With the announcement that nine banks would become members, Identrus has considerably widened the value and reach of its forthcoming digital certificate network.
The additions, announced Monday, bring the number of bank participants to 21 and extend to 133, from 100, the number of countries that Identrus can serve. Ultimately Identrus expects to be owned by 20 top-tier banks and have a 300-bank infrastructure.
All but one of the new Identrus members - Wells Fargo & Co. - are based outside the United States.
The Identrus banks want to become the standard-bearers of trust on the Internet. The network's plan is to let member banks' corporate customers present their digital credentials to any trading partner that is a customer of any other bank in the network.
Paul Donnfried, chief marketing officer at New York-based Identrus, said the additions are "analogous to selling telephones and fax machines. As you get a handset into the hands of more people, the value of each grows," he said.
Though often perceived as a bank consortium, Identrus was set up as a for-profit entity, a factor that Mr. Donnfried said should spare it the sorry fate of other bank-owned consortiums such as Integrion Financial Network, which recently announced it is folding.
"Our founders wanted us to be a dot-com and immersed in the Internet market," Mr. Donnfried said. "We are definitely not like a bank culturally."
When Identrus makes its commercial launch is "entirely dependent on our financial institutions," Mr. Donnfried said. He said he expects financial institutions to begin offering the service as early as next month.
So far, Bank of America Corp. is testing Identrus with the software firm Cisco, while Hypoveriensbank is in a pilot with the German telecommunications company Siemans.
The other new members are Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.; Banco Santander Central Hispano; BNP Paribas, Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole, Societe Generale, all of France; Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank of Germany; and Scotiabank of Scotland.
"We are pleased to welcome these world-class global financial institutions," said Guy S. Tallent, president and chief executive officer of Identrus.
ANZ, Banco Santander, BNP Paribas, Caisse Nationale, and Societe Generale have taken undisclosed equity stakes in Identrus. That the other new members are not equity investors signals a willingness by banks to use the service as opposed to viewing it as an opportunistic play in the business-to-business e-commerce market, Mr. Donnfried said.
Rajeev Agarwal, a senior analyst at Tower Group, a Needham, Mass., bank consulting firm, said Identrus stands a better chance of success than other banking consortiums. The capital outlay to participate is minimal compared with past banking ventures such as Edibanx, an ill-fated electronic data interchange network, and Bankwire, an alternative large-value payments system to the Federal Reserve's Fedwire.
"This is an initiative that I see banks taking fairly seriously, and they are really putting a lot of resources into it," Mr. Agarwal said.