In his days as president of an automated teller machine network, Del R. Tonguette used to preach consolidation, warning that local networks would probably lose out to the Visa and MasterCard brand names.
Today, as an electronic commerce consultant, Mr. Tonguette offers an equally apocalyptic message: Banks lacking a savvy Internet plan are cooked.
Most bankers do not accept the "revolution of electronic commerce," he said. "They have the technology, but they don't have the strategies or the marketing expertise to back it up."
Mr. Tonguette, a pithy and flamboyant 61-year-old who likes to quote Bob Dylan, acted on his earlier conviction two years ago when he engineered the sale of Gulfnet Inc., the regional ATM network he headed in Slidell, La., to Pulse EFT Association of Houston.
Last December Mr. Tonguette moved back to his home state of Ohio, and in February he joined Actoras Consulting Group, an electronic commerce consulting firm based in Schaumburg, Ill. Mr. Tonguette and a colleague were put in charge of opening the company's Columbus, Ohio, branch office.
Putting his money where his mouth is, Mr. Tonguette not only obtained his mortgage on-line but also arranged to have a house built from scratch on land he had not seen in person-all orchestrated over the Internet.
"The elements of change that are driving the future are based on a connectivity that is putting everything and everybody on-line with one another," Mr. Tonguette said. "This changes the very basic ways that business is conducted."
Actoras is a 50-person company founded in 1993. Mr. Tonguette's role is to expand its practice in management strategies related to electronic payments and commerce.
He said banks and other brick-and-mortar businesses must be "vitally aware" of potential competitors on the Web. He pointed to how upstarts like Amazon.com caught an industry leader like Barnes & Noble off guard.
"E-commerce is a core business and a core competency that anyone in business-be they for-profit or not-for-profit-had better wake up to," Mr. Tonguette said. "A newspaper, banking, the YWCA-you better be aware of e- commerce. That's where it's at."
Dusting off the 1960s catchphrases of media guru Marshall McLuhan, Mr. Tonguette said that in electronic commerce "the medium is the message" and we all live in a "global village."
"E-commerce is not just the Internet," he said. "I think it is the convergence factor of telecommunications and the entertainment industry."
Mr. Tonguette, a former Air Force pilot, began his career in banking in 1968 at City National Bank, a Bank One Corp. predecessor. He worked in the electronic funds transfer divisions of several other Ohio banks and started Franklinton Financial Services, a card processor that eventually was absorbed into National Processing Inc., a unit of Cleveland-based National City Corp.
At Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati, Mr. Tonguette helped launch the Jeanie ATM network and Midwest Payment Systems, the banking company's transaction processing subsidiary.
In 1986, he and a staff of four were recruited to raise Gulfnet's profile. Mr. Tonguette-who describes himself as a marketer rather than banker-tested various unorthodox gimmicks. He has special fondness for the day he kicked off a company conference by having 40 student ballerinas dance to Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsodies."
When Gulfnet was sold in 1997, it was the 14th-largest network, with 11 million transactions a month, 10,866 ATMs, and 12,465 point of sale terminals in five states.
Mr. Tonguette then formed his own consulting business, Business and Marketing Solutions, in Slidell. "Any unemployed bankers like to call themselves consultants," he said. He said he joined Actoras because he wanted to work for a larger organization and his family wanted to move back north.
"I feel more comfortable working on some sort of platform as opposed to being on my own," Mr. Tonguette said. "With two teenagers, working on your own gets a little chancy."