If it makes no other mark on the Internet payments industry, GlobeID Software of Paris will get high grades for persistence.
Even in the face of banker apathy or uncertainty, the company's executives have kept their faith, altered strategies, and vowed to get around that obstacle through demonstration, persuasion, persistence, or whatever else it may take.
GlobeID-which has been at this for four years, including a previous corporate incarnation - has come to the conclusion that the business cases for electronic commerce will not arrive magically at the desktops of skeptical American bankers. So GlobeID wants to take the business propositions to them, if a bit indirectly.
"We don't talk primarily to the banks," said Fabrice de Comarmond, senior vice president of business development at GlobeID.
It has spent its year and a quarter of existence forging business alliances-with software vendors and distributors, system integrators and consultants, and data base companies-that might find a fit for GlobeID's secure payment software in their projects and products
Through five of those system integration partnerships, GlobeID is involved in about a dozen electronic commerce projects in Europe that are not yet at the point of being announced, said Daniel Aghion, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
"We are in the process of weeding out a half-dozen projects in the United States we can sink our teeth into," said Mr. Aghion, who is spending most of his time in this country, based in the Boston area.
Such projects have helped GlobeID refine the components of its flagship Advanced Payment product line, including on-line merchant software and an electronic purse system.
They had their official U.S. unveiling last month at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery '98 conference in Las Vegas.
With payment as a common denominator and competitive threats looming from any number of potential disintermediators, GlobeID fully expects banking institutions to get with the program and come its way.
"There are eight to 10 actors in our space," Mr. de Comarmond said, sizing up his competition. "None of them offer a complete solution," which GlobeID says it can do by combining its product line with "co-opetition."
"We are less established than some," he said in an interview. "But we are more advanced in what we can offer.
"We think that if the business cases are brought to the banks in 1999, they may become more strategic about it," Mr. de Comarmond said.
Pointing to one Internet retailing site as an example of how nonbanks have seized e-commerce initiatives, he added, "At some point they will have to recognize that an Auto-by-Tel is a threat to their business."
As Mr. Aghion delicately put it, "Banks are not committing money, but they will be opportunity-driven."
Any financial organization should also be concerned, Mr. de Comarmond said, by Citigroup and its goal of reaching one billion customers worldwide.
"To get to a billion, they are going to go after somebody else's business," he stated. "Unless the others leverage their proximity to depositors, they will lose momentum."
Globe ID wants to be one of those who come to the rescue.
"Our research shows small and medium-size players can play, and are playing, a big role," Mr. de Comarmond said. "Smaller players can start from scratch with electronic wallets, for example, and capture some of the market."
But GlobeID is not necessarily selling populism only to lower-tier institutions. "Large banks are most successful when they act like small banks, tailoring themselves to local markets and local communities," Mr. Aghion said.
One asset the group is not lacking is experience, and it has scars. GlobeID, currently with 35 employees and two in its budding U.S. sales organization, is essentially a second try for a company previously known as GC Tech.
Also launched in Paris, GC Tech was part of the same early Internet commerce generation as companies such as Cybercash Inc. and Open Market Inc. Those two gained necessary traction with initial public stock offerings in 1996.
GC Tech's business struggles were compounded by its partners' failure to agree to the terms of a private capital infusion, and one of the founders, Laurent Adamowicz, left the scene. GC Tech, which had established a New York base, closed in early 1997 and went through bankruptcy proceedings.
In October 1997, most of its technology team-including Mr. de Comarmond and chairman Francois J. Chaillou, from the founding group - were back in business with GlobeID. Three-fourths of its equity is held by Bull, the French electronics giant whose leadership in systems integration and smart cards was seen as synergistic.
In July 1998, GlobeID made a "pre-release" of the Advanced-it prefers to spell it " dvanced" - Payment systems. One recipient was Kleline, a venture of the Paribas group and LVMH that built GlobeID software into its multinational on-line commerce and banking platform.
Another example of a potentially fruitful alliance is Lasercom, a Swiss systems integration company that is a leader in the emerging bill presentment market in Europe. A distributor of software from M&I Data Services and BlueGill Technologies of the United States, Lasercom rounded out its Internet offering by becoming a GlobeID reseller.
"Our customers are telling us that payment is a natural extension of electronic bill presentment," said Lasercom chief executive officer George Tsitos. "With its OFX (Open Financial Exchange standard) interface and modular architecture, Advanced Payment is the optimal answer to complement BlueGill's 1 to 1 Server electronic bill presentment solution."
BlueGill CEO Hal Davis said, "We share a common belief with GlobeID that the full potential of the Internet will only be unleashed if it allows the delivery of advanced services, and we look forward to supporting Lasercom's successes in integrating Advanced Payment with 1 to 1 Server."
Officially released on Dec. 2 were the three Advanced Payment packages: Merchant Acquiring Solution, the multicurrency transaction processing system that Kleline has put through paces; Ultra-thin Client Solution, which enables digital wallets to initiate transactions on set-top boxes or wireless devices; and E-Purse Services Solution, for smart cards and electronic cash, including Internet loading.
The company has a memorandum of understanding with GlobeSet Inc. of Austin, Tex., which could strengthen its offering of Secure Electronic Transaction software for on-line credit card payments. Cooperation with Unwired Planet Inc. was instrumental for the wireless version of the thin- client wallet.
Among other developments announced in December were a solidified system integration relationship with Bull's International Financial System division, compatibility with Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating systems, and a $1.7 million grant from the French Ministry of Industry.
Undaunted by its earlier failure, GlobeID has invited scrutiny from industry analysts, who generally like what they see.
Gary Craft, BancBoston Robertson Stephens' e-commerce expert, recently included GlobeID among the "global, small, and fleet-footed" technology companies that are "firmly positioned to exploit" the market for on-line payments engines.
That puts it in the company of Bottomline Technologies, Brokat of Germany, ClearCommerce, International Business Machines Corp., Open Market, Transaction Systems Architects, Trintech of Ireland, and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Verifone subsidiary.
Mr. Craft paid GlobeID the further compliment of speaking at its Retail Delivery '98 press conference. He said the company is "exceptionally well positioned" for a market in which "payment can be a differentiating factor," which will see $2 billion of incremental spending during the next five years.
Scott Smith of Current Analysis Inc., Sterling, Va., had a "neutral/positive" reaction to Advanced Payment.
"We believe GlobeID management has learned from past missteps and, with the proper revenue model and channel partners - both of which it seems to have - we believe it should see success with this suite," Mr. Smith wrote.
GlobeID's strong partner roster and high level of smart card and thin- client innovation puts it "many months ahead of competitors," but that could look less favorable "if the market turns a different direction," Mr. Smith warned.
Mr. de Comarmond said GlobeID and its systems are nothing if not flexible. They have proven that before.