Two powerhouses in the consumer computer services market, Intuit Inc. and America Online Inc., have unveiled plans to jointly offer an on-line home banking service.
Dubbed BankNOW, the service marks the first time that personal finance software will be made widely available to consumers through a major on-line network. More than six million consumers subscribe to America Online's computer service.
Banks that sign up to offer BankNOW will enjoy instant access to those consumers. They are also likely to benefit from Intuit's well-known brand name. More than nine million people use the company's flagship product, Quicken personal finance software.
Scott D. Cook, co-founder and chairman of Intuit, said BankNOW - which lets consumers pay bills and transfer money between accounts electronically - would be "branded by the bank, priced by the bank, and sold by the bank."
Later this year, Intuit plans to offer BankNOW to an even broader audience by making it available to Internet surfers who use browsers from Netscape Communications Corp.
Intuit is offering BankNOW software free to banks. But banks that sign on will pay monthly processing fees to the company, based in Mountain View, Calif.
Catherine Graeber, a senior vice president at BankAmerica Corp., welcomed the new service, saying, America Online "will be able to accommodate multiple banks. Customers want that choice, and our feeling is there's room for everyone."
The bank, attracted by the computer-friendly users of the Vienna, Va.- based on-line service, last month began offering its own home banking services to consumers through America Online. The service is unrelated to Intuit's product.
Intuit has already approached the 41 banks that offer Quicken to their customers about offering BankNOW as an additional product. Unlike Quicken, BankNOW does not need to be installed on a consumer's computer.
"All the financial institution needs to do technically is to make one simple connection to Intuit," Mr. Cook said.
BankNOW is part of a new breed of home banking and personal finance products aimed "transactors," that is, consumers who want to do their banking as quickly and easily as possible.
While users of Quicken - and of competing products such as Meca Software Inc.'s Managing Your Money and Microsoft Corp.'s Money - tend to be "organizers" who like to plan and map their finances, the potential audience for BankNOW consists of people who want "zero hassle," Mr. Cook said.
"This is a market segment whose needs have gone unmet up until now," Mr. Cook said.
Meca, which is owned by a consortium of banks, has recently introduced two "light" versions of its Managing Your Money software. Home Financial Network also is marketing an easy-to-use home banking line.
David Renard, an analyst with the Gartner Group in New York, said banks should be wary of Intuit's ability to use the new product to capture bank customers.
"It doesn't matter if the bank's name is there," Mr. Renard said. "Customers allegiance is not to the bank, but to the product."
Charles Altekruse, a partner manager at Intuit, said bank response to the product has been "very very positive."
He said the product, which took two years to develop, represents a milestone in the race to bring banking on-line.
"When I came to Intuit three years ago, we were selling shrink-wrap software and that was that," Mr. Altekruse said.
"This is breakneck-speed stuff."