First Union Corp. is working with MCI Communications Corp. to develop a private and secure on-line service for the bank's customers.
Expanding on the ambitious "Cyberbanking" initiative the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank announced earlier this year, First Union and MCI have been developing PC-based software and services that would allow customers to safely access bank information and conduct financial transactions within a private network.
The bank has been testing the service internally and plans to roll it out by November.
First Union has already set up one of the more expansive information sites on the World Wide Web - including more than 300 pages of information about the bank and its products and services, as well as more novel touches like an interactive game created with Universal Studios.
The bank also established its own electronic mall, where seven merchants sell goods ranging from bottled water to Durham Bull baseball tickets on- line.
Bank officials say that, until now, transactions were secured to some extent. But they add that the service will heighten security and give the bank a defined base from which to launch new electronic offerings.
"This deal with MCI really gives us a platform to roll out more financial-based services," said Thomas Kitrick, a vice president for Internet marketing at First Union.
"It's an on-line service which initializes our service ... branded for First Union," said Fred M. Winkler, the senior vice president and head of card products for First Union.
Much like one of the consumer-oriented on-line services - America Online, Prodigy, and Compuserve - this more specialized service would only secure activities and transactions that take place within that private network.
It would also give customers the ability to access the wider realm of the Internet and the World Wide Web, where communications and transactions are not secured.
MCI customized the popular Navigator browser software, made by Netscape Communications Corp., to suit First Union's on-line service. The browser automatically brings customers into First Union's on-line site.
MCI will distribute the free "private-labeled" browser to First Union's customers. The telecommunications company will also manage the network and customer services for it.
The pricing scheme also closely resembles that of the broader on-line services. Customers pay a $9.95 monthly subscription fee, which includes five hours' worth of free on-line access. They are charged $2.50 an hour for additional time.
These fees might appear high for financial services alone. But Anne Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp. of Atlanta, said that a small but lucrative target market will be willing to sign on, provided the services reach beyond basic account checking and purchasing.