First Tennessee National Corp. has announced the official launch of FTB Online Banking, which is seen as an important test of the Java programming language in a home-banking context.
First Tennessee officials say they hope the network-based computing approach-which relies less than conventional programs do on desktop computer software-will give its customers the best that both the personal computer and the Internet have to offer.
"We think our Internet solution is going to be every bit as useful as Quicken or Money," said Susan Terry, senior vice president of FTB Online Banking, referring to the personal financial management software marketed by Intuit Inc. and Microsoft Corp., respectively.
With Java, a development of Sun Microsystems Inc. that is well-suited to delivering programs and upgrades via the Internet, "you can add new functionality" without having to distribute new software each time a change is made, Ms. Terry said.
First Tennessee Bank and its technology supplier, Home Account Network Inc. of Charleston, S.C., have been testing the system for almost a year. It has been described as the first Java financial program for consumers. Its implementation is a milestone for Home Account Network, which was founded more than two years ago to bring such programs to market.
But the newness of the language is preventing the bank-at least for now- from exploiting one of Java's most-publicized features: its ability to be "written once to run anywhere."
Customers of First Tennessee will be restricted to using Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 browser on a Windows-based system that supports Microsoft's "active channels" technology.
Though only a few Internet users are running this combination, the software can be downloaded free through a hyperlink from First Tennessee's Web site.
Once the browser is installed and customers have signed up for the service, the various components of Home Account's software are automatically pushed down to customers' computers.
First Tennessee's logo and Web site are then included in Internet Explorer's Channel Guide along with other Web sites selected by the consumer or by Microsoft.
The Memphis-based bank had originally planned to use Marimba Inc.'s Castanet, a type of push technology, to transmit its Java software and update customer account information. It decided Microsoft's active channels are easier for users to understand and run 30% faster than Castanet, said R. Robert Forbes, First Tennessee's technology manager.
He was quick to point out that First Tennessee is not using Active-X, another Microsoft technology that is seen as a rival to Java.
Besides helping consumers manage accounts, check balances, pay bills, and transfer funds, First Tennessee's system also includes a financial advisory and portfolio optimization tool.
"The financial adviser helps the institutions sell its most profitable products to customers," said David J. Brewer, chief technology officer of Home Account Network.
"The institution can provide objective and comprehensive planning services to customers while allowing institutions to collect data about customers," said Mr. Brewer, adding that Home Account is in negotiations to sell its Java-based programs to more than five banks.