Daniel M. Schley, home banking entrepreneur, is not sounding like himself.
The chairman and chief executive officer of Home Financial Network Inc. is talking technology.
Though his business is software, Mr. Schley has always sounded more like a marketing guy. Steeped in consumer research from his years owning and running Meca Software, he has consistently gone against the grain, openly questioning the way major banks and financial software companies concentrated their sales efforts on a few million "early adopter" computer households.
Mr. Schley and his longtime associate, Home Financial president Eric Jacobsen, founded the Westport, Conn., company in 1995 on the idea that there will be a mass market of tens of millions-if only the service could be, as the company slogan puts it, "ATM easy."
Home Financial's Home ATM product line has won wide acclaim from people in the know, including some competitors. Several major institutions, such as Wells Fargo & Co. and BB&T Corp., are customers. A showcase user, Webster Financial Corp. of Waterbury, Conn., is one of the great success stories, in the sense that it enrolled 9% of households in a year.
But fortunes are not being made. Mr. Schley is looking toward some new- generation technologies, which Home Financial has dubbed Stage III Architecture, to do more to win over the consumer.
As in the past, when Home Financial leaped to the forefront of trends such as Internet delivery and Java programming, Mr. Schley may again be a bellwether. Companies such as Meca, now owned by several financial institutions, and Intelidata Technologies are in the midst of technological leaps.
Stage III "sweeps technology obstacles away," Mr. Schley said. Based on the Java servlet approach to Internet processing, it provides "reliability that doesn't exist today, plus scalability, plus flexibility at the back end."
"Everyone else is on second-generation scripting technology," which he called "woefully inadequate" and holding no hope for approaching a mass market.
This is the same Mr. Schley who stood up at an Online Banking Association conference last March to chide the industry for not winning customers over to a demonstrably superior way of doing business.
The failure was not in technology, he said, diverting the discussion in his more typical direction. "This is about education. We are selling a technology before the market is educated."
In a recent interview, Mr. Schley sounded like his old self: "We talk more about the consumer experience than about technology." But that was only after a long explanation of Stage III Architecture.
There is, of course, a logical connection. A more robust and stable technology, a more streamlined way of changing and customizing services, and a more natural customer "look and feel" should all move a bank or service provider in the desired, mass-market direction.
It's just a bit out of character for Mr. Schley-until he brings the discussion back to Home Financial basics.
"The greatest advance, from our standpoint as a consumer experience company, is that most (Internet banking) sites look like radio dialogue pages," he said. They are programmed in HTML-hypertext markup language- which he called "the lowest common denominator for Web design."
For all its revolutionary contribution to the explosion of the Internet, HTML does not lend itself to flexible and dynamic data presentation. "Every HTML modification requires a change of the core program code-a prescription for failure," Mr. Schley said.
With Stage III Architecture, Home Financial says it has beaten the rap against the second generation: the inflexible tether between what the customer sees-the user interface-and the core programming.
Now the front end, the core code, and communications protocols can live relatively independent existences. A bank can modify the all-important customer screens at will, without in the process interfering with the core programs and jeopardizing system reliability.
Mr. Schley described the servlets as "advanced browser detection technology." Not to be confused with Java applets, which are little programs that can be delivered over the World Wide Web, servlets operate in response to requests from browser software. As Home Financial's Total Web Banking and bill payment programs are configured, servlet technology also effectively bridges to native banking protocols such as the OFX and Gold standards for on-line data exchanges.
The system adjusts data presentation to any kind of device-personal computer, personal digital assistant, WebTV terminal, or other "thin clients" that depend on client/server network connections for most of the "experience."
"We spent the last year asking: What is the essence of the consumer experience?" Mr. Schley said. "How do you maintain it over a 28K modem or a thin client environment? Just because we go to a thin client or over the Web doesn't mean we have to compromise the consumer experience."
This amounts to the latest cause of optimism at Home Financial, which Mr. Schley said will be serving 12 of the 75 largest U.S. banks by yearend. "We are not as far along as I hoped we'd be, but that matches the experiences of others," he said.
Independent-minded though he may be, he cooperates with others in true open-standards tradition. Home banking processors like First Data Corp., Checkfree Corp., and Electronic Data Systems Corp. are allies, as are middleware vendors Destiny Software and Intelidata, which is a major investor in Home Financial.
Last month, Home Financial announced a link between its Total Web Banking portfolio, which includes Home ATM, and the OFX-based Voyager platform of Corillian Corp., Beaverton, Ore.
Mr. Schley noted a growing demand for "seamless, end-to-end banking solutions from the consumer all the way back to the bank." With Corillian he can deliver "a single, end-to-end solution that is cost-effective, NT- based, OFX-certified, and year-2000 compliant."
Also in November, to improve customer service capabilities, Home Financial said it had contracted with 800 Support of Portland, Ore., to serve as a specialized, bank-branded call center and help desk for its customers.
"We are buoyed by the fact that our vision turns out to be true," Mr. Schley said. "We learn from history. The automobile, television, microwave oven all teach very straightforward lessons. Sixty-five million people use ATMs, but it took 20 years to get there.
"The consumer experience is key. We are trying to get there first."