Online banking, also known as internet banking, is an electronic payment system that enables customers of a bank or other financial institution to conduct a range of financial transactions through the financial institution's website. The online banking system will typically connect to or be part of the core banking system operated by a bank and is in contrast to branch banking which was the traditional way customers accessed banking services.
Today, "virtual banks" (or "direct banks") have only an internet presence, which enables them to lower costs than traditional brick-and-mortar banks.
To access a financial institution's online banking facility, a customer with internet access will need to register with the institution for the service, and set up a password and other credentials for customer verification. The credentials for online banking is normally not the same as for telephone or mobile banking. Financial institutions now routinely allocate customers numbers, whether or not customers have indicated an intention to access their online banking facility. Customer numbers are normally not the same as account numbers, because a number of customer accounts can be linked to the one customer number. Technically, the customer number can be linked to any account with the financial institution that the customer controls, though the financial institution may limit the range of accounts that may be accessed to, say, cheque, savings, loan, credit card and similar accounts.
The customer visits the financial institution's secure website, and enters the online banking facility using the customer number and credentials previously set up.
Each financial institution can determine the types of financial transactions which a customer may transact through online banking, but usually includes obtaining account balances, a list of recent transactions, electronic bill payments, financing loans and funds transfers between a customer's or another's accounts. Most banks set limits on the amounts that may be transacted, and other restrictions. Most banks also enable customers to download copies of bank statements, which can be printed at the customer's premises (some banks charge a fee for mailing hard copies of bank statements). Some banks also enable customers to download transactions directly into the customer's accounting software. The facility may also enable the customer to order a cheque book, statements, report loss of credit cards, stop payment on a cheque, advise change of address and other routine actions.
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The precursor for the modern home loan banking services were the distance banking services over electronic media from the early 1980s. The term 'online' became popular in the late 1980s and referred to the use of a terminal, keyboard and TV (or monitor) to access the banking system using a phone line. 'Home banking' can also refer to the use of a numeric keypad to send tones down a phone line with instructions to the bank. Some of the earliest services started in New York in 1981 when four of the city's major banks (Citibank, Chase Manhattan, Chemical and Manufacturers Hanover) offered home banking services. using the videotex system. Because of the commercial failure of videotex, these banking services never became popular except in France (where the use of videotex (Minitel) was subsidised by the telecom provider) and the UK, where the Prestel system was used.
When the clicks-and-bricks euphoria hit in the late 1990s, many banks began to view web-based banking as a strategic imperative. The attraction of banks to online banking are fairly obvious: diminished transaction costs, easier integration of services, interactive marketing capabilities, and other benefits that boost customer lists and profit margins. Additionally, online banking services allow institutions to bundle more services into single packages, thereby luring customers and minimizing overhead.
A mergers-and-acquisitions wave swept the financial industries in the mid- and late 1990s, greatly expanding banks' customer bases. Following this, banks looked to the Web as a way of maintaining their customers and building loyalty. A number of different factors are causing bankers to shift more of their business to the virtual realm.
While financial institutions took steps to implement e-banking services in the mid-1990s, many consumers were hesitant to conduct monetary transactions over the internet. It took widespread adoption of electronic commerce, based on trailblazing companies such as America Online, Amazon.com and eBay, to make the idea of paying for items online widespread. By 2000, 80% of U.S. banks offered e-banking. Customer use grew slowly. At Bank of America, for example, it took 10 years to acquire 2 million e-banking customers. However, a significant cultural change took place after the Y2K scare ended. In 2001, Bank of America became the first bank to top 3 million online banking customers, more than 20% of its customer base. In comparison, larger national institutions, such as Citigroup claimed 2.2 million online relationships globally, while J.P. Morgan Chase estimated it had more than 750,000 online banking customers. Wells Fargo had 2.5 million online banking customers, including small businesses. Online customers proved more loyal and profitable than regular customers. In October 2001, Bank of America customers executed a record 3.1 million electronic bill payments, totaling more than $1 billion. In 2009, a report by Gartner Group estimated that 47% of United States adults and 30% in the United Kingdom bank online.
The early 2000s saw the rise of the branch-less banks as internet only institutions. These internet-based banks incur lower overhead costs than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. In the United States, deposits at most direct banks are FDIC-insured and offer the same level of insurance protection as traditional banks.
Online banking was first introduced in the early 1980s in New York, United States. Four major banks -- Citibank, Chase Bank, Chemical Bank and Manufacturers Hanover -- offered home banking services. Chemical introduced its Pronto services for individuals and small businesses in 1983, which enabled individual and small-business clients to maintain electronic checkbook registers, see account balances, and transfer funds between checking and savings accounts. Pronto failed to attract enough customers to break even and was abandoned in 1989. Other banks had a similar experience.
Almost simultaneously with the United States, online banking arrived in the United Kingdom. The UK's first home online banking services known as Homelink was set up by Bank of Scotland for customers of the Nottingham Building Society (NBS) in 1983. The system used was based on the UK's Prestel viewlink system and used a computer, such as the BBC Micro, or keyboard (Tandata Td1400) connected to the telephone system and television set. The system allowed on-line viewing of statements, bank transfers and bill payments. In order to make bank transfers and bill payments, a written instruction giving details of the intended recipient had to be sent to the NBS who set the details up on the Homelink system. Typical recipients were gas, electricity and telephone companies and accounts with other banks. Details of payments to be made were input into the NBS system by the account holder via Prestel. A cheque was then sent by NBS to the payee and an advice giving details of the payment was sent to the account holder. BACS was later used to transfer the payment directly.
By 1990, 6.5 million Minitels were installed in households. Online banking was one of the most popular services.
Online banking services later migrated to Internet.
Around 1994, banks saw the rising popularity of the internet as an opportunity to advertise their services. Initially, they used the internet as another brochure, without interaction with the customer. Early sites featured pictures of the bank's officers or buildings, and provided customers with maps of branches and ATM locations, phone numbers to call for further information and simple listings of products.
In 1995, Wells Fargo was the first U.S. bank to add account services to its website, with other banks quickly following suit. That same year, Presidential became the first U.S. bank to open bank accounts over the internet. According to research by Online Banking Report, at the end of 1999 less than 0.4% of households in the U.S. were using online banking. At the beginning of 2004, some 33 million U.S. households (31%) were using some form of online banking. Five years later, 47% of Americans used online banking, according to a survey by Gartner Group. Meanwhile, in the UK online banking grew from 63% to 70% of internet users between 2011 and 2012.
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Online banking facilities typically have many features and capabilities in common, but also have some that are application specific. The common features fall broadly into several categories:
Some financial institutions offer special internet banking services, for example:
There are some advantages to using e-banking both for banks and customers:
Security of a customer's financial information is very important, without which online banking could not operate. Similarly the reputational risks to banks themselves are important. Financial institutions have set up various security processes to reduce the risk of unauthorized online access to a customer's records, but there is no consistency to the various approaches adopted.
The use of a secure website has been almost universally embraced.
Though single password authentication is still in use, it by itself is not considered secure enough for online banking in some countries. Basically there are two different security methods in use for online banking:
Attacks on online banking used today are based on deceiving the user to steal login data and valid TANs. Two well known examples for those attacks are phishing and pharming. Cross-site scripting and keylogger/Trojan horses can also be used to steal login information.
A method to attack signature based online banking methods is to manipulate the used software in a way, that correct transactions are shown on the screen and faked transactions are signed in the background.
A 2008 U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Technology Incident Report, compiled from suspicious activity reports banks file quarterly, lists 536 cases of computer intrusion, with an average loss per incident of $30,000. That adds up to a nearly $16-million loss in the second quarter of 2007. Computer intrusions increased by 150 percent between the first quarter of 2007 and the second. In 80 percent of the cases, the source of the intrusion is unknown but it occurred during online banking, the report states.
Another kind of attack is the so-called man-in-the-browser attack, a variation of the man-in-the-middle attack where a Trojan horse permits a remote attacker to secretly modify the destination account number and also the amount in the web browser.
As a reaction to advanced security processes allowing the user to cross-check the transaction data on a secure device there are also combined attacks using malware and social engineering to persuade the user himself to transfer money to the fraudsters on the ground of false claims (like the claim the bank would require a "test transfer" or the claim a company had falsely transferred money to the user's account and he should "send it back"). Users should therefore never perform bank transfers they have not initiated themselves.
There exist several countermeasures which try to avoid attacks. Digital certificates are used against phishing and pharming, in signature based online banking variants (HBCI/FinTS) the use of "Secoder" card readers is a measurement to uncover software side manipulations of the transaction data.
In 2001, the U.S. Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council issued guidance for multifactor authentication (MFA) and then required to be in place by the end of 2006.
In 2012, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security advised all banks to consider the PC systems of their users being infected by malware by default and therefore use security processes where the user can cross-check the transaction data against manipulations like for example (provided the security of the mobile phone holds up) SMS TAN where the transaction data is sent along with the TAN number or standalone smartcard readers with an own screen including the transaction data into the TAN generation process while displaying it beforehand to the user (see chipTAN) to counter man-in-the-middle attacks.
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