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Customers crave simpler financial services

Online financial services companies and their customers appear to be far apart on what is crucial to a Web site, according to research from Jupiter Media Metrix.

The lines of communication between Web financial services companies and their customers appear to have broken down, as the two sides seem to be far apart on what is crucial to a Web site.

Customers of companies that offer financial services online want their executives to keep things simple and offer more of the basics: security, sites that are easy to use, and better customer service.

In contrast, a majority of chief executives at these financial sites say they believe what customers really want is an abundance of products and services, such as wireless access and aggregated account information.

But according to research released this week by Jupiter Media Metrix, these executives should hush up and pay attention or else risk losing market share.

Online banks, online brokerages and Internet bill-payment companies make up most of the mushrooming online financial services sector, which includes players such as, the Internet unit of financial company Wells Fargo; online brokerage E*Trade; bill-payment company CheckFree; and e-mail payment system PayPal.

As competition for new customers increases, some companies are employing strategies that trumpet new products and services. The survey taken by New York-based Jupiter found that 57 percent of Web financial executives say they believe their top priority is expanding online capabilities.

In comparison, the majority of consumers polled said what matters most to them in a financial services company is the quality of its customer service and whether it offers federally insured accounts.

"Customers are saying, 'I want services that meet my needs,'" Jupiter analyst James Van Dyke said. "They're saying, 'If I'm a retiree, I don't want services aimed at people starting a family.'"

The biggest drawback to offering more services is that more is often less when it comes to navigating Web sites, Jupiter said, adding that new services often lead to a cluttered and confusing site.

"New features produce only complexity," according to Jupiter's report. The goal is to prevent customers from having to hunt for their money.

The businesses best able to manage the volume of their services are "best positioned to emerge as market leaders," Jupiter said. Jupiter said companies should invest in technology that simplifies and secures their Web sites, position new products according to customer needs, and offer a wide range of "basic financial services" such as banking, brokerage and payment methods.