Intuit Inc. is negotiating with a number of regional automated teller machine networks to offer home banking services through its Quicken personal finance software.
The potential alliances are aimed at lowering the costs and other barriers to entering the remote services business, mainly for the benefit of community banks.
Leading Intuit's pursuit is Bruce Burchfield, an ATM networking pioneer who is now chief executive of the company's payment processing subsidiary, Intuit Services Corp. Mr. Burchfield, a former CEO of Cirrus, MasterCard's ATM affiliate, was a founder of Chicago-based Cash Station Inc., one of several networks currently in discussions with Intuit.
Mr. Burchfield said small and midsize banks could offer many of the same electronic services as larger institutions without having to build a comparable infrastructure.
"There's no difference between this and joining an ATM network," he said. "Anyone who could join an ATM network could join this program."
Intuit hopes to sign two or three regional networks and perhaps one of the nationals - Cirrus or Plus - by early next year, Mr. Burchfield said. He hopes the arrangements can lead to banks' providing services such as electronic bill payment by next fall.
More than 20 financial institutions, most of them large, already have signed on with Intuit Services' home banking program. The Downers Grove, Ill., processor handles transactions initiated via both Quicken and Microsoft Corp.'s competing Money software.
But many banks cannot afford to build a direct link to Intuit.
Although Intuit executives declined to discuss pricing, bankers say starting a basic home banking program with Intuit Services runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr. Burchfield said home banking would be "considerably cheaper" in a network environment, and would enable more financial institutions to be associated with the powerful Quicken brand name.
Richard Lyons, chief operating officer of Internet Inc., the Reston, Va.-based owner and operator of the Most network, estimated network-based home banking would run a bank around $10,000.
Stephen Cole, president of Cash Station, said home banking is a "logical strategy" for regional networks, many of which are struggling to define their role in a business that is no longer rooted only in ATM and debit point of sale transactions.
Industry sources said Intuit may look to partner with Star System Inc., San Diego; Southeast Switch Inc., the Maitland, Fla., company that operates the Honor network; and Infinet Payment Services Inc., which runs NYCE in the Northeast.
"It'll be interesting to see what the bank owners (of the networks) think of this," said David Weisman, an analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. "You don't even have to be a player and (Intuit) could get access to your accounts."
James McCarthy, executive vice president at Star, confirmed that it is in talks with Intuit. Most of the network's owners, he said, "feel that Intuit is going to be a major front-end player in this business."
Both Mr. Cole and Mr. Lyons said their owner-banks have encouraged deals with Intuit, although many details still need to be discussed. Mr. Lyons said Intuit chairman Scott Cook struck a favorable chord at last week's Bank Administration Institute's retail delivery conference by pledging to extend on-line banking to smaller institutions.
But talks are still exploratory and other problems may slow the signing of contracts.
One banker, who requested anonymity, noted the potential for a patent infringement suit from Online Resources and Communications Corp.
Matthew Lawlor, president of the McLean, Va., screen phone manufacturer and remote transaction processor, says it has a "process patent" that includes a broad claim pertaining to "any real-time payment made in the home and routed through an ATM network."
Last year, Citicorp sued Online for infringing the bank's patents, and Online countersued. They settled out of court without disclosing terms.
Although he would not comment on the prospects for more legal actions, Mr. Lawlor said he "likes the idea of processors, even competing processors, using ATM networks."
"We're not in the business of putting a gun to anybody's head," he added.