An alliance announced Thursday between the Credit Union National Association and Aquis IP Communications Inc. of Tampa, Fla., aims to assuage the Internet security fears of credit unions while giving them a way to get into online banking.

Through Aquis, an Internet access and networking vendor, credit unions that belong to CUNA can offer online transactions through a virtual private network. Such networks take advantage of the flexibility of Internet protocols, but use firewall protections to ensure that no information crosses the public Internet.

"Aquis can provide credit unions with a safe and secure network to conduct online banking," said Mark Condon, senior vice president of association services for the Madison, Wis.-based CUNA.

Credit unions will be able to use Aquis' virtual private network for electronic communication among branches, and between the credit union and its members. Users will gain access to the system by dialing a toll-free number, or local telephone numbers throughout North America and in 63 countries.

The three-year exclusive alliance also enables credit unions to host Web sites and be Internet service providers.

Three-year-old Aquis has "always focused its products on credit unions," said John Hobko, president of Aquis IP. Twelve credit unions already are using Aquis' ISP or private network connections to serve 40,000 members.

"Credit unions that are very advanced in deployment, as well as credit unions with no Web presence" can participate in this program, Mr. Hobko said.

Looking ahead, Aquis plans to offer digital certificates that meet the Secure Electronic Transaction standard to authenticate credit union members using the network. It also plans to issue smart cards for securing personal passwords.

Aquis also has developed educational packages to help credit unions train their employees on-site or remotely, and it will register domain names on their behalf.

Doug Benzine, vice president of e-commerce at CUNA, said, "The Aquis partnership rounds out all our current offerings." These include magazines for youth, home, and family finance; an automotive Internet portal; and partnerships with FundsXpress Financial Network for Internet banking, and Marketall Inc. for Web site design.

"Aquis is the foundation on which all our products and programs are based," Mr. Condon said. "We do not want to be static. The Aquis relationship provides us with the opportunity to move forward."

CUNA serves more than 90% of America's 11,000 credit unions, which are owned by more than 78 million consumer members. Aquis IP is a subsidiary of Aquis Communications Group Inc. of Parsippany, N. J.

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