In the latest of a steady stream of bank peace-offerings, Microsoft announced the decision to eliminate fees previously charged banks to connect to customers via the Money personal financial management software product.

The move, according to Microsoft business development manager Matt Cone, is basic common sense. As more banks offer remote banking transactions via the Web-requiring only a standard Web browser on the consumer end-more of the consumers who begin using Money will do so as an extension of existing banking functionality. "It's hard to justify that now an institution should pay ten to fifteen dollars a year per customer simply because that customer decided to upgrade to a more feature-rich product," says Cone.

In the long run, Microsoft fees would have been squeezed out anyway. With the introduction of open standards like OFX, banks won't require the services of middlemen to connect with customers, and companies like Microsoft and Intuit Services won't be able to charge additional fees for connection, says Gartner Group research director Ira Morrow. "The lock is going away. It would have gone away sooner or later, so why not make a goodwill gesture, which is probably less than lunch money for Microsoft anyway," he says, adding that a better relationship with the financial service community might mean a boost in sales of NT server products, and the like-the Redmond-based company's real bread-and-butter. And the fees- which Morrow estimates were about $250,000 a month for Microsoft-were simply a "nuisance to banks." FB

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