The pieces of Fiserv Inc.'s electronic commerce strategy are coming together.
In recent months Fiserv has signed a score of technology agreements aimed at helping its 4,500 data processing customers move into Internet banking and beyond.
The agreements add features that will help its financial institution customers act as full-service portals, account aggregators, Internet service providers, and even online auctioneers. The new capabilities build upon the Brookfield, Wis., company's Internet banking software, which 321 of its customers already use.
"Banks are asking us, 'What do we do now?' " said Dean C. Schmelzer, executive vice president of sales and marketing. Banks have moved beyond informational Web sites to more transaction-oriented channels, but "it is not working," he said.
Most of the new features will be available to Fiserv's client banks in the next 30 to 60 days.
Fiserv is in negotiations with a large, undisclosed Internet portal through which banks would be able to combine Internet financial services with resources such as news, weather, and online shopping on a cobranded Web site.
The company also has an agreement with VerticalOne, a subsidiary of S1 Corp. of Atlanta, through which Fiserv's client banks will be able to aggregate their retail customers' personal financial data at one Internet site.
Using a single log-on, customers will be able to view every account they hold, such as credit card, insurance, and frequent-flier miles.
A deal with Ignite Safe of Dallas will help Fiserv banks provide their customers with financial planning tools. Another with MaxRate.com of Atlanta will let them offer online reverse auctions for certificates of deposit.
Fiserv officials also said it is in talks with a prominent telecommunications provider to enable banks to offer Internet access services.
The flurry of activity is a bit of a reversal for the conservatively managed company. As recently as May, Les Muma, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Fiserv, was quoted in American Banker saying that the electronic commerce market is changing too rapidly to guarantee success, and that a business case - specifically for digital marketplaces - had not yet emerged.
Fiserv will not "tend to make radical investments in something our clients are not buying or that is not making money," Mr. Muma said in an interview for the May 2 article. "We will watch it, and we will listen to our clients, and when the time is right to move into that we certainly will, and we will move with a vengeance."
The time appears to be right.
Fiserv officials said its new aggressiveness is a response to a realization by banks that their Web financial services lack the "stickiness" that other portals enjoy. Paul Frank, a former Mellon Bank executive and now Fiserv's senior vice president of business development, cited a recent study by Cyber Dialogue and Booz Allen-Hamilton, which found that no banks ranked among the most popular Web sites for financial management.
"I think the real threat is coming from portals out there like Yahoo and Quicken and Excite," Mr. Frank said. "Banks have to act relatively fast on this in order to maintain their presence and in order to remain competitive in the marketplace."
Jeffery Baker, an analyst at SunTrust Equitable Securities, said he believed banks are ready to take the next step to supplement their core bank services with newer electronic commerce services.
"If they do that, then they are more than just a bank - they are a point of destination," Mr. Baker said. "AOL and Yahoo have the upper hand right now because they have actually moved."
Carl Rush, a Cleveland independent consultant and former head of electronic commerce at National City Corp., said Fiserv's actions were long overdue. Until now Fiserv "has not clearly articulated its electronic commerce strategy. Now they are putting a stake in the ground," he said.