Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Personal banking online gets shot in the arm from SARS

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

The popularity of online banking services has soared as Taiwanese seek to avoid public places amid SARS-outbreak fears, analysts said yesterday.

Hua Nan Commercial Bank (華南銀行), one of the three largest state-run financial institutions, said SARS has boosted both the number of online users and transactions.

"We currently have over 110,000 personal and 10,000 corporate online users," said Hsu Po-ling (許柏林), director of the Hua Nan's electronic commerce sector.

Hsu said personal online banking gained 50 percent late last month, while corporate use is up 20 percent.

Transactions via Hua Nan's e-banking system also grew from NT$6 billion last month to over NT$10 billion this month to date, Hsu added.

"When the system was first introduced, few customers were willing to use it due to a distrust of Internet security," Hsu said.

Recently, online banking transactions have experienced stable growth, but have been given an extra push from SARS, he said.

Chinatrust Commercial Bank (中國信託銀行) also recorded 491,298 registered personal online users as of Sunday, or 12 percent weekly growth per week since last month.

The bank is encouraging its customers to register for the service by giving out free tea-time coupons for several major hotels.

According to Chinatrust's database, most online users employ the service to check account activity, pay credit-card bills and transfer money. In general, online banking services provided by the banks also allow customers to buy stocks and funds, apply for loans and credit cards.

To ensure customer security, Chinatrust said it had installed sophisticated encryption technology and an avdvanced user identification system.

Hsu said banks promote online banking to save both time and money.

In addition, customers can avoid long lines in front of bank counters and help banks reduce personnel costs, Hsu said.

Use of online banking may continue well beyond the SARS epidemic.

Edward Chow (周行一), a professor at National Chengchi University's Department of Finance, said online banking users will not rush back to bank counters after the SARS outbreaks ends.

"Logging on to the Internet to manage financial affairs is a trend, and SARS is an impetus pushing more people to access the system," Chow said.

As people get to used to virtual banks and benefit from the services, they will no longer be afraid to have the Internet safeguard their money, Chow said.

The professor, however, warned that risks do exist in virtual banking technology.

"A breakdown in the system will crash people's confidence in online banking," he said. "Thus, IT investments and maintenance are key for banks to keep customers online."

Frank Cheng (程川芳), a computer engineer in K Way Information Corp (凱衛資訊) said he has used online banking for around a year.

"I don't need to rush into banks during lunch time and wait in the long lines full of people like me," Cheng said.

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