Banc One Corp. has joined Commercenet, a consortium of banks and other companies exploring ways to use the global computer network known as the Internet.
The move makes Banc One a partner of Bank America Corp. and Citicorp, among other in paving the way onto what enthusiasts call the information superhighway.
"As a sponsoring member, Bane One will participate in the development of pilot programs, standards, and technology for electronic commerce," said Steve Dieringer, an officer in the treasury services department of the Ohio-based company's flagship bank, Bank One Columbus.
Commercenet is one of the more advanced of the numerous commercial and governmental efforts to develop new uses of the explosively growing Internet, which is believed to have more than 20 million users.
Although the technology is developing rapidly, and the involvement of significant players like Bane One contributes to the momentum, there are as yet few tangible banking-specific results.
Banks are involved in Commercenet with the likes of American Express, Apple Computer, Dun & Bradstreet, and Sun Microsystems on the assumption that computer networks will facilitate many types of commerce, which will have to be supported by electronic payments and related information.
The Financial Services Technology Consortium, which consists of about 30 major banks, vendors, and research institutions, is also preparing to probe Internet possibilities in a project tentatively tired Financenet. It expects to collaborate with Polytechnic University in New York, which has developed a promising "gateway" onto the Internet, according to Dan Schutzer, a Citibank vice president who serves as chairman of that consortium.
Bane One recently joined the Financial Services Technology Consortium, and Mr. Dieringer is attending its electronic commerce meeting this week in Vienna, Va. He also expects to be participating in the Commercenet payments working group, another key gathering place for these adventurous bankers.
"I call this our scouting party to the electronic frontier," Mr. Dieringer said upon announcing the Commercenet affiliation.
He said he is fond of the frontier analogy because the territory is uncharted, yet "sealers are already out there" using software called Mosaic and similar programs that provide easy access to the Internet.
"We don't know all the boundailes or the rules of this new environment," said Mr. Dieringer, head of the product and technology management group in Bank One Columbus' treasury services department. "We do know security has to be addressed, and that's the underlying premise of Commercenet."
He said a key feature of Commercenet will be its ability to secure and authenticate payments, documentation, and other transmissions.
"Buyers and sellers are out there, so there are opportunities for companies like ours to provide payment services," the bank official added. "We are also looking at new ways of relating to our customers. For example, instead of having them dial into the bank on proprietary systems, maybe we do more to deliver information to them using electronicmail capabilities."
Bane One said it envisions Commercenet, enhanced with secure interfaces, accommodating on-line banking, purchases of goods and services, placements of orders, bidding on contracts, and collaborative product design by multiple users.
Mr. Dieringer has been one of Bane One Corp.'s Internet explorers, helping the bank participate in several of the E-mail "discussion groups" on electronic data interchange and other issues relating to electronic commerce.
"In planning for the future, Banc One management foresees an electronically interconnected business community," Mr. Dieringer said. "This has the potential to fundamentally change the way we interact with our customers."
While Mr. Dieringer specializes in corporate services, he has opened lines of communication with his retail banking counterparts. After Bank One Columbus goes live with its "web server," the link into the Internet that Mr. Dieringer expects to have up within a couple of weeks, he expects to begin demonstrating a prototype home banking system.