Oracle Corp. is taking the less traveled route to home banking.
The influential data base company said last week that it will begin providing its electronic mail technology to screen telephones.
Oracle said it will initially distribute its E-mail system through the screen phone programs of Philips Home Services and Visa Interactive.
The announcement pairs one of the biggest and most sophisticated software makers - at $3 billion in revenue, Oracle is second only to Microsoft - with a delivery method that many bankers regard as a laggard to personal computers.
But Oracle and its initial partners contend that electronic mail will make screen phones more attractive to consumers.
The companies also stress the "complementarity" of personal data devices, saying higher-tech telephones, PCs, and even interactive television can all play roles in services ranging from banking to shopping to entertainment.
"We have always believed in the three-screen home," said Gerrit Schipper, president and chief executive officer of Philips Home Services in Burlington, Mass.
Despite its having deployed thousands of screen phones for Citicorp and other companies, Philips has been fighting the prevailing view that the 20 million-plus personal computers are more fertile ground for home banking.
Mr. Schipper also has been trying to change perceptions of the price of Philips' phone, which has a keyboard, smart card reader, and other computerlike features. Once $700, within a year it will cost less than $300, he said, and lease arrangements can reduce the consumer's cost to $10 a month.
Visa Interactive member banks, meanwhile, will market the more elementary U.S. Order PhonePlus device that retails for about $150. Visa also is in a global alliance with Philips Home Services.
PC prices, because of continuous system enhancements and added functions, have been stuck around the $2,000 level, while screen phone prices are still falling, said Karen White, Oracle's senior vice president for strategy and planning, based in Redwood Shores, Calif.
Screen phones' cost "is coming down to about what I would pay for a feature phone today," she added. Those lower prices and a banking industry increasingly intent on new modes of distribution are among the "logical reasons why home banking is going to take off."
Ms. White said many computer-savvy marketing people lose sight of the fact that "70 million U.S. households still do not have PCs, and even more don't have Windows 95," Microsoft's highly touted new operating system.
Oracle sees screen phones - and potentially hand-held digital assistants - as extensions of PC-based E-mail. "You can send and receive messages regardless of the hardware," Ms. White said.
"Many of the people currently without PCs have never seen E-mail," Mr. Schipper said. "But they can relate to sending letters and postcards, and to paying bills.
"If we can meet the challenge of keeping this simple, we think that E- mail combined with a (telephone) directory function and, of course, banking, will make for a very attractive package."
Oracle and the screen phone unit of Netherlands-based Philips Electronics plan to demonstrate the E-mail system in October at the Telecom '95 convention in Geneva.
They are also preparing for a test with up to 20,000 screen phone users in the fourth quarter. Most of those are likely to be in the northeastern United States, where Citibank's installations are concentrated. The companies want to explore how consumer usage differs from the business messaging that the Oracle Office software more customarily handles.
Ms. White said Oracle was drawn to the advanced qualities of Philips' P100 phone and the fact that the Dutch conglomerate has many "core competencies" in consumer electronics, entertainment, telecommunications, and smart cards. "Long term, we will support other devices," Ms. White said.
Philips, likewise, supports openness and "will go into other alliances," Mr. Schipper said. "By working with Oracle, we bring our customers a proven market solution, easy-to-use software, and the ability to support millions of home users."