Joining the small but trendy clique of banks that facilitate person-to-person Internet payments, FleetBoston Financial Corp. today plans to announce a partnership with Tradesafe.com, a Providence, R.I., company that helps consumers pay one another on-line.
The service will work on auction Web sites and others where people who do not know each other try to do business. The seller will set up a Tradesafe account through the site where the merchandise or service is being sold, and the buyer will simply supply a credit card number to make the transaction go through.
Other banks have begun offering variations on this formula. In the past two weeks Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank One Corp. have announced plans to enter the market. Wells Fargo's service would function in a similar way to that planned by FleetBoston, but Bank One's has a twist, in that it would complete person-to-person payments by e-mail.
More banks are likely to follow suit as more consumers and small businesses embrace the Internet as a global emporium.
"As commerce moves from the physical world to the Internet, we want to take a leading role as a payment processor," said Brian Connolly, senior vice president of FleetBoston. Last month, FleetBoston announced a partnership with Biztro.com, which among other things helps small firms to manage payroll and set up intranets.
FleetBoston and Tradesafe.com have conducted a pilot over the past two months involving about 15,000 consumers.
FleetBoston views the nonexclusive partnership as an opportunity to generate fees, Mr. Connolly said. Tradesafe.com is essentially acting as an acquiring bank, signing up merchants that facilitate Internet commerce. In doing so, Tradesafe directs transaction volume to FleetBoston, which provides credit card processing services.
Kenneth J. Pereira, Tradesafe's chief executive officer and president, said the five-year-old company started out providing escrow services to consumers conducting payment transactions on the Internet, mostly on the popular eBay auction site. Escrow payments, however, typically involved merchandise costing at least $500, and in many instances buyers and sellers were unhappy with the time it took for merchandise to arrive and payments to clear.
Tradesafe.com is among at least six other such companies, including PayPal.com, which announced plans on March 2 to merge with X.com. Another is BillPoint, an eBay-Wells Fargo joint venture 35% owned by the banking company; eBay previously owned 100% of BillPoint.
Mr. Pereira said Tradesafe.com's insurance policy distinguishes it from its competitors. Tradesafe.com works with an insurance company that underwrites transactions of less than $1,200 so that buyers and sellers are protected if a problem arises.
For transactions that exceed $1,200, Tradesafe.com confirms the buyer's receipt and satisfaction with the product before releasing funds to the seller.
"We are the only payment solution willing to take this risk," Mr. Pereira said. This guarantee was particularly appealing to FleetBoston, Mr. Connolly said. By contrast, Wells Fargo would absorb any fraud losses in the BillPoint venture.