Open Financial Exchange has won the support of two brokerages, strengthening its position as a standard for interactive financial transactions.
Discover Brokerage Direct, formerly known as Lombard and now part of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Charles Schwab & Co. announced that they have created programs based on the OFX standard. It is designed to give customers access to multiple financial institutions on a single computer screen.
OFX, promulgated by Checkfree Corp., Intuit Inc., and Microsoft Corp. this year, has attracted a vast array of technology companies eager to write software around a common standard. Bankers meanwhile were drawn to the idea that they would not have to create separate electronic connections for customers using different software, such as Microsoft's Money and Intuit's Quicken.
But some critics are wary of a computer specification that may be controlled by technology companies rather than banks. And there are fears that a standard system would make it too easy for customers to switch financial institutions.
However, John MacIlwaine, chief technology officer of San Francisco- based Discover Brokerage Direct, said the ease of transferring assets is precisely why OFX is attractive.
"This will pit banks and financial institutions against each other," Mr. MacIlwaine said.
Discover Brokerage Direct hired a developer of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java programming language to build a system modification that permits simultaneous viewing of multiple accounts.
"These applications will enable our customers to view and use information as a tool to empower better financial decision-making," Mr. MacIlwaine said.
Charles Schwab & Co. and Microsoft Corp. are expected to announce next week that Schwab's 830,000 active on-line customers will be able to download brokerage account information to Microsoft's Web-based Investor Portfolio Manager. Custom-developed server software that reads the OFX protocol will enable Schwab customers to analyze and manipulate their account information over the Internet.
The ease of use-and of asset transfers across multiple accounts and relationships-"is where it gets compelling," said Kirk J. Koenigsbauer, product manager for Microsoft Investor. "I can download accounts from many institutions and view them in one place."
The information is downloaded onto the customer's personal computer through Microsoft Investor Portfolio Manager. Since the data are viewable on a Web browser that uses Microsoft's Active-X technology, the move could re-ignite the software giant's long-simmering rivalry with companies that write software in Java.
Though Schwab elected to build its own OFX Web server, Discover Brokerage Direct worked with Innovision Corp. of Lenexa, Kan., which has developed a system with Sun that runs on the recently announced Sun Connect architecture.
Sun trumpets the fact that unlike Microsoft's products, Java-based applications are built to run on a variety of computer operating systems.
Regardless of back-end computer systems, this fall consumers are expected to begin using OFX-enabled applications that facilitate the movement of money between accounts.
"A new market will develop around the optimizing of assets," Mr. MacIlwaine said.
OFX, with the momentum it is building, could begin to overshadow other standards, such as Integrion Financial Network's Gold. (Integrion is run by International Business Machines Corp. and a group of large banks.)
"When (Microsoft) Marble was announced, there was some thought that it would be the OFX-compliant system," said Karen Epper, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "There are going to be more companies forcing standards than Microsoft. What this points out is that OFX is really gaining credibility as a standard."