Call it "revenge of the bankers."
They were sick of seeing attention lavished on technology companies. They were tired of being described as hopelessly out-of-date.
So when 15 major banks teamed up in New York on Monday to announce the formation of Integrion Financial Network, they didn't hesitate to gloat.
"If we are dinosaurs, I would suggest that today we are putting our customers on notice that it is a new breed that is evolving," said Robert W. Gillespie, president and chief executive officer of KeyCorp.
A joint venture of International Business Machines Corp. and some of the nation's biggest banks, Integrion is intended to provide a cooperative processing infrastructure for home banking. Integrion's partners, which have a total of more than 60 million customers, are confident that their network will help banks take the reins of the home banking market from technology firms, once and for all.
"We are seeing a comeback. Banks are bringing customers home in record numbers," said Mr. Gillespie, flanked at a news conference by the chief executives of Banc One Corp., Barnett Banks Inc., and Royal Bank of Canada, and by NationsBank Corp.'s chief information officer.
Many bankers, consultants, and technologists said that if any company has the muscle to create de facto standards in the nascent home banking industry, Integrion does. The consortium partners have good reason to believe Integrion can be an immediate force, observers said.
"This will really have the Microsofts and Intuits of the world scratching their heads and thinking what their next move is," said Marc Singer, a home banking consultant with McKinsey & Co. in San Francisco.
"The banks have really put Intuit on the spot," said Phoebe Simpson, an analyst with Jupiter Communications in New York. "The reality will be a more unified system of home banking."
In the last year or so, Intuit Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have made strides in the home banking market by persuading banks to tie home banking services to the Quicken and Money personal finance software packages. The growing power of these technology firms had many banks fearing the loss of control of the home banking market.
Integrion's formation is a calculated attempt to change that. One of Integrion's first goals is to promote home banking among the consortium's customer base.
A pricing structure that does not favor Integrion owners over nonowners is designed to attract financial institutions of all sizes.
"This organization will be open to all banks as customers," said IBM chief executive Louis V. Gerstner Jr. "and the other banks who join as customers will not be disadvantaged."
"We will try to drive the transaction charges as low as possible," added John B. McCoy, chairman and chief executive of Banc One Corp. "If we have 10 million customers, others will want to join."
The strategy appeals to community bankers, many of whom feel disadvantaged by the pricing schemes of other home banking providers.
"We hope that Integrion will be inclusive to banks of all sizes," said Viveca Ware, a spokeswoman for the Independent Bankers Association of America, which represents community banks.
Integrion's "open standard" will allow participating banks to offer a variety of home banking products and to choose whether customers will access accounts and make bill payments over the Internet or through the private IBM Global Network.
"Volume will allow Integrion to create very cost-effective connections to banks and to merchants," said NationsBank senior vice president Chuck Hieronymi.
Though optimism about Integrion's future abounds, some cautionary voices could be found.
For example, Intuit senior vice president Daniel N. Rudolph expressed skepticism that Integrion would be fully functioning in less than a year. (For comments by Intuit chairman Scott Cook, see accompanying article, below).
David Weisman, senior analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said the emergence of Integrion could further complicate a complex market.
He said that with the home banking programs operated by the card associations, bankers may get confused as to which bank-owned option is best.
"Visa Interactive was supposed to be all the things banks wanted," said Mr. Weisman. "But they weren't a standard, and they never did open up their specifications, preferring to be closer to the vest. That is something that Integrion will have to be careful about."