In light of its recent deal with Dallas-based Curtis Mathes, Security First Network Bank is one step closer to the next generation of interactive banking. SFNB will be the first on-line banking channel on the Virtual Financial Manager

system of uniView, Curtis Mathes' set-top box, says Eric W. Hartz, president of Atlanta-based SFNB. UniView, on the market since July, provides a variety of information, communication, and entertainment via television. If the deal attracts other banks to uniView, it may mean more transaction processing business for SFNB's wholly-owned subsidiary Security First Technologies.

Providing customers with more universal access to the bank is in line with SFNB's overall vision of aggregating services. Says Security First Technologies CEO Michael McChesney, banks need to begin positioning themselves securely for a battle among the giants of various industries vying to control each consumer's "WebTone," or initial point of access to the network. Soon enough, he says, content aggregators will enable consumers to access-through channels like phone, Internet, and TV-all manner of customized content, including financial services; communications like voicemail and e-mail; personalized news; weather; and sports. In one scenario, a consumer could use a smart card at an airport screen phone to make a telephone call and, at the same time, retrieve voicemail, e-mail, the latest stock quotes and a personalized offer for a new music CD. "Microsoft is trying to create a monopoly WebTone they call 'Active Desktop,'" McChesney says, referring to Microsoft's desktop interface for customized Web content, expected to be bundled with the next release of Windows95. "Banks need to take control of that part of the food chain."

This means developing partnerships with telecom, Internet, cable and retail-oriented companies to create and deliver content. Banks have a distinct advantage here, says McChesney: They still own much of consumers' financial data, while most other pieces of a hypothetical WebTone service- e-mail, voicemail, news-can be provided by a number of different kinds of companies. To get started, banks should concentrate on developing bill payment and presentment services and then expand into other services over time, issuing smart cards, etc., says McChesney. SFNB is aiming to become a content aggregator in a year's time with help from Security First Technologies, he says. "(Banks) have to start thinking beyond being banks, or they may as well get used to being commodities."

-prince tfn.com

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