Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates set out last week to repair his relations with the banking industry, but he may have achieved far more.
In a speech at the Bank Administration Institute's retail delivery systems conference, Mr. Gates repented for calling banks "dinosaurs" - his oft-quoted remark that many bankers viewed as betraying a desire to drive them out of business.
Once that was settled, Mr. Gates donned the white hat of "open systems," saying Microsoft would support standards to give banks more flexibility in choosing personal finance software and processing services.
David Weisman, an analyst of the home banking market, said Mr. Gates effectively turned the tables on Intuit Inc., maker of the market-leading Quicken financial software, which bankers formerly viewed as the more compatible partner.
Bank officials who once disavowed any interest in working with Microsoft on home banking, like Catherine Corby of Barnett Banks Inc., said Mr. Gates has put many concerns to rest.
"Bill seemed to speak all the right words," said Mr. Weisman, who works for Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "The perception is that Microsoft has heard the (bankers') message."
"In the wake of what they've been calling 'the unfortunate comment,' I think Gates did a very good job of prostrating himself," said Phoebe Simpson, a consultant with New York-based Jupiter Communications Co. "He made himself out to be one of the team."
Microsoft officials said Mr. Gates' speech was designed to differentiate Microsoft from other technology providers - especially Intuit, which Microsoft last year sought to acquire, only to back off amid regulatory scrutiny.
Other Microsoft actions at the retail delivery conference in Atlanta underscored Mr. Gates' promise of openness.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant was one of 13 banks and technology companies that joined in the Open Banking Consortium, a loose confederation dedicated to open standards in electronic banking.
Richard Bray, Microsoft's representative in a three-way faceoff of personal finance software providers - the others were Intuit and Meca Software Inc. - said his company expects soon to offer more processing options to companies providing home banking services through Microsoft's Money software.
Currently, only one payment processor - Intuit Services Corp. - is available to banks using either Money or Quicken.
Intuit pointedly did not pledge to open other processing avenues, though company officials said they planned to improve Intuit Services' efficiency.
Bruce Burchfield, chief executive of Intuit Services, said there has been no pressure from the current bank partners to expand processing options.
He added that Intuit may be just the latest in a long line of successful nonbank companies that have been perceived as encroaching on banks' turf.
"I like it when people snipe at us, because that means we must be leading," he said.
Beyond repositioning Microsoft competitively, Mr. Gates' speech also served to give a sense of urgency to the era of electronic banking, bankers said.
"What he did was motivate bankers to consider this in a more rapid fashion," said Richard Crone, co-director of electronic banking for California-based Home Savings of America.