The globally prominent banks that formed a joint venture last fall in electronic commerce security have officially incorporated under the name Identrus.
Unveiling the name Monday, the New York-based group, which had been known informally as the global trust organization, also said two banks are in "advanced negotiations" to take ownership stakes.
Those institutions-Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Sanwa Bank Ltd. of Japan-would bring the consortium up to 10 and add some desired geographical diversity.
Identrus president and chief executive officer Guy S. Tallent pointed out that both banks have international coverage, with Sanwa being especially strong throughout Asia. He said he expects an unspecified number of banks from various regions to join the ownership circle; hundreds more could come in as what are called "level one" participants.
The founders were BankAmerica Corp., Bankers Trust Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., and Citigroup of the United States; ABN Amro of the Netherlands; Barclays Bank of the United Kingdom; and Deutsche Bank and Hypo Vereinsbank of Germany.
Identrus aims to facilitate electronic transactions among millions of businesses by having their identities digitally certified by banks.
Mr. Tallent said the first bank-customer pilots should be under way by late summer.
"Our objective is to have a fully functional, operational system ready for any bank and its customers to plug into as early as possible in the first quarter of 2000," he said in an interview.
Also on Monday it was announced that Certco Inc., a digital security company that played a key role in forming the consortium, will not be taking an equity position in it. Certco is a competitor of others that will want to offer certification technology to banks and their customers within the Identrus framework.
John Herron, president and chief executive officer of New York-based Certco, a spinoff of Bankers Trust, said its relinquishing of an ownership position would send an important message about "absolute neutrality."
"We believe that the long-term success of Identrus depends on having a platform open to a wide range of leading technology providers," Mr. Herron said.
Reinforcing that message, several companies active in the data encryption and digital certificate market issued statements of support for Identrus. These included Entrust Technologies Inc. of Plano, Tex.; Zergo Holdings of the United Kingdom and its Baltimore operating unit; and Valicert Inc., a California company with technology for assuring the validity of presented certificates.
Identrus provides a rallying point for these and other vendors on the issues of open standards and interoperability. All would operate under a data encryption hierarchy based on a root key, which Mr. Tallent said could be provided by Certco or others.
Any bank that would be vouching for the on-line identities of business customers would make its own vendor choice.
Fifteen vendors recently participated in an "interoperability day" to underscore that openness. Mr. Tallent said their feedback will be useful in fine-tuning the specifications the trust organization published for comment in February.