FleetBoston Financial Corp. said it may spend more than $30 million over the next three years on a common technology for its corporate cash management customers.

The company will rely on Internet browser technology from FICS America Inc., a division of FICS Group of Belgium.

FleetBoston aims to consolidate 10 separate operations on a single platform, which should lower expenses in such areas as software upgrades, product distribution, and maintenance.

Executives said it currently costs about $12 million to operate various Windows-based systems serving 15,000 corporate customers. A common system on the Internet would enable three times that many customers to be served at the same cost.

"This gives us the ability to put more out in a more elegant way," said Michael J. Curran, executive vice president and managing director of FleetBoston's Global Services division.

BankBoston Corp., which recently merged with Fleet Financial Group to form FleetBoston, began moving to common systems in 1996, working with FICS. The merged banking company is No. 5 in the cash management business, with $725 million in annualize revenues.

Mr. Curran said many large banks that have merged have not consolidated the cash management systems they inherited. This requires "a lot of rewiring at the back end, so the idea is to reverse from that 'fat client' approach," which depends on personal computer software and processing power.

Instead of distributing software diskettes to users or frequently visiting end-user sites for installations, FleetBoston would do revisions or upgrades on its central servers -- the "fat server, thin client" approach. Corporations would log on via the Internet for access to services and information.

The bank is testing an early version of an Internet browser system with eight corporate customers, including Georgetown University. The complete conversion is slated for three years so as to avoid service disruptions.

FICS America, of Charlotte, N.C., expects to merge in mid-November with Security First Technologies Inc., an Atlanta-based Internet banking systems vendor. A close competitor is Politzer & Haney of Newton, Mass., which is also helping banks develop Internet cash management systems.

Fred Dumas, president of FICS America, said the idea of an Internet portal to cash management services will appeal to customers "whether they are small businesses or large corporations."

"They'll sign on to Fleet's site and never leave," Mr. Dumas said. "It becomes a trusted vehicle to do financial transactions of all sorts."

The Internet browser service would also give the bank a leg up in customer service, he said. With Windows products there is a certain "disconnect" between the bank and customer because the bank often does not know how its products are being used, Mr. Dumas said.

But if the services reside centrally on the bank's network, FleetBoston would know exactly what a customer is trying to do and how to resolve the problem, he said during the Treasury Management Association conference in Los Angeles.

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