Because nothing in the Digital Signature Act that President Clinton signed into law June 30 requires financial institutions to use specific technology to secure transactions,, like many others, is evaluating the benefits.

There are trade-offs, said Dino Tsibouris, a vice president and counsel at Wingspan and its holding company, Bank One Corp. "Digital certificates require a sign-up process and additional authentication, and so we have to ask, 'Is it worth the hassle?' "

The answer is more likely to be yes for corporate than retail customers, Mr. Tsibouris said. Corporate customers already use strong identification, so they would be more amenable to the process of signing up for certificates. Plus these customers carry out a large number of transactions.

"Commercial banking offers more opportunities to use digital signatures and digital certificates, and it is easier to absorb the cost," Mr. Tsibouris said.

Consumer customers would need more encouragement, he said. "It's additional work to get a certificate."

A uniform standard for authentication among financial institutions, particularly in record-keeping, commercial banking, and business-to-business transactions, would help the industry, he said.

So would consistency in state laws, he said. Each state has been handling electronic commerce legislation differently.

The Clinton administration has relaxed export rules on encryption, creating opportunities to use digital certificates internationally, Mr. Tsibouris said. "This will make it easier for U.S. banks and businesses to use digital signatures."

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