Shortly after she returned from maternity leave two years ago, Linda A. Weber was promoted: CoreStates Financial Corp. named her senior vice president and point person for Internet technology.
Corporate policy had enabled her to leave for two months to care for her first child and return without losing ground in her career, said Ms. Weber, 33.
Ms. Weber, whose second child is due next week, added that CoreStates has taken a similarly enlightened view toward Internet delivery and electronic commerce.
The banking company, like many, is focused on Web-based opportunities. But it has been notably careful not to let its sense of urgency turn into haste.
"We don't want to offer a product for the sake of offering a product," Ms. Weber said. "We want to understand the business case, customer needs, and the market a little bit more before we jump head-first into offering one of what have started to look like standard retail banking products.
"We want to offer something that is really going to be of great use to our customers, not just a plaything."
CoreStates maintains a prodigious, 400-page Web site that, in keeping with its friendly self-image, includes such homey frills as a "Family Center" where children can download video games like CoreStates Whack-a- Mole and Internet Man.
The site does not support banking transactions yet, but Ms. Weber said an advanced-function site is likely to appear for retail customers by yearend-sooner for corporate cash management customers.
CoreStates does offer remote banking through Intuit Inc.'s Quicken and Microsoft Corp.'s Money. Now Ms. Weber's group must envision and craft the next generation of on-line offerings.
On-line technology enjoys "significant support at the top of the house" said Ms. Weber, who holds occasional Internet workshops for the bank's top brass.
"Our chairman understands the power of things like Java (Sun Microsystems' programming language), and I know he's an Internet surfer," she said.
Ms. Weber, who has been at CoreStates for five years, supervises about 70 people. Last November, her responsibilities were expanded to include what the company calls "delivery integration," which refers to the coordination of present and future electronic delivery channels.
"The delivery integration function is intended to bridge the gap that a lot of organizations find between product development and systems," Ms. Weber said. "We come in and support both the business side and the systems side in developing business requirements, functional specifications, vendor evaluations and negotiations, those kinds of things."
Before joining CoreStates, Ms. Weber was a credit risk manager in the card division at Chase Manhattan Corp. in New York. It was then that she "met" the Internet.
She and a colleague at Chase "just started reading about it in the papers, in the trade journals, and started to visualize some opportunity even within the retail credit business for using the Internet, which obviously was very immature at the time."
These days, Ms. Weber gets half a dozen calls a day from Internet- related vendors who smell the bank's eagerness for innovation. She said she sifts through their offerings, confident that demand for Internet-based banking is growing and that security fears are on the wane.
"TWA Flight 800 went down over Long Island, and nobody still knows why, but we still fly," she said. "There are going to be some glitches here, there are going to be some problems, but we're still all going to fly."
Ms. Weber predicted a sizable volume of customers would bank on the Internet by late 1998.
She said she sees favorable indicators in current technological developments. For instance, the news that high-powered personal computers are now on the market for less than $1,000 sent a strong signal to Ms. Weber: Electronic commerce is poised for the mass market, and network computers-the so-called "thin client" devices with relatively little horsepower-do not have a long shelf life.
As the retail price of computers dips toward that of television sets, Ms. Weber said, it will "convince a number of demographic groups that have been less likely to be on the Internet to go there."
That in turn will spark major changes in on-line commerce.
"In banking, distance and locale will start to matter less and less for people who are using the Internet as their primary channel," Ms. Weber said. "Fees, rates, the ease of use of the interface, customer service, response time-those are going to become much more critical decision factors."
Ms. Weber said she anticipates having ample time to theorize about electronic commerce as she takes a 10-week maternity leave.
"I will be in the loop virtually the entire time I am out," she said. "I am fully connected electronically at home, and I think that's an important way of staying in touch."