The Pulse EFT Association has formed a research and development committee to analyze emerging electronic products and services for its members.

The move comes as regional electronic banking networks like Pulse are looking for ways to become more than centralized switches for automated teller machine and point of sale transactions.

While many networks are talking about it, Pulse is the first to set up a group formally and to dedicate part of its operating budget to the effort.

"The technology evaluation group is an expansion of our role as a source our members can turn to for research and education," said Stan Paur, president and chief executive officer of the Houston-based network.

"Our goal is to reduce confusion by providing unbiased information on emerging technologies like home banking or smart cards," he added. "Our target is to provide data that CEOs and senior managers can use to make informed decisions."

Mr. Paur pointed out that 82% of Pulse's members have less than $150 million of assets and, thus, may lack the resources to take on big research and development projects. By uniting under the Pulse umbrella, the entire membership can leverage financial resources for more penetrating research, he said.

"Most community banks don't have the staff to really evaluate a vendor's promises," said Chris Williston, head of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas and an advisory director to Pulse. "The Pulse research can be viewed with trust and separates the nice-to-know from the need-to- know."

Pulse hired Benton International, a Los Angeles-based electronic funds transfer consulting firm, to assist the technology evaluation group.

"We will be pulling together the right people who can speak to these technology issues, as well as bring focus and prioritization to these issues," said John McAllister, executive vice president of Benton International.

"We will help identify the critical issues and define what needs to be done first, second, third," he said.

By the end of its first meeting, the group had decided to focus on home banking. Benton International has been commissioned to produce a white paper on the issue, and the network plans a one-day conference on the subject this spring.

The group will then turn its attention to bill payment and electronic commerce.

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