fast-growing market for interactive computer services, said they have formed an alliance to promote electronic banking. The plan is designed to give the four million subscribers to America Online, the largest of the personal computer networks, access to bank checking, savings, money market, and credit card accounts. No bank had yet signed on to participate by the time Intuit and America Online made their announcement Monday. Since July, Intuit has signed more than 20 financial institutions to offer banking services in conjunction with its Quicken program, the leader in the personal finance software market. These include American Express Co., Citicorp, Chemical Banking Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., First Interstate Bancorp, First Chicago Corp., Smith Barney, and Well Fargo & Co. These companies were notified of the America Online deal last week, said Scott Cook, Intuit's founder and chairman. He estimated that 10% of Quicken's active users, or 800,000 out of eight million, subscribe to America Online. Susan Weeks, a spokeswoman for Citibank, said it would be "a mistake to assume we would be a part of the access through AOL. We are aware of the agreement ... but we evaluate everything we do in terms of access very carefully." The tie with America Online represents a change of heart for Intuit. As recently as a month ago, officials of the Menlo Park, Calif., software company said they favored providing on-line banking access through the Internet. Intuit announced Oct. 19 that it would provide direct Internet access through the new version of Quicken. Intuit upped the ante on its Internet bet last week by agreeing to acquire Galt Technologies Inc., a privately held pioneer in on-line mutual fund services. Mr. Cook on Monday had high praise for America Online, which in recent years overtook Prodigy Services Co. and Compuserve to become No. 1 in on- line computer services. But Mr. Cook said his first on-line alliance is nonexclusive. Intuit had weighed offering financial services through the Microsoft Network - when Microsoft Corp.'s proposed acquisition of Intuit was still in play - and later through America Online as well. But more recently, Intuit seemed to eschew those options to focus on the Internet. "Frankly I think the Internet is more in our thinking than on-line services are," Mr. Cook said in an August interview. "If a bank uses an on- line service to connect to its customers, then the bank is saying, Sure, Mr. Customer, we'd love to talk to you, go pay this third-party company $120 a year." Last month, William Harris, an Intuit executive vice president, said the company believed the on-line networks "had barriers that limited subscribers," and Intuit preferred the "lingua franca" of the open Internet. Intuit is now intent on improving consumers' access options. "We wouldn't want to require banks to require their customers to hook up through an on-line service," Mr. Cook said Monday. "This is no longer forcing banks to use the on-line service." Stephen Hirsch, senior vice president for emerging delivery systems at Chase Manhattan, which set up a site on America Online last week, said that in the short term the alliance may appear damaging to banks because it gives yet another product company a chance to get between banks and their customers. But long term, by increasing the profile of electronic banking, "it does the industry a service," he added. Industry observers see the agreement as a blow to other on-line competitors, particularly Microsoft Network and Prodigy, which have strived to make financial services a key element of their on- line content. "I think Prodigy's days are numbered if they don't do something," said Gary Arlen, president of Bethesda, Md.-based Arlen Communications Inc.
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