting simple brochureware on their World Wide Web sites and are publishing their research as well. The next step in the process - about a year ago it was the source of many brave words about what could be achieved - is to use the medium for transactions.

This is where progress is beginning to hit a wall. Although the private-client groups of many banks already offer on-line share dealing and other transactional services, banks have been reticent about extending these to the corporate and institutional level. Internet security has been substantially improved in the last few months, but public perception that this is the case is still lacking. The news that the latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser software contained a bug that could enable an outsider to break into its user's computer or network created the sort of headlines that tend to stick in clients' minds.

Near enough is not good enough, particularly for banks - security needs to be absolute.

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