Thomas Cook Group, a unit of Germany's Westdeutsche Landesbank, has launched an Internet-based foreign exchange and wire transfer service for businesses.

A spokeswoman for Thomas Cook in Toronto said such a service over the World Wide Web widens the market substantially beyond what is available using more basic corporate "intranets."

The service, Virtual Trading Desk, was designed to appeal to small to midsize corporate customers in North America. It is truly "virtual" in that customers can call into the site,, from any location, not just their offices.

Internet Marketing Associates and Quadravision Communications, both of Toronto, played key roles developing the system with technology from Oracle Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp., including the latter's Secure Sockets Layer protocol for security.

"You can't just start ordering by logging in," said Yasser El-Riffaey, Cook's senior vice president for corporate financial services in North America, underscoring the security concerns. "We have to know who you are and we have to hook you up."

Netscape is Virtual Trading Desk's first corporate customer.

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