Britons struggling to manage an increasing number of online financial products will welcome the introduction of data aggregation with open arms, according to research conducted by BT Finance Industry Solutions.
Aggregation enables users to view and manage their accounts, investments and other financial holdings through a single Web page with one password. The United States already boasts more than one million users of financial aggregation sites and several financial service providers are set to launch aggregation services in the UK later this year.
BT Finance Industry Solutions offers account aggregation services to banks through relationships with third party vendors. The British telco is also believed to be investigating the introduction of aggregation services at its own consumer portals.
Charles Juniper, emerging technology manager for BT Finance Industry Solutions, says: "BT has been monitoring the development and uptake of these services in the States and we’re keen to understand how UK consumers will react to being able to access their online financial portfolio through one site."
Prodata Partners conducted the research on behalf of BT between February and March 2001. Six groups, consisting of 59 users of online financial services, were interviewed in Edinburgh, Slough and London during nine hours of discussion.
The research reveals overall expectations for aggregation are very positive and that a demand clearly exists, says BT. Consumers are prepared to adopt aggregation now and all believe such services will be beneficial through added convenience and speed. Those surveyed believe it will help them to better manage their finances.
Aggregators must be recognised and trusted, but more than half feel that providers do not have to be financial organisations, reports BT. Wealthier consumers are more likely to accept aggregation from non-financial firms, such as technology companies or retailers.
There is a cynical perception about ‘big name’ financial providers with many respondents fearing aggregation will amount to another money-making venture. All of those surveyed want aggregators to offer impartial and free advice through multiple channels, says BT, with exceptions including financial health checks and pension planning.
"Impartiality is a priority for British consumers, who will look for an organisation they can rely on and that doesn’t have to be a mainstream financial provider," says Juniper. "Newcomers to financial services will also have a chance to make their mark in aggregation as long as they can deliver trust and impartiality," he adds.
The research found concerns about security and privacy, with most feeling the benefits outweighed the risks, but the concentration of services meant respondents felt there was much to lose through poor security. Concerns included what the information would be used for and unauthorised junk emails. Liability in the event of fraud, network failure or disputed transactions were also cited.
Juniper concludes: "What potential providers of financial aggregation must understand is that consumers want impartiality and some will find this difficult to deliver. Some organisations are going to have to alter the way they work."
He notes that US banks have yet to discover how to convert these services into profit. "As far as consumers are concerned, aggregation sites have tended to be bland and unable to provide the sort of analytical information that helps users to improve their finances. The average British consumer is very demanding about finance, and aggregation sites need to offer more than just speed and convenience."