With the acquisition of Web TV in conjunction with proposed digital TV-Windows interoperability standards, a lot of people are asking, "Where does Bill want to go today?" The answer seems to be that Microsoft is on the road to becoming a major television-Web content provider with a particular proficiency in the financial services industry. Microsoft fervently denies any claims that it's attempting to disintermediate consumers from their bank relationships, with Lewis Levine, Microsoft's vp of desktop finance, saying that vehicles such as Investor are like "street corners" where banks connect because "the traffic is so good."

Not everybody agrees. Meca CEO Paul Harrison suggests that Microsoft is getting between banks and their customers by creating a "mall" environment where consumers can easily jump from one institution to another. To this Levine replies, "It's convenient for him to say that because he's owned by banks, and painting us in a negative light is useful in terms of what he's trying to accomplish. He's a private label bank supplier."

And what do the folks at Intuit have to say on the matter? Not much. But then again, Intuit's "mall" Web strategy is arguably much less sophisticated and bank-friendly than the others.

Needless to say, financial institutions adversely impacted by the prospects of an ATM surcharging ban are not pleased with Senator D'Amato's legislative agenda. "It's bad policy to have the imposition of absolute price controls absent of some national emergency such as war," says an official of PNC Bank Corp. And while a ban may protect smaller institutions that own few ATMs, the logic presented in defending the Senate Banking Committee Chairman defies reason: "If you're a customer of a small bank and you need cash after hours, you have to go to another bank's ATM. You can either do that or switch banks. And banks have begun to lure away customers," says an official close to D'Amato. Isn't that the way the free market works-customers go where they find value?

And if the government's "populist" argument weren't strange enough considering its conservative origin, the Senate Committee is now considering exempting third-party ATM service providers, like EDS, because "the business (of EDS) is to provide convenience services and because they're not a bank, and they don't have income from deposits," says the official. Never mind that D'Amato's ban prevents banks from charging non- customers-those with assets the banks don't hold.

Better late than never: Chase, the nation's largest commercial bank has, as of April 14, a Windows PC banking product that can compete with industry leader Citibank. Up until last month, Chase's proprietary system was considered out-dated; it was DOS-based. And though the bank offers Microsoft Money and Intuit's Quicken as alternatives, Chase charges fees for those services, which if you ask one notable industry analyst "is stupid." In fact, many analysts were confounded by Chase's electronic banking offering considering its competition; Citibank's highly regarded PC banking products are absolutely free. Chase gave no explanation for its electronic banking strategy after repeated calls.

-bers tfn.com

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