Wow. It’s not often a press release rates an article in BOTH The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. But that’s exactly what happened today when E*Trade made the relatively innocuous announcement that it wouldn’t hold its brokerage customers responsible when their accounts were defrauded.
Consistent with previous innovations, the online brokerage and banking powerhouse wrapped its new message with impressive graphics and copy (see inset above-left for graphic displayed on its homepage today). Clicking on Learn More leads to an impressive security area where E*Trade touts four main protective measures (click on inset above-right for a closeup)*:
Electronic statements with paper turnoff
Antiviral and firewall software, which can be purchased through a link to Norton (60-day free trial offer); users can also run a real-time scan to check for vulnerabilities
It just goes to show you how skittish the public has become about online security. I’d wager that most brokerage customers are sophisticated enough to realize they will eventually get their money back if it’s stolen from their account. So this is a non-event from a financial standpoint. E*Trade even admits that online fraud cost it only $2 million last year, less than the cost of one of their famous Super Bowl ads. The brokerage also said there were "fewer than 50 incidents," implying a fraud loss of approximately $40,000 per incident.
Evidently E*Trade’s marketing department prevailed over its legal counsel and actually put the company’s fraud-protection policies in writing. It’s amazing that makes headlines in 2006 and may say more about the growing need to cover your behind to fend off the class-action bar even if it means scaring off customers.
We hope this prompts other financial institutions to take similar action. One of the main functions of financial institutions is safeguarding assets. Customers, online or otherwise, shouldn’t have to guess whether certain types of fraud are covered. As any good lawyer would say, "Put it in writing."
*The screenshot displayed here is only the top portion of the security area, to download a screenshot of the entire page, click here.