In the highly traditional world of banking, unconventional thinking goes a long way, which is why some banks are developing Internet strategies without business models in place.

This newfound pioneering spirit among banks and nonbanks bodes well for companies like Marimba, Inc., a privately held software company whose Castanet "push" technology product is rapidly gaining attention within the financial services community. Castanet enables financial institutions to broadcast content over corporate networks and the Internet. The system has two components: a Castanet Transmitter server and a Tuner client, which enables consumers, for example, to subscribe to application channels deployed by various transmitters across corporate intranets or the Internet.

The year-old, Silicon Valley-based Marimba's momentum is impressive: Currently, the company is doing business with 20 financial services companies, according to Marimba's David Cope, vp of marketing. What type of applications have been developed by financial institutions? Two big investment management companies, for example, are using Castanet to deliver customized investment servicesobased on the size of a retail customer's portfoliooover the Internet, says Marimba's Randy Skipper, director of sales for the east coast.

But Marimba's technology isn't a sure thing for all financial services playersoyet. While Castanet has real promise, according to Advanta Corp.'s Ron Rock, director of strategic business development for electronic financial services, the company is some six to 12 months away from recognizing its true potential in the marketplace. And in the rapidly evolving Internet space, Marimba's primary focus on corporate intranet applications could put Web opportunities out of reach. "Is there ever going to be a popular consumer version of the Castanet tuner? Maybe not," he says.

Still, Advanta is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Marimba, eager to profit from the ability to "reach out and communicate" to its customers in a much more customizable fashion, Rock says. "It can be very granular, with the ability to communicate lots of customized information to large volumes of customers," he says.

The challenge for financial institutions is in developing transmitter content, says Paul Harrison, CEO of Trumbull, CT-based Meca Software, which is using Castanet to build ebranch, a bank-branded direct bank environment.

Even so, the powerful allure of push technology will drive a new paradigm in Web-based financial services; rather than having a static Web presence where customers must search for what they want, companies like Advanta are bullish on the prospect of using transactive content to notify customers of products and services based on their expressed preferences. "(Marimba's) a company that you have to have on your radar screen right now (because) of the potential benefits of push technology," says Rock.

The intense interest in push technology is a coup for companies like Marimba, considering that financial institutions haven't figured out how to make money on the Internet. For banks, it's shaping up to be a play or pay business proposition.--sraeel

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