After years of concentrating on postmerger systems integration work, Chemical Banking Corp. is now aggressively developing its remote banking initiatives.
The New York bank announced a series of electronic service enhancements last week, including home banking through an alliance with Microsoft Corp.
Like local competitor Chase Manhattan Corp. and four other U.S. banks, Chemical has agreed to offer on-line services to PC owners using Microsoft's "Money" software.
The announcement, also encompassing improvements in its automated teller machine and debit card technology, reflects a comprehensive strategy under a single electronic banking and remote services umbrella.
Following the lead of New York retail banking rivals Chase and Citicorp, Chemical appears to be touting its commitment to interactive financial services and quickly stepping up its plans to improve them.
Ronald A. Braco, senior vice president for electronic banking at Chemical, said the move should not be viewed as a reaction to competitors or to fast-paced changes in electronic services.
After concentrating on the integration of Manufacturers Hanover Corp. in the wake of its December 1991 merger with Chemical, the company is finally ready to press its electronic banking initiatives, Mr. Braco said.
"Over the last year, we've been making the move away from cleaning up shop," he said. "This is the product of months of work."
Chemical said it will soon announce other software company alliances. Officials would not say if they might include Intuit Inc.'s Quicken program or Meca Financial Software, a Connecticut-based company recently acquired by NationsBank and Bank of America.
NationsBank and Bank of America are inviting other banks to join them in the ownership of Meca, which offers the "Managing Your Money" software in competition with Quicken and Microsoft Money. Mr. Braco said Chemical could "conceivably make an investment (in Meca) down the road."
About a dozen major banks are reportedly working with Intuit on its market-leading personal finance software, but Chemical would not confirm or deny it is among them.
Chemical is the second bank in as many weeks to sign on with the Microsoft Money banking effort, bringing the total to six. Until this flurry, little had been heard about Microsoft-bank alliances since October, when Microsoft launched its bid to acquire Intuit. That deal was terminated in late May, when Microsoft decided not to engage the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division in what was likely to be a lengthy court battle.
Mr. Braco said Microsoft's decision to back out of the acquisition - perceived by some bankers as a serious threat to the financial industry - did not affect Chemical's decision to offer on-line services in conjunction with the Money software. He said Chemical and Microsoft were in negotiations for several months and the timing of their announcement was unrelated to Microsoft's other plans.
The bank also said it will make its proprietary home banking product, Excel, compatible with Microsoft Windows so it will be easier to use. Mr. Braco would not divulge how many customers use Excel, except to say they number in the "thousands."
As with other Chemical electronic banking initiatives, Excel has only recently gotten a real jump start. Mr. Braco said the bank "has not aggressively sold the PC product" since the merger.
Chemical also said it will be deploying 235 new automated teller machines, bringing its entire network up to a uniform and more advanced standard of technology. The new machines will have an increased cash capacity and greater capability for hardware and software upgrades.
Early next year, Chemical will be piloting improved imaging technology on its ATMs. At that time, the bank will also be offering enhanced ATM cards that will give customers the ability to do point of sale debit transactions through MasterCard International's Complete Debit Program.
Chemical's announcement also hinted at further developments in the area of chip card technology, but did not give specifics. The bank has been testing among its employees chip card technology from AT&T Corp., which unlike standard smart cards are "contactless" - they do not have to make physical contact with a card reading point of sale device.
Mr. Braco said that for wider-scale applications the bank would make "no commitment one way or another ... until standards are in place."