A Silicon Valley company has come out with a product called CustomLink that could reduce the cost and complexity of building a virtual financial services business.

Concentric Network Corp., heretofore little known outside the high-tech community, has gone the route of others by creating a "vertical market" orientation for its intranet and extranet technology. It has identified banks, brokers, mutual funds, retailers, and other such prospects for CustomLink, which it says is more flexible, efficient, and secure than conventional public Internet connections.

"A bank can put its customers on-line without investing in infrastructure themselves or inviting them to come to a Web site," said Jim Hietala, director of VPN services at Cupertino, Calif.-based Concentric Network.

The company is applying the concept of VPN, or virtual private network, to what banks and others commonly do on the Internet. Concentric uses the IP-Internet Protocol-standard as the foundation for secure, private, one- to-one links between banks and their customers.

Concentric previously did this work on a custom basis. It was the VPN vendor for Intuit Inc.'s Quicken Financial Network. Concentric also supports Mellon Bank, MasterCard International, and the U.S. Treasury in a test of the Secure Electronic Transactions Internet credit card standard.

As of this month, the program in the form of CustomLink can be bought "off the shelf." Mr. Hietala said a VPN can be on-line within hours. "We expect to close deals with banks and make announcements shortly," he said.

The "virtual private" aspect addresses financial institutions' needs to improve customer retention, reduces the cost of customer support and marketing, and can reach personal computer users who are not Internet- connected, Mr. Hietala said.

Henry Nothhaft, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of five-year-old Concentric, stressed the marketing aspect: "Because of its tailored features, CustomLink creates greater satisfaction and loyalty, helping to increase retention and competitive barriers to entry. ... We are delivering a service that combines value-added features with our own secure and reliable private network."

Mr. Hietala said Concentric is unique in offering service level agreements with a dial-up, as opposed to private, communications network. These are enforceable performance guarantees like those in bank data processing contracts.

He said Concentric's pricing is geared toward business requirements.

A bank might want to provide its highest-level service, for which it pays in full, to profitable brokerage customers; it may want to treat IRA customers differently, and with less subsidy.

Premium access including service level agreements costs $1.50 to $2.55 an hour, with help-desk support additional. Dedicated VPN access ranges from $1,095 to $2,095 a month; relying on Concentric as a server-host can range from $450 to $3,500 a month.

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