A well rounded package that falls short on security.

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One of the four pillars of Australian banking, Westpac is currently the third largest bank in Australia, although that could change if its merger with St.George Bank passes muster with the regulators. However, even if the merger goes ahead, the Westpac and St.George brands will remain distinct, at least for the foreseeable future.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Westpac’s online banking facility is its choice of security at login. Instead of typing a password into a text box, you’re confronted with an HTML keyboard showing numbers 0-1 and capital letters A-Z. An onscreen keyboard does add a layer of security to your login (see How secure is your bank? p20). However, Westpac requires a password of exactly six alphanumeric characters, with no lower case letters. This password is orders of magnitude weaker than even an eight character version with lower case, let alone Bank of Queensland’s up to 20 characters including punctuation. This factor alone lowers Westpac’s score in this comparison.

Other than this anomaly, Westpac makes an effort to keep users aware of security issues through warnings about phishing scams and even offers 12 months of free usage of Spyware Doctor, Privacy Guardian and PC Tools Firewall Plus.

Once you’re logged in, the interface is compact, but easily navigable. You can view statements online or download them in a range of formats. Archived statements also go back up to seven years and you can cancel paper statements if you want to go fully digital.

Features and services available online include money transfers; one points directly at the Australian Taxation Office for quick and easy (relatively speaking) tax payments. You can also sign up to a plethora of services, such as loans and mortgages, apply for new accounts or order a bank cheque online.

An interesting utility is called Balance Sheet. Once you enter in the relevant information – including, disconcertingly enough, your logins and passwords for accounts with other financial institutions – Balance Sheet will allow you to see a snapshot of your current monetary condition. However, Firefox and Safari users needs not apply; perplexingly Balance Sheet only works with Internet Explorer.

You can also link your Westpac account with a BT Super for Life account and manage them through a single interface.

Entirely absent are mobile banking as well as the option for additional security in the form of a token or SMS codes. Besides these omissions, and the kooky password system, Westpac offers a fairly comprehensive online banking service.

This Review appeared in the September, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

Source: Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing

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