The effort of community banks to do battle with big banks to protect their market share has always been something of a David and Goliath story. But with multi-billion dollar superregionals and money-center banks wooing corporate and retail customers with a smorgasbord of flashy electronic banking products and services, it's been looking a lot more like Goliath versus Tom Thumb.

That's why Chris Williston, president of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT), spearheaded the "Money Xpress" project, an alliance which will provide 700 Texas community banks with Internet banking, bill payment and brokerage services rivaling those of larger banks with one exception: price. The community banks' individual entry price is $30,000 and includes Web page development, a far cry from the going rate of $250,000-about one year's earnings for a $50 million-asset bank, according to Williston.

Previous efforts to lure larger technology providers had been unsuccessful. "Unless you could bring $20 billion in assets to the table, they just didn't have much interest," says Williston. So he sought to leverage the total asset size of IBAT's membership rather than focus on individual partnerships.

The eight-company alliance provides IBAT banks with the following: a multi-bank version of Encore! Personal Branch and WebPB on-line banking software from CFI ProServices; integration of CFI's software into Mesa Internet Systems's Money Xpress data center, through which community banks will connect with customers; NT servers for data transmission at Mesa and Money, a personal finance management front end, from Microsoft; brokerage services such as Internet-based trading, quote retrieval, and market news summaries from Primevest Financial Services; real-time processing of payments, inquiries and transfers from Pulse EFT; training from CompUSA;dedicated and dial-up connections from Southwestern Bell; and bill payment services from Visa Interactive.

For institutions like $125 million-asset City National Bank of Taylor, the alliance could help fend off technologically innovative megabank neighbors. City National will be the pilot bank for Money Xpress and will offer the services to its 8,000 retail and 100 small business customers, says City National president Andrew Littlejohn.

CFI CEO Matt Chapman says the electronic banking edge is with community banks: larger institutions' systems tend to run slowly due to high volume-a turn-off to customers.

-prince tfn.com

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