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VerticalOne to launch hub for consumer info

Instead of bouncing around the Web to check the status of personalized accounts, consumers soon will be able to log onto a new service to survey the details of all their accounts.

Instead of bouncing around the Web to check the status of personalized accounts, consumers soon will be able to log onto a new service to survey the details of all their accounts.

The service, launching next week from start-up VerticalOne, will let Internet users check their bank balances, stock portfolio, frequent flyer miles, utility bills, and Web-based email--all from one site.

The personalized service, to be announced Monday, will be offered with such partners as financial news service The Street.com, ISP BellSouth Buzz, and media company Cox Interactive Media, which operates more than 25 localized Web sites.

VerticalOne's strategy is to partner broadly, both with destination sites that offer the service and with the banks, brokerages, and loyalty programs where individual Net users have accounts.

"VerticalOne is in the business of making brick-and-mortar companies' Internet strategies more profitable," declared chief executive Gregg Freishtat. Instead of requiring a major bank's customers to go to the bank's Web site, VerticalOne's service makes the customer's account information available on other sites that consumer already visits often. "We syndicate the bank's Internet strategy to Internet customers."

For destination sites, the service can build user loyalty as visitors return to the site to check on their personal information. VerticalOne does not plan to offer the service itself but to work like Inktomi or Infospace exclusively through partners.

VerticalOne expects to generate revenue through advertising--it's using DoubleClick's ad-serving technology--and fees it collects from partners. To avoid alienating partners whose data it is collecting, VerticalOne will include links to a provider's Web site for more complete information, such as individual positions in a brokerage account.

"What they're doing isn't very easy," said David Card, a Jupiter Communications analyst, referring to the technology required to collect such diverse data from so many sources. If VerticalOne succeeds, Card believes, being first will make it difficult for competitors to follow.

In a smaller scale deal, Yahoo said today that Telebank customers can check their bank balances from Yahoo's Web site. Yahoo has a similar, unannounced deal with Checkfree to let consumers view and pay their bills on Yahoo.

Freishtat says VerticalOne can pull account information from 20 online brokers and major national banks, including Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, First Union, and Wells Fargo.

"They want to partner with people, and yet some of the technologies almost sound like an "infomediary" that could [displace] others," said analyst Card.

VerticalOne also must overcome privacy concerns from consumers uneasy about telling even a favorite Web site operator how to collect their personal and financial information. VerticalOne insists it won't sell or give away any information about a user to an outside party, and it has won privacy seals from Truste and BBB Online

It appears to date no one offers a comparable service, although a number of companies have set up to manage multiple passwords that an individual user collects. Card notes that Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 Web browser manages passwords, and electronic wallet firms collect payment and purchasing data for individuals.

Freishtat sees wireless devices as a major opportunity for his company.

Other partners VerticalOne is expected to announce next week include CMGI's portal Planet Direct, calendaring service AnyDay.com, and email services USA.net and Orchestrate.