Interactive Transaction Partners is quietly scrambling to gain financial industry support for its home banking services, and is even considering sale of an equity interest to banks or service companies, industry sources say.
The company, a joint venture of Electronic Data Systems Corp., US West, and France Telecom, has been developing and testing its remote banking technology for more than 18 months.
The platform, one of several competing for attention as the home banking market takes off, has won praise from bankers and others involved in the project. But rumors have spread that the three owners have not built a strong enough foundation to attract the desired "critical mass" of financial institutions and other allies.
A top executive at EDS, which owns 50% of Interactive Transaction Partners, said the three companies have had conversations with both bank card associations and some banks about buying into the venture.
"We always had the full expectation that there would be additional owners," said Fred Gumbel, president of EDS' electronic commerce unit.
Some observers said the venture is trying to reposition itself to solve some internal problems, but Mr. Gumbel denied that the partnership is in any way shaky.
According to one source, who cited people inside EDS, US West and France Telecom were backing off, allowing the Dallas-based data processing giant to take the ball and run with it. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, speculated that with a general rollout of the venture's products slated for this summer, EDS has been gradually taking over as the other partners fade more into the background.
"My notion is that it is very difficult for these alliances to work," the source said. "It's not likely, from a strategic point of view, for them all to be the same. And EDS has the capability to do this all on its own."
Mr. Gumbel, who oversees Interactive Transaction Partners as well as EDS' other home banking and electronic commerce initiatives, denied that the venture is entirely run by EDS employees.
He conceded that EDS has been taking on more responsibility and playing a greater part in the promotion of the home banking services than either of its partners, given the General Motors Corp. unit's long history of working with banks. In the development stage, he said, there was "much heavier involvement by US West and France Telecom."
"The venture was set up as a separate company ... and has run fairly autonomously," Mr. Gumbel said. US West and France Telecom have "played a lot of their role."
Indeed, the roles of all the partners seem to be changing, right along with the landscape of electronic financial services. But bankers still are moving slowly and cautiously.
So far, Interactive Transaction Partners has signed only 12 financial institutions, the largest being the Texas subsidiary of Comerica Inc. Others include Salem (Mass.) Five Cents Savings Bank, Mesa County Teachers Federal Credit Union, the EDS Employee Credit Union, and a handful of undisclosed institutions.
Even bankers who question the venture's cohesion regard the products as "quite good," but they say the joint venture needs to work on picking up some speed, especially to appeal to larger financial institutions. Selling equity to banks or drawing in the card associations might be the fastest route to penetrating the big-bank segment.
Important connections could be made through J. Randall Peyser, the joint venture's former president, who left recently to become a vice president in MasterCard International's MasterBanking home banking program.
A knowledgeable banker said Interactive Transaction Partners has long been making "strong pitches" to Comerica Bank in Michigan and other big banks, to little avail. He said that "banks may feel apprehensive with EDS" in the area of home banking, even after years of dealing with the company as a data processor.