Wells Fargo Rides into Online Storage

UPDATED: SAN FRANCISCO — When you think of computing services, Wells Fargo probably isn’t the first name to come to mind. But with vSafe, an online document storage system for both its banking customers, the banking giant has joined a host of providers in the market.

The bank, the seventh-largest in the country and one of the few banks in the U.S. that appears solvent amid the credit crisis, used a monstrous safe in its main San Francisco bank, with a door that’s almost two feet thick, as the backdrop for what it believes is the safest online storage service available.

Wells Fargo’s (NYSE: WFC) CEO John Stumpf made the announcement, touting the fact that Wells was the first bank to launch online banking in the U.S. “As soon as Al Gore invented the Internet, we got on it,” he joked to a small gathering of reporters, then added “that joke works better in a red state, doesn’t it?”

He said Wells Fargo has four channels of distribution, online, in branches, at ATMs and on the phone. Online sees more than a billion transactions per year, more than the other three combined. So the company wanted to expand its online offerings.

Wells Fargo vSafe service lets customers upload, protect, organize and access electronic copies of their documents and personal materials, such as loan and tax documents, wills, passports, birth and marriage certificates, photographs, and digital audio and video files.

“Customers said they are getting more and more electronic documents, but they were worried about the safety of the paper documents they already had,” said Jim Smith, executive vice president of Internet services at the bank.

For Wells Fargo customers, the bank can arrange to have all of their banking documents automatically sent to vSafe for safe keeping. vSafe supports any file format and lets the customer break down the materials in any way they want.

It supports any file format, since it’s just a data store, so Word documents, PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, photos, or anything else can be uploaded. Smith said people even back up their iTunes libraries to it. Metatags are added to the files so customers can search by keyword.

So far, so what? It sounds the same as Carbonite, Mozy and countless other online backup services. But Wells Fargo has added some mighty strong security measures so no one social engineers a password like someone did to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s Yahoo Mail account.

First, a new password is generated every time the customer tries to access the service, and is sent to the customer either by an automated phone call to their phone line or as an SMS message to their cell phone. This password changes each time the log on.

Secondly, there will be no “I forgot my password” nonsense that allowed for such an easy break into Gov. Palin’s account. Customers who do lose their information will have to call Wells Fargo at a minimum, or even come into a branch, to get back in their account, said Smith.

Wells Fargo vSafe comes with three capacities, 1GB, 3GB and 6GB. They will cost $4.95, $9.95 and $14.95 per month, respectively.

(Update corrects the frequency of annual transactions at Wells Fargo as well as its availability.)

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