Bankers who have long marveled at the alphabet soup of their membership organizations have it easy compared with those who may be trying to decide which electronic commerce initiatives to join or support. Whereas bankers - just at the national level - have their ABA and ACB, CBA and IBAA, RMA and TBR, they and their counterparts from other industries interested in new commercial media such as the Internet have faced such options as FSTC, XIWT, and JEPI, to name a few. The last may have a slight marketing edge because it is pronounceable: "jeppy." All in this new class of multiple-industry association or forum (see chart) have similar cooperative ideals, and their data-interchange and seamless-payment goals could not be accomplished unless many parties from various industries and perspectives pull toward a common objective. Indeed, cooperation is a highly touted high-tech business paradigm for the 1990s; some consultants have grown fond of "coopetition," a coinage symbolic of the blurring and intertwining of cooperation and competition. But seeds of confusion have been sown. It takes some study to understand the distinctions between some of the mission statements. Whereas well- heeled technology providers like AT&T and IBM find it worthwhile and affordable to join most if not all of these efforts, some corporations - even sizable banks - may not have that luxury. One of the stronger track records belongs to the Financial Services Technology Consortium. It lists 14 commercial banks - most of them among the largest in the United States and all among the most innovative - as its primary members. (It has another 75 or so associate and advisory members, including leading technology vendors, similar-minded consortia such as CommerceNet, and the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Sandia research laboratories.) FSTC was organized in 1993 by Citicorp, which until then practiced such a fierce brand of competition that it took time for its peace overtures to have their effect on the likes of Chase Manhattan and Bank of Boston. The group has gone on to demonstrate an "electronic check" on the Internet and pushed the concept of interbank check imaging, which could promote truncation of paper documents. Anti-fraud breakthroughs are said to be on the way. By taking its own membership in other consortia, such as CommerceNet and JEPI, FSTC has given its members a wider window into Internet commerce while holding costs down for each participant. A well-honed mission and a bank-controlled agenda worked to FSTC's advantage. Other groups have faced the daunting challenge of forging cross- industry, and in some cases private- and public-sector, consensus. JEPI, formed this past spring, is supposed to be a more highly evolved consortium. Formed by two of the genre's granddaddies, CommerceNet and the World Wide Web Consortium, it is banking on the idea that only an elite "consortium of consortia" can bring Internet payments to fruition within a short time. Now a Columbus, Ohio-based electronic commerce lawyer wants to take another evolutionary step. Jeffrey B. Ritter, director of the Eclips program - Electronic Commerce, Law, and Information Policy Strategies - at the Ohio Supercomputer Center, says existing standards and legal frameworks have failed to account for the fact that the concepts of data and money are interchangeable in a virtual world. Mr. Ritter, who is also involved in a United Nations project to update trade laws, is proposing that an Internet Law and Policy Forum "discuss that convergence . . . and have both banks and nonbanks work toward common rules. There is no other place where that is happening." Mr. Ritter said he had gotten early support from what he calls high- technology, software, and content companies on four continents. He said he is moving closer to bringing financial organizations in and formally launching the effort.
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