HSBC Group of London has a joined the select group of multinational banks that own equity stakes in the Internet security venture Identrus.
Identrus, organized last year and launched as a limited liability corporation in April, said it has amassed $25 million of development capital for an extensive business-to-business commerce network secured by bank-issued digital credentials.
HSBC, with its presence in 79 countries, adds luster to an ownership that includes banking companies with truly global ambitions such as Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG of Germany, and ABN Amro of the Netherlands.
Also in the original Identrus group last year were Bank of America Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., Barclays Bank of London, HypoVereinsbank of Germany, and Bankers Trust Corp., which Deutsche Bank later bought.
Subsequently joining as equity owners were Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Industrial Bank of Japan, Natwest Group of London, and Sanwa Bank of Japan. HSBC is the 12th of what Identrus expects will be about 20 top-tier owners, and it ultimately would have about a 7% stake. Identrus is also aiming to sign up about 300 other banks to participate in its digital certification infrastructure.
New York-based Identrus, which has become a standard-bearer for the idea that banks can use digital certificate technology to serve as trust brokers on the Internet, reaches into 100 countries through banks with a total of eight million business customers.
Nick Winsor, senior project manager in HSBC's electronic banking department, said Identrus will add value to corporate relationships by enabling businesses to deal with any trading partner in complete confidence.
"I hope a global company like HSBC reinforces the view that Identrus is a genuinely global scheme," Mr. Winsor said. "I think it can add significant value to other banks around the world."
Laura Ryme, Identrus' director of global marketing, said the service will be operational early next year after a series of interoperability tests. Bank of America, HypoVereinsbank, Cisco Systems, and several other companies are expected to participate in the initial test.
Identrus would let corporations securely exchange purchase orders, invoices, or other documents in a variety of digital formats. "You could attach a certificate to almost anything," Ms. Ryme said. "The network ensures that whatever you send gets there."
Lawrence Forman, cash management analyst at Ernst & Young, said interest is growing in wholesale electronic commerce on the Internet. Considering Identrus' formidable list of cash management banks, he said, its framework could be competitive against existing value-added business networks.
"It is a strong recognition of the reality that trade payments and other international transactions are multibank by nature and, therefore, you need a multibank standard," he said.
Ms. Ryme said Identrus would probably compete with such networks as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a bank-owned messaging cooperative, but in other regards would complement proprietary networks.
Identrus "doesn't necessarily render those networks obsolete," she said.