Bank of Boston announced Monday that it will team up with Microsoft Corp. to offer on-line banking services via personal computer, becoming the latest financial institution to align itself with the software giant.
Bank of Boston is the first New England bank to sign on to the software company's program to link its customers to their accounts using Microsoft's Money personal finance software.
By this fall, Bank of Boston customers will be able to check account balances, pay bills, or investigate the status of any bill, check, or deposit via their personal computers.
The bank already provides all the basic telephone-based banking options. The bank has also tested display screen-equipped telephone services with a select number of households. But this is the bank's first initiative using consumers' desktop computers.
"We've wanted to get into PC banking for some time," said Edward A. O'Neal, a vice chairman for Bank of Boston. "And (Microsoft) is such an attractive partner because they already have such a share of the PC marketplace."
This is the third bank in less than two weeks to join with Microsoft after an eight-month dry spell. Chemical Banking Corp. and Centura Banks Inc. both recently signed on to roll out Microsoft's on-line banking service this fall. During this time, the software giant has been developing an updated version of Money and negotiating with several banks, but not making any new announcements regarding financial industry partnerships.
The announcements come on the heels of Microsoft's attempt to take over Intuit Inc., maker of the market-leading Quicken software. During that time the Redmond, Wash.-based company's attentions were diverted from home banking and the future of its own Money product seemed unclear.
But now that the deal to acquire Intuit has been scrapped in the face of Justice Department pressure, banks and customers alike are showing a "renewed enthusiasm for the Money product," said Matt Cone, a product manager at Microsoft.
Seven banks so far have committed to offering on-line services through Money and, Mr. Cone predicts, "many more" banks are on the verge of announcing the service for this fall.
Banks have a "clearer vision of where the product is going now," he said.
He added that the new version of Money, dubbed Money for Windows 95, vastly improves upon former releases with features that make the software easier to use and more plainly identifies a bank brand name when users are on-line.
Microsoft's move to buy Intuit last October set off a warning bell for bankers, alerting them to quickly start setting their own strategies in home banking and the broader area of electronic commerce. The recent flurry of interest from banks seems to follow directly from the breakdown of the Intuit deal little more than a month ago.
But, according to Stephen D. Graham, director of self-service banking, Bank of Boston timed its announcement to coincide with Microsoft's just- launched media tour of the new Money product. He said the bank's choice to sign on with Microsoft was not associated with the collapse of the Intuit deal.
Bank of Boston has been negotiating with Microsoft for close to a year, since before Microsoft came forth with its plans to buy Intuit.
The pair have also been discussing other "joint opportunities" in electronic-based services, Mr. Graham said, but he would not disclose details of possible plans. Microsoft has reportedly been trying to woo financial institutions to become content providers for its much-ballyhooed Microsoft Network, coming out later this year.
"Electronic commerce has yet to play out," Mr. O'Neal said cautiously about banks' opportunities in computer-based transactions.