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Net users put online trust in familiar hands

New research says most people feel better giving personal information online to traditional banks and other well-known merchants than to portals or ISPs.

    Most people feel better giving out their personal information online to traditional banks and other well-known merchants than to portals or their Internet service providers, new research has found.

    A Jupiter Media Metrix study released Monday said that the majority of online consumers replicate their relationships with traditional merchants on the Web, storing personal and financial information with banks, credit card companies and other institutions they already know.

    The study also found that online consumers tend to gravitate toward traditional companies on the Web as the amount of time they spend on the Internet increases. For instance, 36 percent of consumers who have been surfing the Web for more than five years have stored their information with traditional merchants, compared with just 12 percent of online consumers with less than one year of Web surfing experience.

    In addition, 31 percent of consumers with more than five years' experience online, which Jupiter called "veterans," have stored financial information with banks, compared with 13 percent of new surfers.

    New York-based Jupiter surveyed 1,989 online consumers for the study, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

    Storing personal information online has become a hot topic as Microsoft works to develop its HailStorm service, which is central to its strategy of conjoining its applications with Internet services.

    The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant envisions tying content delivery, shopping, banking and entertainment through a variety of devices--including cell phones, PCs and handhelds--using HailStorm.

    However, the fact that HailStorm and America Online's e-wallet service--which store commonly requested information such as a login names, shipping addresses and credit card numbers--are new to the market makes it easy to understand why most consumers are reluctant to use them, said Rob Leathern, a Jupiter analyst who authored the survey.

    Companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and other ISPs looking to create consumer-focused services for storing personal and financial information online "will be challenged by consumers who tend to trust banks and other merchants with their financial information online," Leathern said. "But I believe this will change once they realize the benefits of using these integrated services."

    Just 5 percent of consumers with more than five years' experience online said they are ready to let portals or ISPs manage their private information, the study found. But analysts said that will change as more consumers realize the benefits of integrated services provided by third-party companies.

    The survey found that once these so-called veterans realize the value of integrated services, 21 percent of them will allow a third party to store and share data on their behalf.

    However, Leathern said, without the participation of risk-management services provided by major financial institutions, it is unlikely that services like HailStorm and e-wallet will evolve from addressing a niche professional audience.

    Banks and other financial institutions cannot remain stagnant in their online offerings, Jupiter said. Though they have the advantage over ISPs and computer companies in terms of consumer trust online, traditional merchants have to create ways of integrating their services to stay valuable against growing pressures from portals and technology companies, the study said.