Transactor Networks, one of the pioneering developers of digital wallets for electronic commerce, started a new life Monday with a new name and a product bigger than a wallet.
The San Francisco company will be known as Brodia, a change coinciding with the introduction of its "electronic shopping console."
Emerging from the "incubation stage"-technology development began four years ago, Transactor Networks was incorporated in December 1997, and it received $5 million in venture capital a year later-Brodia is turning to banks to help get past the common e-commerce stumbling blocks of brand and trust.
Ron Martinez, chief executive officer, made his point by describing the difference between a conventional credit card and a piece of white plastic.
"This is your credit card," he said of the former. The other is "your credit card on the Internet"-nothing but a name and number.
The new on-line effort represents "credit cards 2.0," he said, taking into account "branding, marketing, and consumer appeal."
"There may not be a bank on every corner of the Internet, but there can be a bank on every card," he added.
Brodia is putting itself in the vanguard of electronic wallets touched off by a standardization agreement announced June 14. The backers included MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Microsoft, America Online, several on- line retailers, and software vendors active in virtual payment and wallet technology.
Trintech of Campbell, Calif., tried to get a jump on the wallet race by announcing on June 21 what it called the "first virtual credit card." It closely tracked the proposed standard, Electronic Commerce Modeling Language, or ECML.
Market availability of Trintech's ezCard, part of its PayGate NetIssuer package, is about two months away.
Also working feverishly as an ECML supporter is International Business Machines Corp. A wallet announcement is forthcoming that "may beat some of the other things you are hearing about to the market," said Ralph Hertlein, an Atlanta-based product manager overseeing IBM's effort.
Among other rivals weighing in with ECML commitments were Cybercash Inc., Launchpad Technologies Inc. and its eWallet venture, and Gator.com, which bills itself more broadly as "the Web's first smart on-line companion."
Like Trintech - which has a close relationship with Visa, reputedly ECML's moving force - Brodia is claiming a close affinity with Visa and the standard.
"It is very important to us," Mr. Martinez said. "We own the ECML.org site. We wrote the initial spec and co-wrote the final draft. We wanted to enable this marketplace."
The secure-wallet component-the piece of software that the consumer uses to store payment options and personal details for on-line transactions-is just a piece of the "remote control shopping" experience Brodia is trying to create.
As Transactor Networks, the company gained some prominence in a test with Citibank. As Brodia, which takes its name from a flower genus, its first pilot test is with the credit card monoline MBNA Corp.
Christopher Musto, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. of Concord, Mass., said that by working with banks, Brodia would get help in attracting customers and building trust. In return, Brodia offers banks a way to encourage customer loyalty-the valuable "stickiness" that keeps them from straying to other service providers.
Brodia can be the starting point for a bank's e-commerce initiative, Mr. Musto said. To promote the use of its card, a bank can build additional services around it such as real-time access to balances, credit-limit changes, and customized product design-elements that could make it hard for customers to defect.
Users of MBNA cards, for example, get promotional offers and discounts from major on-line travel, book, music, and other retailers.
Lucas Graves, an analyst at Jupiter Communications of New York, said bill payment and presentment can be a big element of the "shopping console" framework, cross-sold with an on-line banking service.
Despite some banks' considerable e-commerce efforts, Mr. Graves cautioned them against trying to do too much. He said Jupiter's research has shown that the main point of consumers' e-commerce contact will be with merchant sites. To assert their trusted brands, bankers should work cooperatively with merchants.
Mr. Martinez said that Brodia, with one click, can bring out a consumer's pertinent information and "it is no more intrusive than pulling out a credit card."
He said the console simplifies shopping and brings navigation and personal organizing aids such as purchase records, permission marketing, merchant e-mail, and links to customer service.
At the point of checkout, a Brodia digital wallet with securely stored credit card and related information automatically fills out order forms at many popular on-line stores.
Brodia is compensated for referring its customers to stores, and 60 of them have been vetted and approved for this purpose. Twenty retailing sites, including CDNow, E-toys and barnesandnoble.com, are taking advantage of the ability to make special offers to Brodia consoles.
Mr. Musto said that for the moment, Brodia's competition is limited. Megamerchants and some portals are trying to make shopping consoles part of their offerings, but Mr. Musto said, "A Yahoo cares more about you hanging out at Yahoo right now," whereas Brodia is open to the entire World Wide Web.