Since we recently published a data memo about online banking, I have been fielding a lot more questions about financial activities online. I noticed an interesting difference between two activities we track.

Our first telephone survey in March 2000 asked, “Do you ever do any banking online?” We tracked a surge in this activity over the next few years, suggesting that internet users are growing more comfortable with “high trust” activities (and banks are scrambling to capture the lucrative online market).

  • March 2000: 17% of internet users or about 15 million American adults
  • October 2002: 30% of internet users or about 34 million American adults
  • November 2004: 44% of internet users or about 53 million American adults

We have also periodically asked internet users, “Do you ever get financial information online, such as stock quotes or mortgage interest rates?”

  • March 2000: 44% of internet users or about 38 million American adults
  • September 2002: 42% of internet users or about 50 million American adults
  • November 2004: 44% of internet users or about 52 million American adults

Notice that this activity has held steady — the overall internet population has grown, but the percentage who gather financial information online has remained pretty much the same since March 2000. The demographics have remained steady, too.

In November 2004, 56% of online men reported looking for financial information, compared to 33% of online women. 37% of internet users between 18-29 years old have done this, compared to 46% of 30-49 year-old internet users and 48% of 50-64 year-old internet users. We didn’t talk to enough wired seniors (age 65+) to report the data, but they are right up there with the younger folks when it comes to financial information searches. These numbers are essentially the same as when we first asked the question in March 2000.

Here’s my off-the-cuff theory: The information market was well-established in 2000 and the market for banking and online bill-paying was not. It’s always been relatively easy to upload content and relatively easy for internet users to find and consume it. But it took a few years for the banking industry to set up secure systems and for internet users to gain the experience (and the bandwidth) to take advantage of the new services.

For more details, I recommend reading our 2003 report, “America’s Online Pursuits,” which has a section on financial & transaction activities.

I also recommend downloading our spreadsheet, “Usage Over Time,” which will provide more historical & demographic details. It is currently the fifth item on our Latest Trends page.