SAN FRANCISCO - A recent home banking conference reignited debates over banks' partnering with potential rivals and the merits of various delivery methods.
The Home Banking Forum, sponsored by Faulkner & Gray, drew the most vocal and provocative characters from the realm of remote banking.
The two-day event began with a keynote speech from perhaps the most popular and controversial figure in home banking, Scott Cook. Mr. Cook is chief executive officer and founder of Intuit Inc., which makes the market- leading personal finance software, Quicken.
Mr. Cook's speech extolled the benefits of banks' teaming up with software companies like Intuit to leverage the technology companies' user base.
In tone and text, his presentation also foreshadowed the then-impending breakup of the deal between his company and Microsoft Corp.
The scrapping of that acquisition - a relief to many bankers - rocked the banking and software communities and represented perhaps the greatest development this year in home banking.
Mr. Cook's lecture, similar to one he had given two weeks before at the Bankers Roundtable meeting, sought to affirm his company's role as a service provider to banks in the burgeoning infrastructure of remote banking. He stressed that Intuit did not want to become the key point of customer contact and owner of that relationship.
He contrasted Intuit's threat to the sheer size and clout of some of the other players trying their hand at home banking, such as International Business Machines Corp. and AT&T Corp. His goal: to ease bankers' fears of Quicken's hold on the personal finance software market.
"Customers want to use the banks they know and trust," Mr. Cook said. "They have no interest in mailing their check to First Bank of Nowhere."
It has been reported that at least 12 banks are already lined up to offer home banking services with Quicken by the fall. Mr. Cook would not comment on that.
Intuit seemed to take center stage at the conference, with many other presenters playing off Mr. Cook's comments and pointing up the then-active deal with Microsoft as a shining example of what banks have to fear in the increasingly competitive and incestuous home banking market.
Like many bankers, Glenn Santmire, a former MasterCard executive recently appointed head of the financial services unit for Unisys Corp., tried to gauge the overall impact of working with the likes of Microsoft.
In the short term Microsoft really is "a good friend," Mr. Santmire said in his speech. "Longer term, I'm really not sure."
Paul Harrison, president of Meca Software - a Quicken competitor recently purchased by NationsBank Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. - stated more bluntly his feelings on the threats that banks face from software and technology companies.
"Unlike some of our competitors," Mr. Harrison said in a pointed jab at his software rivals, "we didn't start becoming bank-friendly in the past 45 minutes."
Other bankers who spoke at the conference tended to stress the importance of maintaining their identity as their business becomes increasingly commoditized and widespread. But they each espoused different approaches to that end.
Mark Burns, the vice president for on-line services for Chase Manhattan Corp., and Linda Parker, the vice president of emerging delivery services for U.S. Bancorp, made presentations in support of their relationships with Microsoft. U.S. Bancorp and Chase are two the four banks using Microsoft's Money software in their home banking programs.
Both Mr. Burns and Ms. Parker said their Microsoft relationship had not caused any confusion for their customers and had elicited better responses than past remote banking programs the banks had run on their own.
Sherry Buk, a product manager for Huntington Bancshares, crystallized the fear of bankers, drawing a picture of an electronic mall in electronic banking. She said that her bank did not want to end up merely an item in someone else's store - a risk that banks like Huntington believe partnering with nonbanks can pose.
"Do you want to be an Arrow shirt or do you want to be Saks Fifth Avenue?" she said. "We want to be Saks."
Though the battle for home banking seems to be raging most actively on the personal computer front, many in attendance noted the distinct rise in screen phone vendors at this year's conference.
Screen phones have yet to gain the popularity and elicit the hype that PC-based banking services have garnered, but the makers of these souped-up telephones were out in full force, preaching the virtues of their medium to a responsive crowd.