Checkfree Corp., Intuit Inc., and Microsoft Corp. may have more friends than even they had suspected.
Since these frequently contentious software companies announced an agreement three weeks ago to create a joint technical standard for home banking, bankers and other systems vendors have rallied around the idea.
Officials at banks large and small said the Open Financial Exchange standard, to be abbreviated as OFX and published this month, will give them more choices in designing and marketing home banking packages.
Almost every home banking systems integrator has endorsed the standard, including Digital Insight, Edify Corp., Home Financial Network, Integrion Financial Network, Online Resources and Communications Corp., Security First Technologies, and Ultradata Corp.
"Now we can worry about providing what we are good at-banking," said Robert J. Stastny, financial project manager at Commercial Federal Bank of Omaha, one of Checkfree's transaction processing clients.
"We don't want to have to worry about what the customer uses to connect to us," he said, adding that a financial institution would no longer have to worry about supporting multiple standards.
Others see the standard as not just leveling the playing field but making it bigger-expanding the number of financial institutions providing services through personal computers and other remote devices.
"In the long run, it will help banks implement (new technologies) faster, and lower the cost of maintenance," said Richard Comandich, senior vice president at U.S. Bancorp in Portland, Ore.
The $33 billion-asset U.S. Bancorp was one of the charter providers of banking services through Microsoft Money personal financial management software. More recently, it began offering home banking through Intuit's market-leading Quicken software and put up a site on the Internet's World Wide Web.
The standard may also sharpen the distinction between banks offering off-the-shelf software such as Quicken or Money and those offering proprietary systems.
A NationsBank Corp. official said the standard should free banks from having to overhaul their back-end computer operations every time they want to add a home banking service.
However, NationsBank still favors the proprietary approach. It relies on a customized version of Managing Your Money, the personal finance product of Meca Software Inc., which NationsBank co-owns.
"NationsBank clearly wants to shape the customer banking experience in the PC banking channel," said Charles Hieronymi, senior vice president. "To the extent that the software interface defines" a customer's banking experience, the Charlotte, N.C., banking company will insist on playing a development role.
Citibank development division executive Jerry Rao lauded the standard for giving customers "access to the provider of their choice, while eliminating the extra costs inherent in multiple proprietary interfaces."
Yet the big New York bank has no plan to offer account access through anything besides Quicken-which boasts the biggest potential customer pool, at more than 10 million-or its proprietary software, Direct Access.
"We feel we have a very robust product of our own," said Citibank spokesman Mark Rogers.
Observers in the vendor community said the standard is likely to promote competition by reducing the barriers to entry into the home banking systems business.
The standard may also reduce demand for software products that are in relatively limited use. For example, officials at Checkfree fully expect their agreement with Intuit and Microsoft to undercut the company's Bank Street home banking brand.
Because the Norcross, Ga., company offers the software mainly to generate transactions for its processing business, Checkfree is not overly concerned.
"We don't make money on the front end," said chief executive officer Peter Kight.
Mr. Kight played a role in getting Microsoft and Intuit to come together on the standard. He described the process as "a lot like in seventh grade, when someone would come up and say, 'Hey, do you think your friend would go out with my friend?'"
Checkfree, which bulked up in the processing end of the market when it completed the acquisition last month of Intuit Services Corp., sees the standard as accelerating transaction growth.
Bankers also see pent-up demand.
"We have an existing group of customers waiting" to get on-line, said Andy Hernandez, vice president of alternative delivery at SouthTrust Corp., Birmingham, Ala. "And they are waiting with Quicken and Money."