The Online Banking Association plans to unveil a system next week that brings Internet surfing to televisions and lets consumers use smart cards for on-line commerce.
"It is unusual that an association is taking a leadership role in trying to introduce banks to new technologies," said Bill Burnham, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray Inc. of Minneapolis.
He added that the announcement is one way the association is using its annual conference, which runs Sunday through Tuesday in San Francisco, to "rally the troops."
The In-Home Network Service, which the OBA would offer to banks for remarketing to consumers, works through a $350 box made by Samsung Electronics Co. of Seoul, Korea, that would sit on top of the television set.
When hooked up to a standard phone line, the software-loaded device can project Internet images on the TV screen.
The boxes have a smart card option to enable payments. The option is akin to the similarly priced technology of WebTV Networks, which Microsoft recently agreed to acquire.
"For smaller banks that might not get attention from vendors," OBA may offer an efficient way "to have access to a home banking solution," Mr. Burnham said.
He added that it might be logical for the association eventually to sell the system to vendors and software providers.
The association has been developing its approach since WebTV was announced in mid-1996.
"This is a good service for our members and gives banks a way to retain control of the payments system and not be subservient to Oracle, Microsoft, and nonbank providers," said James Shelton, executive director of the two- year-old OBA, which counts 50 of the top U.S. banks as members.
"We've had a great deal of interest from all sizes of banks, credit unions, and thrift institutions for this packaged solution," Mr. Shelton said.
An institution would be able to customize the set-top boxes with its own brand. However, a minimum purchase of 10,000 boxes is required to make this cost-effective. So for now, the OBA is mainly promoting generic models of the set-top box. Banks can use them for 30-day demonstrations and return them for a full refund.
"In terms of payments and transactions, it is important for banks to be involved," Mr. Shelton said. "This is very basic, general access to the Internet and network computing."
"We think it's great because inevitably TVs will make it in the home as banking devices," said Tim Kemp, manager of on-line services at First Chicago NBD Corp., which is an association member. "However, we will not be focusing on it this year."
The banking company intends to concentrate on the PC and telephone as primary home delivery channels. It is adding functionality to its Web site and plans soon to allow balance inquiries, funds transfers, and bill payments.
First Chicago also is testing internally the Mondex smart card and expects to roll it out in 1998.
"We are definitely interested in TV banking, but our strategy is to invest in technologies that are more established," Mr. Kemp said.