Three new Internet companies are offering ways for parents to set up bank accounts so their children can shop on-line.
Each of the companies has an arrangement with a bank and lets parents use credit cards to make money available. The accounts are linked to digital wallets, which let young people who do not qualify for credit cards spend up to a preset limit.
Children who have these accounts can shop at a defined set of Web sites- such as CDNow and jcrew.com-that sell merchandise popular among youths and broadly acceptable to parents.
Each of the companies-RocketCash Corp., DoughNet Inc., and iCanBuy.com- is touting its service as a way for teens to learn budgeting skills.
On top of the shopping, the companies have been busy setting up various financial services offerings, including on-line banking. DoughNet and iCanBuy let youngsters use their accounts to donate to charity.
RocketCash, based in Saratoga, Calif., contracts with Chase Treasury Solutions for merchant services, purchasing cards, and cash management. The Chase Manhattan Corp. division holds parents' funds on behalf of RocketCash, until getting instructions from the company to pay for purchases made at merchant Web sites.
Chase Treasury Solutions has "the management philosophy to support creative business ventures like RocketCash as they blaze new trails in the e-commerce arena," said Frank Tufano, vice president of Chase Treasury Solutions.
This month RocketCash announced a partnership with Intuit Inc.'s Quicken.com site. RocketCash will post a section about teen spending, and parents will be referred to RocketCash's site to set up accounts for their children.
Parents would be able to view children's RocketCash purchases, block access to certain retailers, and choose the times their offspring can log on to the site, the company said.
Jeffrey Mason, the president and chief executive officer of RocketCash, said the company gives "millions of teens already on-line" the chance to "experience the power of e-commerce first hand."
RocketCash has signed up 26 retailers. It takes a 5% to 15% cut of every purchase made through its service.
iCanBuy of San Francisco, which says it was the first on-line finance site for youths, works with Security First Network Bank of Atlanta, which itself was the first bank to do business with customers almost exclusively over the Internet.
When a parent opens a Security First interest-bearing savings account with $100 or more, iCanBuy gives the child $30 of credit in a shopping account.
"Our goal is to inspire younger consumers to avoid many of the mistakes their parents' generation faced with poor financial planning and credit card debt," said R. Paul Herman, chief executive officer of iCanBuy, which was founded in 1998.
DoughNet, also of San Francisco, says it targets children 13 to 18 years old. "Young Web-heads are a strong market, and our store partners value your business enough to pay us for bringing you to their sites," the company states on its Web site.
DoughNet was founded last year by Ginger Thomson and Jon Hamren, a husband-and-wife team whose backgrounds are in venture capital and investment banking. Their chief operating officer is Gailyn Johnson, a former senior vice president of Wells Fargo & Co. who led that company's electronic banking initiative.
"DoughNet.com is actually a financial tool-and a very cool one at that- that helps kids spend and manage their money," Ms. Thomson wrote in a message on the company's Web site.
In a telephone interview, Ms. Thomson said DoughNet is planning to work with a bank partner, but declined to name the institution. Under the company's current system, a parent "repurposes" a portion of his or her credit card capacity to the child.
"We don't actually hold accounts with this product," Ms. Thomson said.
In 1998 about 8.6 million children from ages 5 to 12 surfed the Internet, as did 8.4 million teenagers, according to Jupiter Communications, an electronic commerce research and consulting firm in New York.
Jupiter estimates that 21.9 million younger children and 16.6 million teenagers will be on-line by 2002 and that these groups will account for a combined $1.2 billion in Internet spending.
But some industry experts doubt that services such as RocketCash, iCanBuy, and DoughNet will make much of a difference.
"There have been numerous ways to skin the payment cat on-line," said Scott Smith, president of Tera Group, a consulting firm in McLean, Va. "The graveyard is full of technologies like this, and there are a number of people waiting at the gate to get in."
Mr. Smith said digital wallets have not been able to take market share away from credit cards.