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Internet Leaders Will Aggregate Services

NEW YORK - Those financial services firms that will thrive in a world dominated by Internet commerce will have to become aggregators of information from many providers.

That was the message of George Colony, president, CEO and founder of Forrester Research, a research firm in Cambridge, Mass. Colony was the keynote speaker at an e-commerce conference co-sponsored by Bloomberg LP and Computer Associates here last month.

Those firms that succeed will offer clients one convenient online package with access to banking, mortgage, insurance, mutual funds and other individual financial information, regardless of who the sponsors of each of those services are, said Colony. But, egos may prevent some financial services firms from embracing this "open finance" Internet business model that would have them funneling competitors' data to clients, said Colony.

Mid-tier firms will face the greatest challenges for survival on the Internet, Colony said.

"Mid-tier firms must become specialists or die," he said. Specialists will be successful online if they become the recognized number one provider of a particular service or product via the Internet such as mortgages or insurance.

Colony said he could not predict what companies will be the most successful on the Internet.

For firms to be successful online they will have to fully embrace the power of the Internet, starting with a steadfast commitment from the firm's CEO, he said.

"You need a powerful CEO pushing... not being dragged," said Colony. According to Colony, many of the CEOs at top financial services firms now delegate daily operations to others while they spend a great deal of time developing Internet strategies.

Companies must develop a "fourth channel" strategy that blends the Internet with more traditional customer servicing channels, he said. All channels should provide identical information and support each other, Colony said. He pointed to Wells Fargo's website that has a "Call Me" button with which Internet users can request that a live representative call them within seconds.

"The theme is not destroying channels, it is about harmonizing channels," said Colony.

Colony predicted there will be a period of intense growth of Internet business, beginning next year and running through 2008. According to Forrester data, that growth will be fueled in part by the 400 million people worldwide - 120 million just in the U.S. - who are expected to be plugged into the Internet by 2003. Forrester also predicts that assets managed online will exceed $65 trillion by 2001.