America Online Inc.'s proposed acquisition of Netscape Communications Corp. would likely rev up the relationships between those companies and various financial institutions, experts in the interactive services field said.
The deal, which both sides said is being discussed but which had not been consummated Monday, is expected to combine the two Internet gateway businesses. There would likely be a separate agreement with Sun Microsystems Inc. relating to Netscape's electronic commerce software business.
The melding of AOL and Netscape could create a "constant and large stream of traffic," said Bill Burnham, senior research analyst in Credit Suisse First Boston's San Francisco office.
For an institution like Citigroup, which has signed on to be the main provider of financial services on Netscape's Netcenter portal, the combination would "surely increase the number of eyeballs," said Nina Das, a spokeswoman for Citigroup. "It'll mean more subscribers and traffic, which will make our branding on the site more beneficial."
Four on-line brokerages-DLJ Direct, E-Trade, Waterhouse Securities, and Ameritrade-that are "premier providers" of trading services on AOL should similarly benefit.
Netscape has six million users registered on its NetCenter Internet gateway; AOL and its Compuserve subsidiary have 16 million subscribers.
AOL.com, the second-most-visited Internet address after Yahoo.com, got 28 million visitors in October, according to Media Metrix Inc., a New York- based research firm. With 20.8 million visitors, Netscape.com was ranked fourth and Microsoft.com third.
BillerXpert, the on-line bill payment and presentment software Netscape announced two weeks ago, "could end up in Sun's hands," Mr. Burnham said. Sun Microsystems is said to be exploring an acquisition of Netscape's electronic commerce software business, or participating in its sales and marketing.
An AOL-Netscape merger "turns up the heat for banks," said Richard Crone, vice president of Cybercash Inc. and head of its electronic check program. "Financial institutions need to leverage their content and customer base inside portals."
Augustine Fou, president of Go-Digital, an Internet consulting group in New York, said portal owners "have the negotiating power and banks have to go in begging." Because "consumers don't think of going to a bank site for content such as sport or weather," he said, the best a bank can hope for is a close and beneficial partnership with an Internet aggregator.
Mr. Burnham said he does not expect the proposed deal to disrupt AOL's relationship with Intuit Inc. AOL offers Intuit's BankNow, a streamlined version of its popular Quicken personal financial management software, as well as a cobranded version of the Quickenmortgage.com service on its site.
"It'll ultimately be a while before the dust settles on this one," said Mr. Burnham.