Adroit ring-fencing addresses login security concerns

After the launch of personal financial management site 22seven.com, Absa issued a statement that it would block the website from accessing Absa accounts because of the risks of its customers handing over personal login details to third-party websites.

Absa, as well as Standard Bank and the Payment Association of South Africa, has raised an important issue. They have spent an enormous amount of time and money on educating their customers not to hand over their banking login details to third parties. Customers themselves were concerned about simply trusting a new website with their banking login details.

However, FNB chief executive Michael Jordaan took a different view and tweeted: “Seems harsh to block 227. Better to see how security concerns can be overcome. Like ‘view only’ access.”

He proved that FNB had a “can do” attitude and if customers wanted to use a site to better manage their money, FNB would stick to its tag line: “How can we help you?”

Leanne van Zyl, head of online at FNB, met the 22seven.com team to investigate how they could allow their customers to interact with the website in a safe environment. “We realised that clients were going to hand over their user names and passwords, so we would assist them to make it safe rather than just blocking them,” Van Zyl said.

New security systems doesn’t compromise customer’s security
FNB has set up security systems that will allow customers to access 22seven.com without compromising their security. The customer uses a secondary banking profile with limited access. FNB already had a similar system in place for people who allowed their accountants to access their bank account statements, for example. “There has to be some education because customers still have to select a ‘view only’ access for the secondary profile,” Van Zyl said.

To protect customers, the FNB system will only allow access to 22seven.com if they are using secondary profiles that have “view only” access.

Like all the banks, FNB is creating its own personal financial management tool, but it is not averse to its customers using other sites to manage their money, if that is their choice.

Value-add products such as in-house personal financial management tools are a clever way to retain customers and encourage them to have all their banking products with one bank.

In response to the launch of 22seven.com the banks announced that they were creating their own personal financial management systems in a “safe and secure environment”.

The cynic could argue that by trading on fear, rather than finding solutions about third-party sites, the banks strengthen their hold on their customers. But in their defence and after the FNB announcement, Absa said that “it is open to conversations with third-party personal financial management service providers to explore collaborative models that do not violate the simple principle of never sharing one’s online banking logon credentials with any third party”. With online security a real issue, it was perhaps an error on the part of 22seven.com not to approach the banks before launching. But 22seven.com chief executive Christo Davel dismissed this and said it would have made no difference to the way the banks reacted.

Davel said Yodlee, the company it was using to aggregate accounts, had approached South African regulators and he believed it would be able to demonstrate the safety of the site.

“I predict that there will be a change in stance by the SA regulators in line with international trends and we will see certain brands and aggregators that we can trust.”

Yodlee comes highly recommended
Yodlee, which is based in the United States and specialises in money management software, has 30-million customers and is used by eight of the top 10 financial institutions in the US.

Van Zyl said customers would ultimately decide whether they wanted to use the free FNB money management tool, which would be launched in June, or whether they would be prepared to pay R70 a month to use 22seven.com.

The answer to that will depend on customer behaviour. Many South Africans have more than one credit card and most have store cards they may want their finance management system to include.

Davel said there were enough people who wanted an unbiased, independent brand. Although he would not give figures, he said that the launch was “embarrassingly successful” and the site was unable to handle the demand.

Time will tell about the success of 22seven.com, but FNB certainly turned it into a public relations coup.

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Maya Fisher French
Guest Author

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