Bank One Corp. joined a handful of banking companies that have announced major initiatives to address the electronic bill presentment needs of corporate customers.

The Chicago company said it is enlisting Electronic Data Systems Corp. to help it offer software and consulting and integration services to let its corporate clients bill customers via the Internet.

The services, available now, are intended to preserve the strength of the company's cash management relationships with corporate customers, especially in the face of competing electronic billing and payment services from nonbanks such as Checkfree or Transpoint.

"We're evolving traditional cash management to enable commercial customers to take advantage of the explosive growth of electronic commerce," said Bob Wilson, senior vice president in the banking company's treasury management group.

By embracing electronic billing, Bank One expects to remain a key player in the payment cycle, he said. Electronic billing is "an additional collection tool to help our customers with their cash management process."

A few other banking companies have taken steps toward the same goal. Bank of America Corp. last month said it would use an internally developed system to help its corporate customers send bills electronically. First Union Corp. plans to unveil similar capability in the third quarter. And Wachovia Corp., with a software company called InvoiceLink Corp., plans to offer such a service.

Bank One is to offer its clients EDS' Interactive Billing Services, which let companies deliver bills via paper, the Internet, company Web sites, aggregator Web sites, fax, and electronic mail. BlueGill Technologies Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., is supplying software to transform legacy data into Web-friendly formats.

The Chicago company said it will integrate electronic payments with its own retail and wholesale lockbox businesses.

The $250 billion-asset company already lets its retail customers receive and pay bills on-line through Checkfree Holding Corp.'s E-Bill system.

It was the second banking company, after First Union, to go live with E- Bill.

EDS' system is in use at MCI WorldCom. MCI began sending electronic bills to its business customers in January using a system developed by EDS.

"Speed is the key," said Michael Killen, president of Killen & Associates, an electronic-business research firm in Palo Alto, Calif. "EDS has proven it can provide the new technology and integrate quickly with traditional billing systems."

"The close relationship between Bank One and EDS should enable the bank to provide Web-based billing services to its commercial customers ahead of most other banks," he said.

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