Now that he has "gotten religion" about the Internet, William B. Harrison Jr. wants the rest of Chase Manhattan Corp. to get it too.

"It is clear to me the Internet will write the next chapter of our business," Chase's president and chief executive officer said last week. "The 'dot-coms' are going to continue to gnaw away at traditional financial services companies."

Mr. Harrison was presiding in New York at the first of four symposiums that have been scheduled to pump up thousands of employees with a sense of Net urgency.

The daylong events -- to be repeated in coming weeks in Hong Kong, Houston, and London -- are testament to the pressure that financial institutions are feeling in the face of nimble, Internet-savvy competitors.

Though Mr. Harrison said he came around to making the Internet a priority only recently, he has not taken long to act on it.

"One year ago I saw technology and the Internet as an interesting phenomenon that probably would not affect my life," Mr. Harrison said at the New York meeting. "I clearly didn't get it."

Now, he said, "I am absolutely convinced that we are in the early stages of a technology revolution that will far surpass the industrial revolution."

The creation in June of Chase.com, a business unit dedicated to Internet developments, was one of Mr. Harrison's first acts as CEO. He is using the symposium series to spread the dot-com spirit. In his remarks last week, he said Chase.com might be spun off through a stock offering to capitalize on the market's enthusiasm for Internet ventures.

Speaking last month at an American Banker conference, Joseph Sponholz, the vice chairman overseeing Chase.com, described the unit as an agent of cultural change that had "released a lot of internal energy" as "a lot of people came forward and wanted to be a part of it."

Mr. Harrison is aiming to institutionalize that type of enthusiasm.

"I need your complete buy-in," he told nearly 1,500 employees at the New York session. "We will not solve this issue at the top of the house. Everybody's got to be involved."

Mr. Harrison outlined his role in Chase's "full-court press." In addition to raising awareness, his job, he said, is to create an atmosphere and organizational structure in which Internet initiatives can thrive. Besides Chase.com, he has established an Internet council comprising himself and other senior managers to ensure a common framework for priorities, standards, and processes throughout the organization.

In late summer Mr. Harrison organized a trip to the West Coast so executive committee members could meet Scott McNealy, chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems Inc., and William Gates, chairman and CEO at Microsoft Corp. Louis Gerstner, the chief executive of International Business Machines Corp., has been invited to speak to the committee.

Such meetings "have a huge impact on building a sense of understanding and urgency," Mr. Harrison said.

The Chase CEO said he also wants to make use of the more than 100 Internet startups in which Chase Capital Partners has invested venture capital. It may choose to "get in bed" with some of those companies through equity investments that would let the banking company grow into new markets, he said.

Making the necessary structural moves to exploit the Internet is one of the biggest challenges facing senior managements. "Financial institutions will not succeed on-line by reacting as they always have," said James P. Punishill, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Large operating scales do not guarantee success, nor can banks "force-feed house brands to customers who have choices," the analyst said. And "firms that dip their toes slowly into Internet waters are doomed."

The Internet and its ramifications are creating "probably the highest order of strategic calling we can face," Robert B. Hedges Jr., managing director of retail banking services at FleetBoston Corp., said at the same October on-line banking conference addressed by Mr. Sponholz. "This is trench warfare."

Mr. Harrison challenged all his company's divisions to assign their best people to Internet-enabling the business.

Chase Treasury Solutions, for example, has become the processing backbone for handling payments, customer service, and fulfillment associated with E-ZPass, the automated toll-taking system.

Its contract with five regional transportation authorities, valued at $180 million over 10 years, is giving Chase an investment rate of return of 193%, said Susan J. Webb, senior vice president. Relying on a credit card processing center in Delaware and on outsourcing the statement processes, Chase is keeping its E-ZPass costs down to 0.04 cent per transaction.

Eventually the platform is to be deployed for other purposes. "This is really about a processing platform that can eliminate cash where credit and debit cards don't apply," Ms. Webb said.

Crucial to the success of the E-ZPass initiative is that it was set up as a stand-alone business, Ms. Webb said. "To compete against the nonbank competition, you have to be riveted on what it takes to win."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.