The Internet fortunes of banks appear to be increasingly tied to events outside their control.
A case in point is At Home Corp.'s $6.7 billion bid this week for the Web portal company Excite Inc. (See related article on page 33.) This deal would put Bank One Corp. at the crossroads of these two companies.
Bank One had already signed a contract to be the exclusive provider of financial services on Excite, hoping to attract some of the company's 20 million users.
The At Home-Excite agreement could benefit Bank One by increasing the number of avenues by which customers could contact the banking company. At Home offers high-speed access to the Internet via cable networks to 330,000 subscribers.
If Excite and At Home succeed in cross-marketing their services, traffic streams could be boosted further. Excite would promote At Home's Internet access services, and At Home would market Excite's Web search capabilities.
A Bank One official said the deal has not changed its original arrangement with Excite. It has "the potential to vastly expand the communications channels through which Excite is available," said Patricia Shafer, a bank spokeswoman. Bank One's financial services would become available through cable networks, television, and pagers, she said.
Citigroup reacted favorably when America Online agreed to buy Netscape in November. Like Bank One, Citigroup had been aligned with one of them- Netscape's Web portal Netcenter-to offer financial services exclusively.
Citigroup officials said at the time that they anticipated the combination of America Online's 16 million subscribers and Netcenter's six million would increase the value of Citi's presence on the site.
At Home's only involvement in financial services-a venture with BankAmerica Corp. and two technology companies to deliver financial services through cable television-has been shelved temporarily, said Jeff Hirschberger, a BankAmerica spokesman. The initiative was announced last March along with Intuit Inc. and Tele-Communications Inc.
"BankAmerica is still continuing to have active discussions with TCI for providing financial services over interactive TV, but the original agreement involving the four companies is not moving forward," Mr. Hirschberger said.
John Backus, a partner at Draper Atlantic Venture Capital in Reston, Va., said Internet companies are changing the essence of retail and wholesale commerce at lightning speed. Banks need to jump on board, he said.
"How many wake-up calls are banks going to get before they realize that they have got to do something with their content and with their community before someone else does?" asked Mr. Backus, formerly the president of Intelidata Technologies Corp., a developer of home banking software.
Technology companies operate on "Internet time," which is "a multiple of traditional banking time," Mr. Backus said.