Cybercash Inc. announced the launch Monday of an electronic "coin" for making small purchases on the Internet and named the banks that have agreed to offer it to customers.
The Reston, Va., company until now has counted as its chief product an Internet-based "wallet" that consumers could use to buy items on-line with their credit cards.
The electronic coin - essentially an on-line change purse that draws funds against a consumer's bank account - is meant for purchases costing 25 cents to $10. It is a second payment mechanism within the wallet product.
Its introduction is the first under which banks will offer a Cybercash product directly, by licensing the wallet technology and putting their brand names on it.
"We do think it will be and is the core product of the company," said Bill Melton, chief executive officer of Cybercash, referring to the electronic coin.
Among the first bank companies to offer the new on-line coin will be: First Union Corp.; Michigan National Corp.; Wachovia Corp.; Bancorp Hawaii; PNC Bank Corp.; Barnett Banks Inc.; Huntington Bancshares; U.S. Bancorp; and United Merchant Services (a limited partnership between NationsBank Corp. and First Data Corp.).
The processors that plan to handle coin-based transactions are First USA Paymentech Inc. and First Data.
So far, no mechanism has been widely available for making "micropayments" on the Internet, experts said.
Bankers and processors participating in the Cybercash project said they anticipate the coin product will help open the Internet to merchants who want to sell low-cost items - like cartoons, electronic games, pictures, and news articles - and would help solve payment issues for consumers.
"A lot of merchants are looking for a more efficient way to be able to offer micropayment-type products," said Parker Foley, vice president and director of electronic commerce at First Union.
"Right now," he said, "cybercoin is really the only coin product that's actually going to be nationally available outside of a couple of very controlled pilots." First Union plans to begin offering the coin in a November pilot, he said.
Pamela H. Patsley, chief executive officer of First USA Paymentech, described the Cybercash wallet as "convenient and easy to use. The cybercoin definitely provides a good solution for merchants as well as a safe means for consumers."
By early 1997, Cybercash plans to have introduced a third component of its wallet: an electronic check that would also draw funds from consumers' bank accounts.
Cybercash's Mr. Melton said his company anticipates that 40% to 50% of its income will ultimately derive from the coin product, 30% to 35% from the electronic check, and only 10% to 15% from credit cards.
"Even though the credit card transport is what we do today," he said, "in terms of overall importance, the coin is the critical thing."