A company formed mostly by former Andersen Consulting strategists is bringing an Internet payment service to market.
Achex Inc. of South San Francisco plans to offer online person-to-person payments by the end of the month and consumer-to-merchant payments by the end of summer. Like some other companies planning Internet payment systems, Achex will use the automated clearing house network as its engine to process payments.
Five major financial institutions have expressed interest in co-branding Achex's Internet payment services, and the company expects to have an alliance in place with one of them by the end of the summer, said Terry Allen-Rouman, its president and chief executive officer and a co-founder.
Achex already has contracts to provide payment processing to 10 online merchants, including Cozmo.com, 1-800-Flowers.com, and PlanetRx.com. It is also looking to forge alliances with online auction sites and business-to-business marketplaces.
As a neutral third-party processor, Achex will not require users to transfer their money to separate accounts to initiate payments, Mr. Allen-Rouman said. Such transfers are required by X.com and PayPal, leading providers of Internet payment services.
Achex is "bank-friendly," Mr. Allen-Rouman said, because it strengthens banks' relationships with checking account holders. "We don't require our customers to open a new checking account."
At Andersen Consulting, Mr. Allen-Rouman led the development of a wide array of payment product teams at major credit card associations and commercial banks. Achex's vice president of marketing, Margaret Morgan Weichert, and its vice president of technology, John Mascavage, also worked at Andersen.
Ms. Weichert developed Andersen's electronic commerce payments strategy and worked with Visa on its Signature card and Visa Gift program. Mr. Mascavage, a technologist for Andersen, developed financial processing systems at Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, Waterhouse Securities, and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Achex's initial marketing campaign is focusing on "areas where check usage is high in the physical world," such as like grocery stores, pharmacies, and office suppliers, Ms. Weichert said.
"We are very focused on understanding why people prefer checks and debits over credit cards."
Other organizations are trying to develop Internet payment systems that are not dependent on credit cards, currently the dominant form of payment on the Web. The New York Clearing House Association is seeking to form a consortium of banks that would offer ACH-based Internet payment services to corporate clients. Bankserv, a developer of electronic payments software, is bringing similar capabilities to market.
Achex transactions will take two to three days to wind their way through the automated clearing house system, but merchants and payees will get instant notification of payments. The company intends to accommodate future generations of online payment services as they become available.
The service will be free for person-to-person payments. Merchants will pay a fixed transaction fee 100 basis points lower than would apply for a credit card transaction, Achex said. Customers will enter confidential account information once. It will then be stored offline and accessed by merchants through a secure log-in.