Bank of America to add account aggregation to services

Bank of America Corp. is expanding its offerings into so-called financial account aggregation services next quarter. It is following CitiBank, Chase Manhattan Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., and others to offer these kind of services.

“They are one of the last big banks, but they haven’t missed anything,” said Aveveh Litan, vice president of financial services at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “No one is using it,” he said.

Litan said by waiting a year Bank of America may have saved itself some money and learned from the failure of other services, such as the recent failure of Bank One’s Wingspan Bank, which was shut down in June as a separate online bank.

The company is contracting with Yodlee, a provider of online aggregation services for such financial giants as American Express, J. P. Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley. Yodlee is based in Redwood City, California.

The real value of financial aggregation, which allows customers to view their online financial account information from their own as well as from other institutions at a single site, is not well understood by many of the institutions that offer it, according to analyst Bill Bradway, research director at Meridien.

When banks are able to integrate services such as portfolio analytics, financial planning comparison analysis, funds transfer, and online account management, consumers will begin to adopt and use such sites, according to Bradway.

There are in fact such plans on the drawing board, according to John Rosenfeld, Bank of America consumer e-commerce senior vice president.

“We are heading toward all of those. We understand that the true value-add is not in bringing together the account information. The value is to use decisioning tools, or access content that helps you make smart decisions, and then act on those decisions, and that is what we are working towards,” said Rosenfeld.

At launch, the site will allow users to also track frequent flyer miles and receive e-mails from various Internet e-mail accounts. Wireless services are under study but have not yet been deployed other than in pilot projects, Rosenfeld said.

However, while account aggregation may be a useful tool to retain customers and extend relationships, Gartner’s Litan does not believe account aggregation in and of itself will help any institution attract new customers.

“People vote with their pocketbooks, not bells and whistles. It is either more attractive interest rates or poor customer service that makes customers switch,” Litan said. “The average consumer, whether they are affluent or not, is not going to use these services. They are pain to set up. You have to have online accounts on all the other sites or you can’t aggregate, and consumers, except for the early adopters, will not go to that much trouble.”