Bank of Ireland's Internet payment processing system, Clikpay, has elicited inquiries from about 400 merchants since its launch at the beginning of this month.

The bank, Ireland's second-largest, is projecting 500 merchants will sign up within 12 months and that use of the service will "move rapidly to the mass market," said Nick Fahy, program manager of the bank's e-business and payments division.

About 12% of Ireland's population of 3.6 million have Internet access and 22% have mobile phones.

Clikpay lets registered merchants accept secure, real-time credit card payments via Web sites or on-line storefronts. Customers click on the PayNow button to gain authorization. Their credit card details are transmitted only to the bank; merchants never have access to them.

Generally available now at some merchant sites, Clikpay's initial release supports Visa and MasterCard credit cards in three currencies -- Irish pounds, U.S. dollars, and British pounds. Bank of Ireland charges merchants about $800 for a subscription to the clearing service and ongoing security. The software can be housed at the merchant's site or by an Internet service provider.

Four merchants, including Esat.net, the ISP division of a local telephone company, and the National Concert Hall, were involved in testing the system. From July to October, "hundreds of thousands of transactions were performed," Mr. Fahy said.

The National Concert Hall used the system to let buyers view available theater seats and choose the time, date, and price for various events. Customers could choose to have the tickets mailed or left in the lobby.

Clikpay is client/server software incorporating the Secure Sockets Layer protocol with 128-bit encryption. The bank decided against using the more advanced but less widely accepted Secure Electronic Transaction protocol promoted by MasterCard and Visa.

"SET had a number of practical issues around interoperability," Mr. Fahy said. "Bank of Ireland had concerns about its uptake in the marketplace." He added that the bank is "positioned to offer the SET service" if it becomes more relevant.

Bank of Ireland worked with a small Irish software company called Arctic Advertising to build Clikpay. Development took six months and employed a full-time team of five.

The bank has been active in building direct services for consumers since setting up an Internet business division in 1996. It has launched a telephone banking service, Banking 365, that has 20,000 customers; an Internet banking service, Banking 365 Online; an Internet service for corporate clients, Business Online, with 1,200 customers; and Fsharp, an offshore Internet bank.

In 1997, the bank introduced BOInet, an Internet access service. Clikpay is the latest product to come from the department, which was renamed e-business and payments on Sept. 1.

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