Fiserv Inc. has jumped into the home banking fray with both feet, announcing its Connect3 software.
Fiserv, one of the largest providers of data processing services to banks, is offering its clients a single system for banking via personal computers, telephones, and the Internet.
Leslie M. Muma, president and chief operating officer of Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv, said banks can use Connect3 to give their customers access to products and services from nonbanks. Fiserv is searching for deals with brokerage and insurance providers to deliver on that capability.
Nonbanks should be interested because "Connect3 is anybody's way to get to 50 million customers through 7,000 banks," he said. "We hope some of them come to us, and we will seek out those that make the most sense for our customer base."
Mr. Muma said the system would allow the smaller institutions that make up much of its customer base to compete with large ones.
"It minimizes the threat of future disintermediation," Mr. Muma said.
The system, nearly two years in development, will make use of recent Fiserv deals, such as the acquisition of BHC Financial, a Philadelphia- based unit that clears securities trades for companies such as T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based mutual fund company.
T. Rowe Price, an institutional owner of Fiserv, could be one of the first companies offering mutual funds through Connect3.
Stephen McLellan, a San Francisco-based analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co., noted that Fiserv has grown at a 20% clip for years, yet its name is hardly known outside banking circles.
The services provided through Connect3 could raise the company's profile, he said.
He called Connect3 "pretty impressive," adding that the major benefit of the software is that it would free consumers from having to "fish all over the Internet" for financial services. Instead they would be able to get everything through a single banking relationship, he said.
He also said Fiserv faces some risk. The home banking market still is in its infancy, and the small banks that the company caters to may not be ready for the product.
Donald F. Dillon, vice chairman at Fiserv acknowledged the risks, saying many "innovators" in home banking were "bleeding early." But he said the market has matured since then and the potential rewards of offering home banking are worth the risk.
It is unclear how Fiserv's system would interact with emerging home banking standards such as Open Financial Exchange, or OFX, (which is backed by Microsoft Corp., Intuit Inc., and Checkfree Corp.) or with Gold (from the International Business Machines-led Integrion Financial Network).
Mr. Muma said the standards are still "vaporware." However, "depending on the success of those two initiatives, we will probably take a serious look at becoming OFX-compatible."
Mr. Muma said 18 institutions already have ordered Connect3, which has been in a preliminary testing stage at several banks and credit unions.
Tropical Federal Credit Union, Miami, a $400 million-asset institution with 80,000 customers, will perform a full-scale test with several customers this year. A general rollout is planned for 1998.