When Intuit bought a $40 million stake in Excite, an Internet search operator, large banks likely gasped at the potential threat to their collective customer base. "The Intuit-Excite alliance is bad for large banks because it competes for customer attention and makes product selection more competitive," says Piper Jaffray's Bill Burnham, senior research analyst, electronic commerce. "For smaller financial institutions and product specialists, it will level the playing field by providing an additional avenue for them to sell products."

In June, the two companies announced plans to enter a seven-year agreement to launch a financial on-line channel to feature content and services to help consumers organize and manage their personal finances. More than 10 million consumers already use Quicken, Intuit's personal financial management software. Excite, a leading search engine, directory and content technology company serving the mass consumer market, counts 2.5 million daily users, which is expected to grow at a rate of five percent monthly. Excite users spend a half-hour a day on the Internet and at least five minutes in a search capacity, according to "Electronic Payments, Commerce and On-line Financial Services," a BancAmerica Robertson Stephens report. "This is the on-line financial services equivalent to the Jerry Seinfeld show. They charge a premium for advertising rates. Banks pay to play," explains Gary R. Craft, senior analyst at Robertson Stephens & Co.

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