The eight American and European banks that formed a digital certification consortium last fall have hired a chief executive officer, moving them an important step closer to officially opening for business.

Unofficially known as the global trust organization, or GTO, the New York-based group has put much of its administrative structure in place, led by president and CEO Guy Tallent.

Mr. Tallent, 32, who has essentially been seconded from his job as vice president in Chase Manhattan Corp.'s electronic commerce division, was chairman of the GTO steering committee at the time of its formation in October. He has been succeeded in the committee post by BankAmerica Corp. senior vice president Elizabeth "Libby" Ghekiere.

Mr. Tallent said the consortium is weeks away from some significant announcements: its formal name, incorporation, and regulatory approvals for the banks' ownership stakes.

U.S. authorities must clear the applications from units of BankAmerica, Chase, Bankers Trust Corp., and Citigroup, as must the respective regulators of Barclays Bank of the United Kingdom, ABN Amro of the Netherlands, and Deutsche Bank and Hypo Vereinsbank of Germany.

Also supported by Certco, a New York-based security technology company spun off by Bankers Trust, GTO would be a for-profit, limited liability company. It would provide digital certificates for on-line authentication of business customers of member banks and other network participants.

Certco's root key would sit atop that hierarchy of trust, and GTO rules would assure that any certificate, regardless of the issuing bank or technology vendor, would be compatible with all others.

Customers of one GTO bank could be authenticated by any other, giving the parties to an Internet transaction confidence in each other's validity.

"We are building the infrastructure for electronic commerce," Mr. Tallent said.

The for-profit charter and other aspects of the corporate structure are designed for speed, Mr. Tallent said, lest "the space be filled with technology companies ... who don't really understand how to manage risk."

The eight founding banks have five million corporate relationships among them. The value of the certificate community would increase as other financial institutions-and their customers-are added.

"Electronic commerce is knowing who you are dealing with-it's trust," Mr. Tallent said. "Trust is a fundamental piece of what banks offer in the marketplace."

He said the root key should be in place this quarter. The banks are preparing for interoperability trials, and customer pilots should follow in the third quarter.

Elliott McEntee, president and chief executive officer of the National Automated Clearing House Association, which has sponsored interoperability testing of digital credentials, said the GTO is right to emphasize commercial transactions, as opposed to lower-value consumer payments.

"It is a sign that the banking industry believes the Internet will play a major role in business-to-business transactions, and that public key (data encryption) is a good technology for securing those transactions," Mr. McEntee said.

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