U.S. Order, a pioneer in screen phone banking, has taken its first steps into the PC-based banking business.
The Herndon, Va.-based company announced that it intends to purchase a 40% stake worth $5 million in Home Financial Network Inc., a developer of interactive financial applications for banks and their customers. The investment is expected to close by Nov. 1.
HomeNet, as the company is known, targets a consumer segment that company officials believe has been left behind by the leading financial management packages: the PC novice.
HomeNet software, which is expected to be available in the next few months, offers consumers simple electronic bill payment, account inquiries, and funds transfer capabilities. The product is significantly less complicated than Microsoft Corp.'s Money and Intuit Inc.'s Quicken, which are among the most popular consumer finance software packages.
Both U.S. Order and HomeNet officials say the service targets a large segment of the PC user market.
"Users of Money and Quicken are usually techno-savvy, high-income, early adopters of technology that want the sophisticated features for financial management these software packages provide," said Eric T. Jacobsen, president and chief operating officer of HomeNet. "But they make up only 20% to 25% of the PC market."
HomeNet and U.S. Order are setting their sights on the other 75% of the market with simple electronic transaction processing needs, he said.
"These aren't the users interested in printing weekly bar charts of their net worth, or allocating costs to budgeting categories," he said. "They just want to pay some bills, and do some funds transfers."
John C. Backus, president and chief operating officer of U.S. Order, said he believes that the PC applications developed by HomeNet will do much to fill the gap created by today's financial management packages that cater predominantly to high-end consumers.
HomeNet's PC application will expand U.S Order's existing portfolio of home banking services, which includes services for touch-tone phones and screen telephones.
U.S. Order - which has a relationship with Visa International's remote services unit, called Visa Interactive - provides implementation, hardware, and support services for financial institutions. Visa Interactive handles the delivery and transaction processing of electronic services.
Mr. Backus said U.S. Order's interest in HomeNet stemmed in part from the latter's track record of developing high-quality personal financial software.
HomeNet was started by two former executives of Meca Software Inc., makers of the Managing Your Money financial management package. Daniel M. Schley had been president and chief executive of Meca, and Eric Jacobsen previously was Meca's vice president of marketing. Meca was recently bought by BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp.
Mr. Backus said that HomeNet's bank-friendly strategy of developing services that can be private-labeled by financial institutions closely matches U.S. Order's.
Both companies emphasize their intentions to enhance, not threaten, the relationship between financial institutions and customers.
"There is a fear among financial institutions that once they give customer information to companies like Microsoft, they could lose those customers," said HomeNet's Mr. Jacobsen.
"We don't want to get in the middle of the customer relationship. The consumer won't know who we are."
Mr. Backus said this should be good news to financial institutions that want to offer PC-based home banking without having to build their own systems or promote Microsoft or Intuit along with their own names.
U.S. Order and HomeNet offer an alternative that enables banks to retain control of the customer relationship, he said.
BankAmerica and NationsBank are also pursuing this strategy by enlisting other banks to take stakes in Meca.
U.S. Order and HomeNet will market the service to Visa member banks. HomeNet will also market to banks directly.
HomeNet is one of a handful of vendors building products that interface with Visa's electronic banking platform.