As ABA chairman Stephen Wilson noted in the June "Chairman's View" in ABA Banking Journal, in the current swirl surrounding our industry a subtler issue regarding our internet banking platforms has understandably gone largely unnoticed by bankers but certainly not by ABA: the expansion of internet domains past ".com" and potentially into ".bank".
Opening up domains opens up potential trouble
In June, after three years of discussions, ICANN, the internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, announced its intention to open up an application window for new internet domains starting in January 2012. ICANN expects somewhere between 500 and 1,000 such applications.
There will be two types of applications--open and community.
Open applications can be applied for by anyone, such as a company seeking to use its brand as its domain (such as ".citi").
Community applications, such as ".bank", can be utilized to serve the collective interests of a distinct group, such as the banking community.
It is vitally important that a ".bank" domain not fall into the hands of those who would operate it insecurely or charge banks exorbitant registration fees to protect their intellectual property.
But it could happen. ABA is aware of at least five separate initiatives to potentially apply for this domain.
Working to keep ".bank" in banking
To protect industry interests, over the last three years ABA has worked with the Financial Services Roundtable to stop or slow the process as it relates to financial domains.
Our joint advocacy has resulted in ICANN acknowledging that financial domains should have higher levels of security than domains do generally. In response to stakeholder outcry, ICANN also agreed to add limited intellectual property protection. Government agencies, including our federal banking regulators, also now have a more effective avenue to express their concerns about financial domain applications.
To guide ABA actions and advocacy on this critical issue, Chairman Wilson established a Chairman's Dot-Bank Task Force, composed of bankers from both small and large institutions, and lead by Jeff Plagge, president, Northwest Financial Corp.
ABA's actions have been both defensive and offensive.
We are playing defense based on task force and member perceptions of little immediate demand for a ".bank site". A recent member survey also indicated that most bankers would be concerned if a competitor or non-bank vendor secured a website with a name similar to their bank with a ".bank" extension.
At the same time, from a longer-term offensive standpoint two-thirds of the bankers surveyed would either revamp their marketing efforts to include a ".bank" address and over 90% wished to reserve a ".bank" address for their bank for possible use later or to prevent others from acquiring it.
To ensure that bankers have these desired options, ABA and the Roundtable have partnered with Verisign, to explore the possibility of applying for one or more financial domains. Verisign is the global registry operator for two of the internet's largest top level domains--".com" and ".net"--which had a combined base of more than 100 million domain names at the close of 2010.
In addition, at the recommendation of the task force, the ABA board also recently approved the establishment of an ABA subsidiary for-profit corporation within the Corporation for American Banking with authority to file an application to ICANN for one or more financial top level internet domains, and to take other necessary actions related to creating and operating such domains.
Protecting your bank in cyberspace
What does this mean for an individual bank?
Threats exist to the extent that an application for one or more financial domains is approved for parties other than a broad-based community of financial institutions and financial trade associations dedicated to protecting the financial community's interests.
The actions taken so far position ABA well to evaluate financial and other ramifications of filing an application and operating financial domains without fully committing the association.
â€˘ If ABA and the Roundtable file an application, we will be able to set up a structure that allows only chartered banks and other legitimate financial parties, as determined by this new company, to operate within the domain.
- â€˘ If ABA and the Roundtable elect not to file an application, the associations and government now have better tools as the result of our efforts to protest applications that do not restrict a financial domain to legitimate parties or fail to demonstrate that the appropriate security measures will be in place.
In either case, bank and other financial interests are being protected in ways they would not have been, had ABA not engaged in the process.
â€˘ Read more about the work Doug Johnson does for ABA
Also of interest:
Why does this community bank own more than 50 website addresses? Read "Lock in your web brand," the story of Clear Mountain Bank in our "Social Media: Banks' New Frontier" blog.