My job is to deliver what needs to be delivered in a very short time frame, so we send a message to the industry that we can do things, that we're not dinosaurs and can move quickly," says Catherine Allen, CEO of the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat (BITS), an arm of The Bankers Roundtable.

Allen isn't wasting any time making good on her appointment as CEO. In the eight months since BITS convened in April last year, she has dug the foundations for what could be the global standards for electronic commerce and, incidentally, proven that even the financial services industry can work together when it has to.

The track record so far is pretty impressive. "We laid out six major deliverables on April 15th (1997) and we delivered every one of them by September 11th," says Allen, including brokering interoperability agreements for Integrion's Gold and Microsoft's OFX standards."It was important to send the message internally, to the CEOs, that they can cooperate," she says.

The next step? "We've got another set of deliverables between now and April, (which include) a business case for a root certificate authority, recommendations on the (President's Commission on) Critical Infrastructure Protection, a cost analysis recommendation on how we leverage the industry to cut out costs, the privacy models and implementation specifications for bill presentment/bill payment, and, in the de novo group, a concept of the "trusted space," which we think may be part of what the future of the payments industry may look like."

What BITS is about, Allen says, is to facilitate global electronic commerce, and to do so within the typical bank roles in terms of risk analysis, security, safety, soundness and privacy. "If you look at our initiatives, you can see that they're all about that," she says. "What BITS isn't about is recreating something, or creating a new bureaucracy or a new payments system itself. Think of it as being a strategic or visionary group that's looking at what we need to do as an industry, and then making that happen at the board level."

That board level focus, of course, makes BITS a little like the globally influential Bank of International Settlements, which often protests that it's merely a facilitator and meeting place-indeed, merely a building-even while cynics point out that the same could be said of the Pentagon. BITS, by having input at the highest level, creates the fundamental agreement, at the strategic level, necessary to create the industry-wide commonality of standards that Allen says is necessary for electronic commerce to flourish.

The result, she agrees, is that the banking system today is roughly in the same place in terms of technology platforms as American finance generally was in in 1913, when the Fed was formed, creating a common economic premise that led to common prosperity.

But, she adds, finance will not fundamentally change because of technology. "People become enamored of technology but forget that banking has basic functions in terms of providing credit, providing risk management," she says. "How we spend money, use money, our need for borrowing money, for investing money are pretty similar; we just have a new technology that allows us to do that, hopefully in a much more creative and easier to use and faster way. What we're trying to do as an industry is to ask, 'What rules need to fall away, and what new rules need to be there to make sure we still have a safe, sound system?'"

-reinbach tfn.com

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