A company that makes high-powered analytical software for financial institutions has received a vote of confidence from Intuit Inc., the software marketer best known for its Quicken personal financial manager.
Licensing software from Financial Technologies International Inc. and taking an equity stake of up to 10% in that New York company, Intuit seems to be underscoring its desire to be a consolidator of financial information.
FTI's principal products, The Box Universal Financial Server and Global Financial Data Model, are designed to help large banks, brokers, and insurance companies pull together account data from a variety of computer systems.
"They enable consolidation of multiple streams of financial information," said Raymond G. Stern, Intuit's senior vice president of strategy. "If you think about what Intuit does, we consolidate information for the consumer."
"We tested The Box and Global Financial Data Model for performance, flexibility, functionality, and content, and found them to be a unique, well-engineered solution," said Eric Dunn, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Intuit.
He also described FTI as "a partner with valuable and scarce financial software skills and experience."
Mr. Stern said Intuit's specific plans for FTI software would not be publicized until later this year, but the deal comes in the context of other alliances Intuit announced in recent months with America Online Inc., CNN Financial Network, and Tele-Communications Inc. The linkups are expected to boost traffic on the Quicken.com World Wide Web site, where Intuit plays a consolidator or aggregator role for financial consumers and their information needs.
Intuit, based in Mountain View, Calif., is evolving into more of an Internet service provider from a marketer of off-the-shelf software like Quicken, which helps home computer users consolidate information from multiple accounts.
In the move to the Web, Intuit may need larger-scale systems to warehouse personal financial information for delivery to individuals' browser software. FTI's programs can help in managing incoming streams of financial data and organizing them for individuals.
"We are accustomed to helping large enterprises and helping them organize their data to stay up-to-date with the needs of their customers and the needs of the regulators imposed on financial institutions," said Charles J. Lewis, chairman and chief executive officer of FTI.
Noting that the Global Financial Data Model has been endorsed by the data base vendors Oracle Corp., Sybase Inc., International Business Machines Corp., and Microsoft Corp., Mr. Lewis said it is "by far the best possible way for banks to begin to evolve from a state in which they have no data standards to establishing data standards."
But getting to a true standard may take a long time, an analyst said.
"There is no de facto data base model" for the financial services industry, said Octavio Marenzi, research director of Meridien Research Inc., Needham, Mass. "Every vendor has their own."
This multiplicity makes it difficult for financial institutions to integrate the various types of software they use internally.
Because data base products were historically created for internal use, financial institutions had less incentive to unite around a standard the way they have in the home banking area, where the industry pushed for a convergence of the competing approaches known as Gold and Open Financial Exchange, or OFX.
With more financial institutions seeking to open data bases to customers and partners via the Internet, FTI officials sell their Box software as an information hub between banks' mainframe computers and the Internet. The Box consolidates disparate accounts using the Open Financial Exchange protocol, which was originally backed by Microsoft, Intuit, and Checkfree Corp.
"We approached FTI last year to explore ways that FTI technology could help us accelerate some of our plans," said Intuit executive vice president William Harris, executive vice president, who pointed to the two companies' OFX compatibility.
"We discovered a strategic platform and decided to invest," Mr. Harris said.
Some analysts wonder about FTI's benefit to Intuit. Mr. Marenzi said, "It seems like overkill for a retail banking application."
"Intuit is really an infomediary, a party who steps between two groups but preserves the relationship and the confidentiality of both parties," said Gary Craft of BancAmerica Robertson Stephens. The analytic software could help a company analyze individual consumers' personal financial details and offer suggestions about how to save or invest, he said.
But Mr. Marenzi contended there is "a fundamental mismatch between the markets that Intuit goes after and the much larger banks, brokers, and investment banks that use FTI's systems," he said.
FTI clients include Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette Securities, E-Trade Group, CIBC/Wood Gundy, Merrill Lynch & Co., Northern Trust Corp., Royal Bank of Canada, Union Bank of Switzerland, and Wilmington Trust Co.