PHOENIX -- Chase Manhattan Bank, until recently considered a nonstarter in the home banking sweepstakes, signaled last week that it wants to be a pacesetter.
The New York bank, which six weeks earlier introduced a program for personal computers linked to the Microsoft Money software, unveiled an alternative consumer appliance that it hopes will prove superior to some of the screen telephones that other banks are selling or experimenting with.
The two products appealing to different audiences -- not to mention a telephone bill payment program and the "Spectrum" personal computer service dating from the 1980s -- thrust Chase into the front ranks of remote banking competition.
And officials in the bank's emerging delievery group, an interdisciplinary team developing new methods for service delievery, promise more such innovations are coming.
"Chase intends to be the leader in the convenience-based banking demanded by today's busy consumer," said Mark Burns, the Chase vice president in charge of on-line services in the emerging delivery unit.
His statement may be disputed by other banks that see themselves as being further along on the service delivery path of the information superhighway. Notable among them is Chase archrival Citibank, where Mr. Burns worked before joining Chase three years ago.
"Citibank was a very exciting place to be, but here we go about things a little differently," Mr. Burns said in an interview last week during the Bank Administration Institute's retail delivery systems conference in Phoenix, where he demonstrated the newest piece of Chase's strategy.
"We are being quite open about what we are doing," Mr. Burns said. "We are basically inviting people to talk to us, because we think that will be the key to succeeding in this environment."
Chase went public with a device that it plans initially to market as Chase CallBook 220, which is about the size of a VCR tape and can be plugged into any telephone line to gain access to bank account information and related transaction services.
Manufactured by Momentum Inc., a year-old, privately held company based in Boston, the CallBook 220 has a screen that allows it to work like enhanced telephones from companies like Philips and Verifone, with menu-driven commands and a row of keys corresponding to those on a phone.
Mr. Burns and Richard Kosowsky, founder and president of Moentum, stress that the CallBook 220 is not a screen phone per se. They expect the differentiating factors -- the machine's compactness and portability, and the fact that it does not require replacement of existing phones -- to appeal to more of the people who do not want to make the complete leap to an on-line PC service.
CallBook provides a bridge for people "not yet fully comfortable with PC technology," Mr. Kosowsky said. He added it will "encourage customers to try electronic banking today and strengthen Chase's customer relationships."
Chase and Momentum will begin formal testing in the first half of 1995, giving CallBooks to 500 consumers and 200 small-business customers.
Mr. Burns said early-stage customer research has yielded favorable results. Consumers were reportedly enthusiastic about the CallBook's simplicity and ease of use with minimal prompting or instruction.
And because of a frequently stated desire "to put it in their pockets and carry it with them," Chase will supply its first users with travel cases, Mr. Burns said.
He referred to the devices going into the field next year as "learning prototypes," through which Chase will deliver a transaction set that includes data on multiple-account relationships, funds transfers between accounts, bill payments, a 90-day history of checking account transactions, and 180 days of Visa, MasterCard, and Advantage Credit transactions.
Customer usage and feedback will be monitored closely, potential enhancements studied, and price points tested. Mr. Burns said pricing is not an immediate concern, but Chase expects it to be "closer to a telephone than a PC."
The CallBook 220 is not there yet. Mr. Kosowsky said that in volume production, the unit cost will be "well under $200" -- but so is the list price of several of the screen phones that Momentum is out to beat. Momentum also will sell CallBook server licenses starting at $37,500.
"One of the first things they have to do is get the unit price down," said a banker familiar with the CallBook. Another banker, admitting a bias toward the more fully functional types of screen phones, said his mind was not changed after a brief look at the Momentum product.
On the other hand, Momentum is touting other features, such as its open client/server architecture and compatibility with other devices including telephones, electronic organizers, PCs, and personal digital assistants.
Lynne Wilson, a Momentum principal and vice president of marketing, argued that once the competitive dust settles, people drawn to today's higher-end screen phones will migrate toward lower-cost personal computers, and the CallBook will seize the middle ground between telephones and PCs.
"We will look at the price points later," Mr. Burns said. "We were looking for the platform that will provide maximum learning."
Chase sees the CallBook addressing the needs for the functionality of a computer, the portability of a hand-held digital assistant, the reach of a telephone, and the ease of use of interactive entertainment, all at an affordable price.
While the bank tests the CallBook's ability to fill the gap between the telephone and the PC, Momentum is pursuing other applications for its device, which could be in airlines, brokerage, package delivery, and other service areas, Mr. Kosowsky said.
Mr. Burns reported that Chase's recently introduced "PC Banking with Microsoft Money" has already exceeded its sales goal for the first year.