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Aggregation May not Aggregate Customers

As fund companies have begun to realize that complex, feature-laden Web sites aren't generating the return on their investment they once hoped for, T. Rowe Price has taken a wider approach to the issue: Get your customers to open up their financial secrets online. But the company apparently isn't expecting a return on its investment.

This summer, T. Rowe Price added a new feature to its Web site called AccountMinder, which allows users to enter information about all of their online accounts, be they checking, savings, mutual fund or other brokerage accounts, into the system. Users can then check and manage those accounts from one Web site, namely that of T. Rowe Price.

T. Rowe developed the new Web service because it will benefit customers, said spokesman Brian Lewbart. The company is figuring the service won't return much in terms of revenue; it's part of the cost of servicing customer accounts, he said. And asked whether he had seen any projections on when the AccountMinder service might break even, Lewbart said: "I have not seen anything like that. We're just not looking at it that way."

That's probably a good thing.

The technology that makes AccountMinder possible is aptly called "aggregation." And for months it's made waves in the financial sector, causing the perception that just about every company was going to offer the technology, and therefore, firms needed to adopt it or get left in the dust, said Lee Kowarski, a consultant at the kasina, which serves the financial sector. According to a report released this summer by Forrester Research, 74% of financial research firms will use such aggregation technology by 2003.