Consumers still wary of online banking safety

Online banking was supposed to revolutionize the financial services industry, shutting down branches and saving the banks oodles of cash.

But in 2004, the number of Canadians doing their banking on the Internet stayed the same for the first year since the banks first went online, according to TNS Canadian Facts, a Toronto-based market research firm.

TNS conducted 2,146 surveys in fall 2004. About 35 per cent of respondents indicated they have signed up to bank online, of which 30 per cent reported they had actually done online banking in the month prior to the survey.

Of the remaining 65 per cent of people who haven’t signed up for Internet banking, only six per cent are likely to do so in the next six months, said Rhonda Grunier, vice-president, TNS Canadian. However, 59 per cent are not interested in banking online because of security concerns.

Despite security fears, Rosaleen Citron, CEO of security firm, Whitehat Inc., in Burlington, Ont., said banking online is about the safest thing people can do on the Internet. “The banks get it, they understand what security is,” she said. However, she said consumers are more likely to have their identity stolen by falling for phishing expeditions. If a consumer has a firewall, antivirus, anti-spam and anti-spyware, or has an ISP that offers these servers, then they should be safe, she said.

The Royal Bank of Canada, based in Toronto, has about two million online banking users. In total, it has about 10 million clients, but only seven to eight million have the technology and connectivity to bank online, said James McGuire, president and CEO of ActionDirect and head of self-serve channel strategies at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto. McGuire said RBC is, so far, pleased with online banking rate adoptions.

“There has been a slowdown in the past little bit but we certainly see there is lots of potential for us going forward as well,” he said. “I think in any environment, you really do have adoption rates quite dramatically early on and as your base continues to grow it becomes harder and harder to attract new clients,” he said.

RBC plans to add online direct payment services — Interac — and more robust online record-keeping to its roster of Internet banking, in an attempt to attract more clients. This way, users will be able to view their statements online and engage in financial planning.

TNS said 59 per cent of respondents visited a bank in the previous month, while phone banking usage fell to 20 per cent from a high of 26 per cent in 2001. Seventy-five per cent of individuals used an ATM.

M. McIntyre, who would not disclose her first name or the name of her bank for fear of becoming a target for fraud, is a five-year veteran of online banking in London, Ont. She said she is not concerned about her identity being stolen from her PC because she takes precautions. McIntyre has installed two anti-spyware programs, updates her antivirus software regularly and dumps her browser cache every day and right after she banks online.

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