Princeton Telecom Corp. said it has taken its electronic bill presentment strategy a major step forward by signing an agreement with Intuit Inc.

The Princeton, N.J., payment services company said it has a letter of intent to deliver bills through its publishing system to users of the Quicken personal financial management software, and eventually to anyone via Quicken.com, said to be the most popular financial portal site on the Internet.

Donald C. Licciardello, chairman and chief executive officer of Princeton Telecom, said the Intuit agreement gives important validation to the "unbranded publishing model." It comes on top of a similar deal with TransPoint, the joint venture of First Data Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Citicorp, and "we expect to do another one," Mr. Licciardello said.

Princeton Telecom calls its approach "biller-centric," as it takes a neutral stance in promising to get invoices to wherever utility subscribers and other end customers choose to receive them.

Mr. Licciardello likened his company's role to that of a book publisher or distributor, as opposed to a retailer dealing with the public.

Others, notably Cybercash Inc., have advocated a "biller-direct" approach, with the billing company in control of the customer connection. Intuit, TransPoint, and Checkfree Corp., which is currently the biggest bill payment processor, are pursuing variations of a consolidator or aggregator approach, hoping to be repositories for multiple bills or to help banks on the Internet perform an intermediary role.

Given the attention by these and other powerful technology companies- TransPoint, formerly MSFDC, burst on the scene in the first half of 1997- some observers have wondered why bill presentment has been so slow to take off.

"It has the potential to be the next best thing, but nobody can agree on how to do it," said Bill Burnham, electronic commerce analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. He added, in a speech to the recent American Banker OnLine '98 conference, that technologies are in a state of flux and could force changes in the various business models.

"We have consistently urged our biller clients to avoid fully vertical presentment channels but instead have their bills published throughout the presenting community, including financial institutions," said Dick Corl, executive vice president, Princeton Telecom.

Quicken users would get bills on their personal computers and authorize payments via the Princeton Telecom Electronic Lockbox Service.

Intuit is "a strong advocate of open standards," said Eric Dunn, senior vice president and chief technology officer of the Mountain View, Calif., software company. It likes Princeton Telecom's "standards-based approach to bill presentment and payment" and "looks forward to working with them."

A starting date for the Princeton Telecom service is still to be worked out, probably early next year, said Nancy Tubbs, Intuit group product manager. The desktop products, Quicken 98 and 99 for Windows, have been bill-ready since last December.

The companies said the system will be based on OFX, the Open Financial Exchange standard that Checkfree, Intuit, and Microsoft negotiated, as well as Interactive Financial Exchange, the result of OFX's convergence with the Gold standard of Integrion Financial Network.

Through hyperlink capability, Quicken customers will be able to click through to an image of a bill on Princeton Telecom's server computer.

Princeton Telecom serves about 40 major billers, and "we host about 80 million bills in our publishing servers," Mr. Licciardello said. "That makes us the largest on-line bill publisher and the only one supporting a payment channel"-the related lockbox business.

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