Forty to 50 companies, virtually all of them mortgage-related, have joined the electronic-commerce lobbying group that Microsoft Corp. is forming with three other financial services giants, a Microsoft executive said.

Countrywide Credit Industries, GE Capital Services and Intuit Inc. are the other three founding members of the Electronic Financial Services Council. The group is expected to focus at first on home lending.

David Danford, the Microsoft executive, said the council's top priorities will include getting states to lower barriers to electronic commerce and pushing the acceptance of digital signatures. Mr. Danford is the senior product manager responsible for lending on Microsoft's HomeAdvisor site on the Internet.

Another key issue for the group will be the year-2000 problem, said Lou Marcoccio, year-2000 research director at GartnerGroup, an information technology research firm.

The council "may attempt to fend off potential litigation ... and gather information on risk assessment" so its members "can continue electronic operations uninterrupted in 2000," Mr. Marcoccio said. His company works for many of the members.

The group may also lobby to change certain year-2000 requirements so members "can't be held accountable if there are major interruptions later on," he said.

Microsoft's Mr. Danford said the purpose of the council "is to educate and explain to regulatory agencies how business on the Web has different requirements."

For example, he said, "we have to convince legislators that the requirements in some states are counterproductive to the consumer. Why should you open a physical office in a state where nobody is going to show up? Just to add expense for the consumer?"

Wider acceptance of digital signatures would make life easier for mortgage borrowers, Mr. Danford said.

"Now ... you have to sign all the paperwork physically-and if you make a mistake you have to start all over, which delays closing," he said. "If this were done electronically it could be fixed in a matter of seconds."

The group will decide at its next meeting, tentatively set for early February, what legislation to push for, Mr. Danford said.

The council is scheduled to have an official charter and become active by mid-spring. It has already applied for nonprofit status.

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