The remote banking business has been changing so quickly that bankers can easily feel overwhelmed by the various technology options.
But their choices now seem less complicated and contentious than was first thought.
Last month, Integrion Financial Network, a consortium of major banks and International Business Machines Corp., announced a standard called Gold designed to help financial institutions develop transactional Web sites.
Gold followed Open Financial Exchange, or OFX, which Microsoft Corp., Intuit Inc., and Checkfree Corp. announced in January. OFX is aimed at making it easier for users of personal finance software like Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft's Money to download account data and send bill payments via the Internet.
The two camps have said they will work together to make the two standards "interoperable." But some Internet banking pundits saw the dual standards as more like dueling standards. Supporting that view, Gold advocates argued that home banking standards should be controlled by financial institutions, not software companies.
Now that the virtual dust has settled, analysts and technologists have come to regard the differences between Gold and OFX as not that great. Bankers' decisions on the two specifications may be more tactical than strategic as the two groups work toward a single solution.
Chris Stevens, electronic commerce analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston, said a common protocol is in both sides' interest. The two are already somewhat complementary, he said: OFX only addresses the communications between a consumer's desktop and a bank's Web server. Microsoft's Web-site development system, code-named Marble and based on OFX, is aimed at managing the flow of transactions between consumer PCs and financial firms' Internet gateways.
Gold focuses, in addition, on the electronic messages between an Internet server and a bank's accounting systems, Mr. Stevens explained. "The majority of banks are still using mainframes and data base systems that require IBM services and support," he said. "By adopting compatible standards, IBM, Microsoft, and Intuit can focus on their core businesses."
Meca Software, the third-largest purveyor of personal finance programs and a joint venture of several of the Integrion banks, supports the notion of a single standard, said Meca chief executive officer Paul E. Harrison. Meca will support both Gold and OFX, he said, but "we do promote the concept that there should be one standard in the industry and ... that financial institutions should have the primary control over that standard."
Whether bankers like it or not, Mr. Stevens pointed out, Intuit and Microsoft dominate the desktop home-banking interface, and it would be a mistake for Integrion to try to lock out the software companies.
Matthew Cone, a Microsoft communications executive, said the dilemma for bankers may be less between Gold and OFX than the question of whether to operate or outsource Internet banking systems.
"Increasingly, I think you're going to hear banks say, 'I don't outsource my branches, so I don't want to outsource my Web site,'" Mr. Cone said.