Several of the nation's largest banks are rolling out browser-based cash management products, which can be cheaper to support and easier to distribute than many existing offerings.
The new products, on display earlier this week at the Treasury Management Association's 18th annual conference, let banks deliver software programs on-line to customers rather than mailing new diskettes.
Browser technology, which was designed for the Internet but can be used on private networks, streamlines software upgrades and simplifies support, bankers said.
Chase Manhattan Corp., Citicorp, and NationsBank Corp. are among those offering or testing browser-based services for funds transfers and information reporting.
"Support is a primary motivator for us," said Nick Alex, senior vice president at NationsBank. "We never intended to be in the software business."
The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank is developing a system that would let corporations connect with the bank through private networks or through the Internet. The system, called NationsBank Direct, will be marketed to both large and small corporations.
Mr. Alex said NationsBank's move to browser-based technology was driven by the unanticipated support costs that arose as corporate customers installed new versions of the bank's Windows-based cash management software.
Not all are enthusiastic about browsers. Many institutions are only a few years away from creating Windows-based systems and are in no hurry to replace them unless they see demand.
"The Internet holds a lot of promise, but it's still an evolving technology," said Francine M. Miltenberger, senior vice president, PNC Bank Corp. "I do not know if you will see customers embracing it in droves over the next six months."
She cited concerns about browser technology's security and reliability as reasons for introducing it only after careful evaluation.
Other bankers at the conference acknowledged that demand is weak among some customer segments. Susan E. Sheehy, vice president at Chase, said, "Nudging corporate customers forward is a big challenge. We don't anticipate them knocking the door down for it right away."
But she said the largest of the bank's customers are "a little higher up on the technology curve" and will not take long to see the benefits of browser-based products. In addition, several middle market clients have expressed interest in the bank's intranet-based product, Workspace.
Colin Klipin, managing director in global cash management services at Citicorp, said he expects most large cash managers to develop browser technologies next year. Citicorp is developing one called Casa, which would provide information services through direct dial-up connections.
Mr. Klipin said the emergence of new technology-based services will speed the consolidation of the cash management business. He said the players that will survive need to "demonstrate a continual program of innovation as it relates to content and throughput."
For those that do not, he said, the commodity-like attributes of cash management services will become "apparent very quickly."