banks to five, but opinions are still mixed on the venture's chances for success in the increasingly tough home banking business. First Bank System Inc., Fleet Financial Group, and Royal Bank of Canada have joined BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp. as equal owners of Fairfield, Conn.-based Meca, maker of the Managing Your Money personal computer software that competes with Intuit Inc.'s Quicken and Microsoft's Money. The size of the equity interests were not disclosed, but they are viewed as much-needed endorsements of Managing Your Money, which is a distant third in the personal finance market but perhaps one of the banking industry's better competitive hopes. Thomas Brown, a senior analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, characterized the Meca consortium as a "high-class group of owners." But the news also prompted questions as to whether five large banks with different interests can cooperate effectively on such a venture. "I personally have a hard time seeing banks as effective managers of a software company," Mr. Brown said. "This ownership structure is destined for change." Jeanine Brown, executive vice president of BankAmerica Corp., said that based on preliminary meetings among the partners, she feels confident that this "outspoken group" is on the same wavelength. She also pointed out that day-to-day management of Meca will remain in the hands of its chief executive officer, Paul Harrison. The bank partners, through seats on the board, intend to participate on a strategic level. The new partners said they view their ownership positions as a way to have more say in the customization of the software around which their PC banking programs likely will be built. Maurice St. Jean, senior manager of alternative network delivery for Royal Bank in Toronto, said the bank expects to be able to customize the generic software to better suit his market. Patricia Bauer, senior vice president and manager of transaction and investment products for First Bank System, Minneapolis, echoed Mr. St. Jean. She added that the financial stakes make the partners "beneficiaries and not merely tariff-payers." Though Managing Your Money still lacks the brand identity of its stronger rivals, the expanded ownership appears to put more resources behind the product than it had in the past. BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp. agreed last spring to buy Meca from H&R Block for $35 million. The broader ownership group presumably will be providing more capital. David Weisman of Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., said Meca should concentrate on incorporating on-line connectivity into the software and building the company into "an electronic commerce vehicle." But most observers said it will take time for the venture to be viewed as more than a potentially lucrative experiment. "Frankly, I don't think (the bank-owners) have a clue of how it's going to work," Mr. Brown said. "I don't think it's a crazy bet," Mr. Weisman said. "I think it's a long shot, but I don't think it's a crazy bet."
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