Coming soon: all-in-one online accounts

As their smorgasbord of personal web accounts grows, so does the effort needed to shuttle between sites to collect the data.

But signs are emerging of a workable solution to the problem. This week ninemsn became the first mainstream portal to strike a pact with one of the new breed of account aggregration companies.

Ninemsn bypassed the main player in the aggregation space, US company Yodlee, to clinch its deal with Australian e-services provider Parkers' Edge. Starting in the new year, ninemsn users will be offered single sign-on access to financial accounts held with various institutions and consolidated by Parkers' Edge. In the longer term, the free feature will be expanded to include loyalty program and email accounts.

A five-year-old company that supplies secure net banking applications, Parkers' Edge began developing account consolidation products about a year ago. It says its "nettposition" technology for scraping personal financial data from many sites and delivering it to a single site is at least as secure as ordinary internet banking.

Account aggregation appears poised to become a commodity product spreading rapidly through general portal and financial product sites. Yahoo Australia and New Zealand does not offer a full-scale personal account consolidation service but a spokesman said the issue was under consideration.

Before ninemsn, Parkers' Edge's largest aggregation client was Suncorp-Metway Bank. Macquarie Bank's new financial portal, enrichment.com.au, is another client.

The aggregation space is heating up because of its payoffs for both end users and the institutions who service them, says James Gardiner CTO of Parkers' Edge. Besides the consumer convenience of data consolidation, it enables institutions to build more compelling applications. Ninemsn subscribers will be able to take in their financial position at a single glance by viewing multiple accounts from multiple banks on a single screen, said ninemsn director of network business Alex Stewart.

Unlike providers who host aggregated accounts as branded content on an ASP site, Parkers' Edge feeds live consolidated data back to the client institution's own website.

A thorny issue for companies looking at alliances with data aggregators is what happens if they decide to switch partners later on, warns Gardiner. "It can be hugely challenging to securely transfer customer data and PINs from one aggregator to another."

"When you are talking about PIN vaults involving 50,000 customers, a single breach would cause catastrophic liabilities."

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