Back when Digicash Inc. was trying to sell its eCash electronic payment products to U.S. banks, there were few takers.
But now the products are being offered by eCash Technologies Inc., which has struck at least one noteworthy deal: Metavante Corp., the technology subsidiary of Marshall & Ilsley Corp., has agreed to integrate the products into its transaction processing system.
Metavante said it could not discuss the deal because it is in a "quiet period" related to an initial public offering. The company, which provides data processing services for 700 banks, will begin by offering its members eCash's Monneta Debit software, which allows consumers to shop or send money online without exposing their actual debit card numbers.
Metavante will set the pricing for the virtual debit card software.
David Keenan, senior vice president of financial markets at eCash, of Bothell, Wash., and a former MasterCard International executive, said he expects the holiday season to revive interest in his company's products.
In May 1999 a group of entrepreneurs led by Drew Hyatt, the former president of HNC Software Inc.'s financial services division, bought a suite of software and 16 patents from Digicash and its founder, David Chaum, and formed eCash Technologies.
Digicash, a Dutch company, filed for bankruptcy in 1998, eight years after Mr. Chaum, a well-known cryptologist, invented the technology.
eCash Technologies is marketing the electronic payment products under the name Monneta. The company is touting the Monneta suite - which includes debit, prepaid, business-to-business, and person-to-person payment products - as an anonymous way to make online payments. It uses a blind signature system, which means that customers can send money to one another through e-mail, or buy from any online merchant site, without revealing their identities.
eCash software can accommodate loyalty programs and gift certificates. In Europe the company is marketing stored-value payment products, but Mr. Keenan said American consumers need another option.
"In Europe we offer what is in effect a prepaid payment capability," he said. "In the U.S. our culture says, 'Let me pay later by credit card or now by debit card. I'm not ready to take the money out until I'm ready to use it.' "
Deutsche Bank, which tested Digicash's products in 1997, is now in a partnership with eCash to offer e-payment products in Europe. The bank recently began offering the products to all its European customers, eCash said.
The deal with Metavante, formerly M&I Data Services, will help eCash gain access to a large number of U.S. banks, especially midsize ones, Mr. Keenan said. "We realized that the best way to build critical mass with these banks was to go through their processing partners, who handle all of their technology anyway."
Metavante, of Milwaukee, is the second-largest provider of electronic bill payment services. The largest is CheckFree Corp. of Atlanta, which processes about 16 million payments a month.